Forget happy-slapping. Welcome to the world of weapons chic

In Britain's inner cities, it's cool to carry firearms. But as the number of teenagers convicted of violent crime rises, police chiefs warn against their glamorisation. Sophie Goodchild reports
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The Independent Online

"Weapons chic" is so ingrained in youth culture that gun-obsessed teenagers are swapping trophy pictures of themselves clutching fire-arms, senior police officers have told The Independent on Sunday.

"Weapons chic" is so ingrained in youth culture that gun-obsessed teenagers are swapping trophy pictures of themselves clutching fire-arms, senior police officers have told The Independent on Sunday.

The trend has been likened to the craze for "happy slapping" where teenage thugs photograph attacks on their mobile phones. Officers have told the IoS that they are recovering a growing number of home movies, stills and phone photos of young offenders showing off their trophy weapons for the benefit of friends and family.

Commander Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police's Operation Trident, which tackles gun crime in the black community, said the trend illustrates the way in which teenagers and young men mistakenly associate guns with being "cool".

"They have them on their phones, cameras, videos or just ordinary stills with them displaying their weapons," said Commander Dick.

"There are certainly many communities in which it's regarded as not unusual and possibly quite acceptable to have a gun to protect yourself because your mates think you are big and cool."

Next month, Trident will launch a new anti-gun campaign in a bid to stop gun attacks and killings. Previous campaigns have included one encouraging women whose families have been affected by gun crime to help bring criminals to justice.

Although gun crime in general has fallen over the past few years, there has been a worrying surge in shootings in the capital. In April, there were 49 shootings in London compared with 12 in the same period last year. The rise has been partly attributed to teenagers settling trivial scores with guns.

The age of criminals has also fallen, with increasing numbers of teenagers resorting to gun crime.

Commander Dick said: "We are seeing the age reduced in terms of the people involved in shootings and occasionally those involved in murders ... Now we are talking almost entirely about Londoners and much younger people. Sometimes they are teenagers."

Earlier this month, the Government launched a new clampdown on firearms, including measures to ban replica weapons. But the Met is also calling for ministers to go further and target people who convert weapons for criminals, even those armourers found in possession of incomplete gun parts.

Advances in forensic testing have revealed that only a limited number of firearms are being used in gun crimes, with the same weapons often being used again and again in unrelated shootings around the country.

"A firearm used in a murder or an attempted murder in London can then feature in Birmingham or Manchester," said Commander Dick, who has responsibility for serious and organised crime.

"They get passed around and that again tells us that there are not that many of them. If we recover a weapon or cartridge case, we submit this to the lab and they can examine it with a computerised system, so it doesn't require a person to sit there and look under a microscope. Every firearm will leave a unique trace on a bullet and you can match the firearm to the bullet."

Police officers are also worried that many gun crimes are carried out by "inexperienced" and trigger-happy criminals. Their use of variable-quality firearms can have fatal results.

Commander Dick said: "They might fire when meaning to hit a wall. They [even] shoot themselves occasionally, with the weapon going off in their pocket."

Drawing a distinction between replica and real guns, she said: "We do recover these terrifying weapons - they are used by the more organised, more serious criminals but they are not that common."