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The Firearms Act: A False Sense of Security?

There has long been controversy over the success of the implementation of gun laws in the United Kingdom as a method of decreasing not only gun violence but violence as a whole. This article will discuss the events which resulted in three main amendments to the Firearms Act 1968 in 1988, 1997, and 2012. It will then explore the implications of these amendments on the UK's crime rate and whether they have decreased the overall rate of crime, not just the use of guns. Finally, it will review what further changes the government is currently considering and how these will affect public safety in the UK.

The Tragedies

The first tragedy that evoked an amendment to the Firearm Act 1968 was a series of random shootings in 1987 in Hungerford. Gunman Michael Ryan went on a shooting spree that resulted in the death of 16 individuals, with 15 more seriously injured. The Hungerford incident is rarely mentioned, yet it is one of the UK’s worst mass shootings. The first amendment to the Firearms Act invoked following the event in 1988 was:

“An Act to amend the Firearms Act 1968 and to make further provision for regulating the possession of, and transactions relating to, firearms and ammunition.”

The next amendment was the result of one of the most prominent incidents which still resonates in the UK's public memory. On 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton massacred 16 young children and their teacher during a school shooting in Dunblane. This was the catalyst that led to the amendment of the 1997 Firearms Act and resulted in the complete ban on handguns for private ownership. The second amendment, therefore, aimed to:

“make provision in relation to the licensing and regulation of pistol clubs; to make further provision for regulating the possession of, and transactions relating to, firearms and ammunition; and for connected purposes.”

Despite changes in laws, 14 years later, a mass killing occurred in Cumbria on 2 June 2010 in which 12 people were killed. This led to further scrutinisation from the British public into gun laws, forcing the Home Secretary to take action. Following this, in October 2012, legislative changes were introduced to help strengthen the laws governing firearms. The new legislation stipulated that “possession with intent to supply” would result in the maximum penalty of illegal importation of firearms, which was increased to life imprisonment.

A False Sense of Security

This, in turn, leads to the question: have these restrictions and bans reduced not only gun violence but total criminal violence in the United Kingdom? Gary A. Mauser, a Canadian criminologist and author of Do Restrictive Firearm Laws Improve Public Safety?, has highlighted that, since the Draconian general laws, which were implemented in the late 1990s, violence in the UK has not decreased.

Not only has there not been a decline in violence in the UK but according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Home Office, England and Wales have seen a greater increase in violence than the United States since the mid-1970s. Similarly, last year in 2019, Scotland reached its highest violent crime rate in seven years. There was not only a 16 percent increase in robberies but also an 8 percent increase in sexual crime, which is the highest level it has ever been. However, it is important to note that overall crime statistics now also include fraud and computer misuse as well.

Moreover, gun violence remains a concern; looking at present-day statistics (more specifically over the past year), the UK has also seen an increase in gun-related crime. This past year alone, more than 9,700 gun-related crimes were reported according to the Office of National Statistics. The majority of these crimes were gang-related and occurred in urban communities. The sudden rise in gun-related crimes should be a sign that further action needs to be taken by the government in order to keep communities safe, and not only address the issue of firearms but other modes of violence.

Concluding Thoughts

The improper use of firearms continues to be an issue that is overlooked and undermined due to the supposed strict gun laws in the UK. However, these restrictions give a false sense of security to the UK population because the use of firearms still remains a prevalent issue. Not only has there been a rise in gun-related crime over the past year, but the crime rate in the UK continues to rise. In order to assure the safety of communities, the government needs to acknowledge the potential threat of these increased crime rates and take action.

One of the primary ways the government aims to tackle crime is by increasing police funding. The government increased funding for the first time since 2010, with an increase of £970 million for 2019-2020. This is a step in the right direction to allow officers to have more support. More officers can be hired, enabling the police to deal with reports of crime at a faster rate. The government also introduced the Serious Violence Taskforce in 2018 with the intention of stopping the recent increase in violent crimes. It aims to not only be another method of robust law enforcement but to also act as a preventive measure before the crimes are committed. Both of these methods seem like a step in the right direction to aid in decreasing overall crime levels as we look forward to the coming year.


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