Why do gun amnesties work?

A few days ago, the West Midlands police launched what they called the ‘Weapon Surrender’ Campaign, an initiative focused on Birmingham where owners of weapons are being urged to hand them in. For the next six months, weapons of all types can be placed in secure bins – no questions asked.

The reason for this campaign is unfortunately rather a simple one.

In recent months, the number of gun-related incidents has been on the rise and the West Midlands Police are eager to stem the flow.

But do amnesties actually work and do they do anything to stop the problem?

When researching The Bluebell Informant and The Court of Obsessions, I asked myself that very same question. If there are people out there with guns and have the desire to use them, whether they are in robberies or acts of violence, surely they will have no intention of giving them up just because the police ask nicely and promise not to prosecute.

Alright, there may be a few who have somehow come across a gun and enjoy the power of owning such a weapon (even if they have no intention of using it) who may be obliged to get rid of it before they start down a dark path that they can’t easily turn back from. But, for the most part, the sort of people who are likely to hand such weapons is are the good members of the public – the type of people who have granddad’s old WWII pistol locked somewhere in their garden shed.

If these are the kind of people giving up firearms, what impact is that really going to have on gun crime? Gangs will still have their guns. Would-be bank robbers will still have their guns. The idiots who buy guns as some sort of status symbol will still have their guns…

With logic like that, it’s little wonder that such a large part of the American populace is kicking up such a fuss over the idea of tighter gun laws. I mean, if the only people who aren’t giving up their guns are the criminals, what good is that actually doing?

Surprisingly enough the answer (in the UK at least) is ‘quite a lot’.

See, the police aren’t stupid. They know that criminals and gangs aren’t going to give up their weapons just because they’re asked to. Those weapons are out there amongst the criminal classes now and they are never going to be recovered until someone does something stupid that alerts the police to their presence.

But the police can do something about stopping the flow of guns into the UK.

I recently penned a first draft of a short story called The Bullet With My Name On It which tells the story of how a gun finds its way from America to Britain where it is then used in a brutal murder. As part of my research for the story, I took a look at how guns come to arrive in Britain, given that it is illegal to import, sell or own pistols, semi-automatics and pump action firearms.

As I waded through the research, I began to understand why gun amnesties are so important.

You see these days there are three main ways in which someone can get their hands on an illegal weapon (and I’m not talking about legal firearms that gun clubs and farmers tend to have). Sometimes weapons are smuggled in. Sometimes people order blank firing weapons from the US, have them shipped to the UK and then convert them to fire real ammunition. And sometimes, old antique guns are acquired and renovated so that they can fire again.

That means your granddad’s old WWII pistol (which surprisingly is legal to own under the Firearms Act as a Trophy of War or a Weapon of Historical Interest) could well be stolen or bought, renovated and then sold on to whichever gang or criminal has an interest in acquiring it.

So, as much as it may pain people to hand in their family heirlooms, it may end up being a good thing in the long run.

Last time London held a gun amnesty in 2014, over 350 firearms (including one disguised as a walking stick!!!) where handed in. That’s 350 firearms that can’t be used in gun crimes.

And that’s got to be a good thing…

 

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