Blunkett confirms crackdown on airguns and replica weapons

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The Independent Online

David Blunkett announced a ban yesterday on the carrying of replica guns and increased the age limit for the ownership of airguns from 14 to 17.

The crackdown by the Home Secretary, reported in The Independent earlier this week, comes amid growing concern over the use of firearms. Statistics due to be published today are expected to show a big rise in gun crime last year.

Mr Blunkett said he was also considering a ban on the sale or manufacture of tandem air cartridge weapons, such as the Brocock, a favourite weapon on inner city streets.

The rapper Asher D, of So Solid Crew, recently served a jail sentence for possession of a Brocock, a gun which can easily be converted to fire single live rounds. Owners of such guns will be allowed to hand them in voluntarily or apply for a licence to hold them.

Mr Blunkett said: "These new controls will help the police to deal effectively with anyone using replica weapons or airguns."

The changes to the law, which are expected to be incorporated into forthcoming anti-social behaviour legislation, will make it illegal to carry a replica gun or airgun weapon "in a public place without a good reason". Mr Blunkett said: "Our crackdown on airguns is part of the Government's wider commitment to tackle anti-social behaviour which blights some of our most vulnerable communities and breeds a fear of crime."

The announcement came a day after Mr Blunkett was accused of watering down plans for a minimum five-year jail sentence for gun possession. He said such sentences would be mandatory but Downing Street later admitted that there would be "exemptions".

The Metropolitan Police Federation said the proposal had been diluted and was a waste of time.

Police leaders have long been pressing for the outlawing of replica weapons. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, called for a ban on such guns last week when he said that 72 per cent of firearms incidents in the capital involved replicas.

Luke Nash, of Sportsmarketing, Britain's largest importer of replica guns, said the Government should be "concentrating on illegal black-market guns". He said collecting replica weapons was similar to collecting stamps.

The company distributed more than a quarter of a million replica handguns and machine guns in the UK last year.

The Home Office minister Bob Ainsworth said police officers experienced real difficulties in distinguishing between fake and genuine guns when they were called to make critical decisions "often in highly-pressured situations".

Mr Ainsworth said: "A ban ... will help the police tackle those out to cause fear and commit crime." He said young people would still be allowed to use air weapons in "safe and responsible environments" such as gun clubs or under the supervision of adults.