Peter Squires on gun crime
We often hear in the media about the latest shocking crime involving guns and how our streets are growing ever more dangerous. So imagine how reassuring it would be to live in a society that had the lowest rate of gun crime in western Europe, where only three per cent of gun crimes involve serious injury or death, and the average chance of being shot dead each year is about one in a million.
This reassuring place is, in fact, England and Wales today and the statistics show that the media's portrayal of a society slipping into guntoting anarchy is an exaggeration of the problem. A report by a prominent Brighton criminologist, Professor Peter Squires, has put the issue in perspective and it sets out what he and his team of colleagues think is the best way to tackle it.
'Gun crime' A review of evidence and policy shows that crimes in England and Wales involving the use or threat of guns or air weapons – about 18,500 in 2006–07 – accounted for just 0.2 per cent of all recorded crime. The number of people shot dead was 59 and the number seriously injured was 600. The report stressed that while the number of crimes involving firearms today is higher than the 1998–99 total of almost 14,000, it is lower than its recent peak in 2003–04 of about 24,000 crimes. Therefore the idea of a steady rise in people being killed or injured by guns is not correct.
England and Wales compares well with the rest of western Europe, with lower overall rates of gun crime and much lower rates than Canada and the US. Our strict gun laws, tightened after the Dunblane school shootings in 1996, are partly responsible.
Professor Squires, who is Professor of criminology and public policy at Brighton, worked with two other researchers at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies in London to produce the report, which examined relevant research work and statistics.
"We have tried to present the evidence in a noninflammatory and undramatic way by pointing out the relatively low rates of murder and serious injury from guns – less than half a per cent of all crime," he said. "Few people will encounter gun crime except those living in some quite small specific areas of the country."
"The reason that much is made of gun crime is that it is seen as unBritish and is what we call a 'signal' crime – people believe a crime involving a gun says something about the breakdown of community and social values and shootings are seen as a further slide down a slippery slope to war on the streets."
However, the true picture was more complicated, he said. Guns were being used more often than a decade ago, but they were still only a small part of crime, with relatively few people being killed or injured.
He said that most violence involving guns happened because people used them to commit suicide. Their use in crime tended to fall into two separate categories: one where armed robbers used them as a threat to get people to cooperate during a robbery, and the other when they were used by gang members.
Peter Squires on gun crime
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