Mark Steel: Have you got that rocket launcher in blue?

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The Independent Online

Aren't we supposed to be panicking about all these easily available weapons in our inner cities? Then the press and politicians should hurry to the East End of London, where there are thousands of the things. And the idiots who own them have even given the police clues about where they are, by calling their stash the "London Arms Fair".

Maybe it's the word "fair" that's confused the authorities. And it is presented like a cosy family event, the brochures showing cheery men kindly shaking hands in front of the weapons, as if they're saying: "Oh yes, the wife will love this tank, but is there a hatchback model so we can fit all our camping gear inside? Because after destroying a village we like to stay and make a weekend of it."

Maybe they'll keep ahead of the system next year by calling it the "London Arms Village Fete". It can have stalls like a "Rebel Shy", in which suspected rebels are sat in a wire holder, and for £2.50 you get three goes at blasting out with a Tomahawk missile, while cynics complain: "It's a fix because they're glued in." And kids can have a go at laying siege to the bouncy castle, by running off to one of the stalls, buying a Tornado bomber and napalming the thing.

This would only be one step on from the initiative shown by Hi-Tech Security Solutions, who boasted: "Free electro-shock baton with every bullet-proof vest bought". Next, they should explore other ways of boosting their profile through gifts, such as getting them strapped to the front of those pink magazines for 10-year-old girls instead of lipstick. Then Hi-Tech Security Solutions will have customers for life, as the playgrounds of Britain become full of kiddies learning the joys of electro-shock fun.

So this is the mistake the gangs are making: they are not advertising themselves properly. Instead of skulking around stairwells, they should hold "Knife and Gun Fairs", with neatly laid out stalls, maybe a vase of lilies behind the merchandise, and a salesman in a dry-cleaned hooded top approaching customers to say: "Dis blade just in, blood, it leave a bruv well mash up."

Then they'd get funding from the Government, and if the police threatened to arrest them they'd get local politicians yelling: "But think of all the jobs that will go."

And they'll be in the company of the Indian firm DRDO, which is boasting a new line of mobile multi-barrel rocket systems, that can be fitted with six different warheads at a range of 30 kilometres and "neutralise" an area 700 metres by 500 metres. In other words, everyone in the area, which is as big as 70 football pitches, is incinerated. What do you say when the salesman shows you that? Do you go: "Yes, but have you got it in blue?" Or there's the good people of Raytheon, manufacturers of Patriots and Sidewinders and Paveway missiles, whose latest factory is in Derry, set up after the IRA ceasefire. Somewhere in Raytheon's prospectus it must have said: "Now we've got these idiots to see the stupidity of trying to get their way through weapons, we can finally build our weapons factory."

It was Raytheon software that guided a missile on to the building in Qana, Lebanon, last year, killing 28 civilians. For efficiency like that, in 2006 they conducted sales of $20.3bn.

One way in which these gangs have been treated has been to encourage them with more business. So arms company Lockheed-Martin is one of two candidates being considered for running the next census. Maybe this is because, if the results indicate an area is becoming too crowded, with little effort they can depopulate the place and get everything running smoothly.

Yet amid this litany of destruction is a bit of joy and cheer. Because the growing distaste for these merchants, combined with the tenacity of protesters, has had an effect. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade held a weekly protest outside the offices of Reed-Elsevier, the company that traditionally set up the London Arms Fair, and a petition was launched, signed by tens of thousands, including several authors associated with the publishing wing of the company. And so they've announced they will no longer be associated with the fairs, because of the bad publicity.

Despite the arms dealers' objections, there are several new regulations they have to comply with about where they sell this stuff to, and banning the export of certain goods, such as leg irons. There are two possible reasons for these changes in the rules. Maybe they've thought: "Oh my word, we had no idea these things we sell are dangerous. Up until now we assumed these weapons were bought by parents so that little girls can cuddle them in bed. And it would melt anyone's heart, seeing them asleep in their Winnie the Pooh pyjamas with their arm around an F-16 laser guidance system."

Or, like Reed-Elsevier, these immensely powerful companies, capable of devastating entire regions, have been forced to back down by relentless protest and mass discomfort. The next phase should be to shut down all arms fairs, so they can sell the stuff only on eBay. Then the Turks and Saudi Arabian governments will have to spend all day hovering over their computers, heartbeats rising as they keep saying: "I really really want that shipment of heat-seeking missiles", and then all of a sudden they both squeal: "Aaaargh, bollocks, the bloody Indonesians got in at the last minute."

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