Scotland Yard is pressing the Home Office to introduce a minimum five-year prison sentence for anyone caught with a firearm, amid growing evidence that gun crime is rising out of control.
The Metropolitan Police is alarmed by the number of firearms being carried and used on the streets of London. New figures show that, in the past three months, the number of reported incidents involving guns to which police have sent armed officers has risen by more than a third – to 4,106 – compared with the same period last year.
The Home Office said yesterday that it has agreed to consider including proposals for a minimum jail term for gun possession as part of an over-haul of sentencing guidelines.
The police believe that, as well as a rise in shootings between rival drug gangs and criminals, a growing number of people routinely carry firearms as fashion accessories. Senior officers at the Met were particularly incensed by what they believe was the lenient treatment of a member of the rap collective So Solid Crew who was caught with a loaded gun after a row with a traffic warden.
Ashley Walters, 19, was jailed for 18 months in March this year after police discovered a .22-calibre Brocock air pistol containing five rounds of modified live ammunition wrapped in a knotted sports sock inside his girlfriend's handbag. The firearm was discovered after armed police were called when Walters became embroiled in a heated argument with the warden.
The musician – who had been told by a judge to expect a custodial sentence for the crime, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years – was said to be "greatly relieved" at the jail term.
Walters will serve half his sentence at a young offenders' institution and will then be on probation. He said he bought the gun for £1,300 from a man outside a nightclub.
Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Met, and his deputy, Ian Blair, have been urging the Home Office to introduce a five-year minimum sentence for everyone caught in possession of a firearm, regardless of whether they were using the weapon. Currently, the minimum term is just nine months.
Commander Alan Brown, who is in charge of controlling gun crime in London, said: "The current sentences handed out to people found to be in possession of a firearm provide no deterrent. People need to be afraid of the consequences of being arrested in possession of a firearm and the expectation that they face a jail sentence of up to five years."
In June, July, and August this year, the police sent a vehicle with armed officers to 4,106 incidents. That was a 38 per cent rise on the same three month period last year when armed response vehicles went to 2,976 reported gun related incidents in London.
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "One consequence of greater gun availability is that petty arguments have escalated into shootings. We want to create a level of fear whereby if someone is arrested in possession of a firearm they know they are going to be locked up for a long time."
A Home Office spokesman said the department was currently working on new "more robust" sentencing guidelines over firearms cases for courts.