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Posted: 1/8/2003 5:14:13 PM EDT
The New York Times
January 6, 2003
Britain Announces Jail Term for Guns

Filed at 8:52 a.m. ET

LONDON (AP) -- Britain will introduce a minimum five-year jail sentence for carrying an illegal firearm, a bid to stamp out a growing ``gun culture'' on the streets, the government said Monday.

The decision -- which would apply to handguns and automatic weapons, firearms most often used in crime -- came as the shooting deaths of two teenagers last week reignited the debate on gun violence. A ban on replica guns that can be adapted to fire live bullets also is reportedly under consideration.

``While we already have some of the toughest gun laws in the world, there has been an unacceptable increase in the flagrant use of guns in crime across the country,'' said Home Secretary David Blunkett.

``We will not tolerate an escalation of the number of guns on our streets,'' he added.

There is currently no minimum sentence for carrying a prohibited weapon. The maximum is 10 years, but many offenders receive much less.

The new rule will be added to the Criminal Justice Bill, currently before Parliament. If lawmakers approve it, the bill should become law by the end of the year.

Officials said the change was planned before the killings of two teenagers outside a party in the English city of Birmingham last week, which shocked a nation where gun crime is relatively rare.

Latisha Shakespear, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, were killed and two other teenagers were wounded when gunmen opened fire outside a party at a Birmingham hair salon Jan. 2. Police believe all four were innocent bystanders caught in a turf war between street gangs.

Britain banned handguns in 1997 after the massacre of 16 children and a teacher at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland.

There were 73 gun homicides in England and Wales in the 2000-2001 financial year, and guns were used in only 0.1 percent of all crimes reported that year. But government crime statistics due to be released later this week are expected to show an increase in the number of crimes involving firearms.

Writing in Sunday's News of the World newspaper, London Police chief Sir John Stevens blamed violent images in popular culture.

``This culture of mindless violence, which has sprung partly from the increasing influence of Jamaican and American culture and the glorification of gang warfare, must be stopped,'' wrote Stevens, who heads London's Metropolitan Police.

Other experts say shootings are often linked to battles over the drug trade, and that guns have flooded into Britain from the Balkans over the last decade.

Blunkett plans to meet police chiefs, immigration officials and community workers in London on Friday to discuss ways of stopping the spread of guns.

Link Posted: 1/8/2003 5:21:19 PM EDT
However, I just read today (don't have the link) that "Mandatory 5 year sentence" doesn't mean they're going to apply it uniformly.  I can't find the link.  And this is the same country where an "automatic life sentence" means you're up for parole in 7.5 years.
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