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To Arms: The Growing use of Lethal Force in Violent Crime Across Europe

Paper ID: 142 Last updated: 10/05/2011 14:41:07
Criteria: bullet Impact:  Likelihood:  Controversy:  Where: Regional When: 3-10yrs How Fast: Years
0 people thought this paper expanded their thinking bullet
Keywords: bullet law, order, regulation, security, europe, community, drugs, gangs, crime, youth

Summary bullet

The growth of organised crime and the intermingling of different criminal syndicates is fuelling the trafficking and use of firearms’ across Europe.
The use of guns and other weapons in even the most mundane criminal enterprises and inter-gang conflicts may increasingly become the norm, with the police and, occasionally, innocent members of the public coming into the crossfire.

Discussion bullet

Europe has enjoyed a period of unprecedented peace and stability since the Second World War. But whilst the continent's leaders have assiduously cultivated alliances and collaborations to deter external political and military threats to this security, it may be that one of the biggest threats to domestic security comes from within their own borders.

The proliferation of organised crime across Europe and the increasingly high stakes at play - as they compete for control of the lucrative drugs and sex trades and organised people trafficking - are already fuelling the trafficking and use of firearms and other serious weapons (e.g. knives, swords) in Europe.

Recent trends in firearm homicides in the UK, as reported by the Home Office, indicate there has been a noticeable increase in the past few years, with youngsters carrying real or imitation guns to boost their image or ability to protest themselves [1] . A 2003 gun amnesty from 31st March-30th April saw 43,908 guns handed in, with 1,039,358 rounds of ammunition. This compares to a previous June 1996 amnesty of 22,939 guns and 695,197 rounds [2]. Britain’s streets are witnessing increasingly brutal encounters between armed groups of young men [3] involved in gang-related activity and even those not directly related to crime have been found to be increasingly likely to own or carry guns.

Knives are also proliferating on Britain’s streets, with a raft of initiatives being announced by the Home Office to tackle this problem over recent years [4]

Unless this trend can be reversed, it seems likely that it will gather momentum, until perhaps individuals using guns in inter-gang conflicts and in their dealings with the public could become very much the norm.

Implications bullet

The danger of increased loss of life stands above all other implications; not only to the public but also to law enforcement officers. Better armed criminal elements will be likely, over time, to become less reluctant to use their weapons.

This presents a significantly increased threat to the safety of law enforcement officers, as demonstrated by the murder of PC Sharon Beshinevsky in November 2005 [5]. The police forces could be exposed to the danger of ill-disciplined, agitated individuals using guns as a means to resist. A much more guarded police force risks disengagement from the public, limiting its abilities to effectively police. The recurrent arguments to arm the police in the UK may resurface.

With criminal groups accumulating weapons, an arms race between law enforcement agencies and gangs could emerge, and with existing illegal intentions criminals may gain greater access to more deadly but unethical weapons that the police forces are restricted from using (this has been seen in instances in the US). In an arms race such as this the police (and state) may at times and in areas lose ground substantially to criminal interests [6].

With an increasing sense of police remoteness and fear of criminal assault/murder rising due to alarm at gun availability, it is possible that larger numbers of the public would themselves seek access to weapons as a source of protection. With access to such lethal force the severity and instances of vigilante type responses could increase, in turn threatening the state's position as the primary source of authority and legal accountability (as is debated in places like the US) [7].

All this could be encouraged, or standardised by media portrayals of 'gun culture' as the norm or a permissable reality. The cycle of media reporting a reality and exposing it to a wider audience, so encouraging its proliferation could spread this trend further and quicker. The creation of new and more innovative techniques to tackle gun crime would be necessary, e.g. gun 'buy-back' schemes as in Australia [8] . Developing and deploying any kind of scheme to curtail gun use could be very expensive for individuals, businesses and governments. The proliferation of gun crime in major urban centres could encourage an exodus from certain areas of certain cities (or to the development of gated communities) among the affluent, thereby increasing their separation from society.

Early indicators bullet

Increases in applications for and actual purchases of guns and ammunition in the UK and neighbouring European countries. Increase in gun-related homicide, robbery etc in the crime stats.
More frequent, and more mainstream/positive portrayals of guns and 'gun culture' as an appropriate response to cultural change.
Greater calls for more readily arming of police, 'bobbies with bullets'.

Drivers & Inhibitors bullet

More frequent portrayals of guns and 'gun culture' in everyday scenarios in the media.
Pressure has been mounting from certain sectors for greater laxity in the legal rights of individuals to own guns and carry them on their persons.
The relation of these weapons and individuals' lives is made all the more prominent by their feature as a standard accessory in media representation, both fictional and reported.
Greater availability of guns and ammunition.
Solidifying of gangs, organised crime and criminal rivalries.
Failure of police forces to provide adequate protection.
Public fear of gun crime being converted into anger and vigilantism.

These revolve around restricting gun access and desirability and clamping down on gang activity.

Parallels & Precedents bullet

Brazil provides an unnerving precedent, where the ease of gun ownership has meant that the police have often found themselves out-gunned and hunted, their stations coming under attack for sustained periods [6]. It also has one of the highest murder rates in the world (26 per 100,000), especially amongst 15-29 year olds where armed violence is the main cause of death [9] [10] .

A more direct comparison (without the significant inequality and poverty rates found in Brazil) is with the United States, where the number of deaths from gun crime significantly eclipse those in Europe.

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Sources bullet

1Home OfficeHome Office 'Gun Crime and Firearms Controls'Visit siteSoc
2OtherHome Office '2003 Gun Amnesty' Visit siteSoc
3BBC[9] “Heroin link to gang fight” (2002), BBC News Online. November 11thVisit siteSoc
4Other[10] Home Office. “Knife crime” search results (156). Visit siteSoc
5BBC“Woman Pc shot on child's birthday”. (2005) BBC News Online. November 20thVisit siteSoc
6BBCBBC News (2003) 'Brazil police out gunned and angry', 11th NovemberVisit siteSoc
7OtherHorowitz Josh (2005) 'Gun Culture Threatens Democracy', The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, 21st MayVisit siteSoc
8OtherAustralian Attorney General's Office (1997) 'The Gun Buy-Back Scheme', 18th DecemberVisit siteSoc
9BBCBBC News (2003) 'Brazilians march for gun control', 14th SeptemberVisit siteSoc
10BBC'Brazil seeks to curb gun crime' BBC News Online 24th July 2003 Visit siteSoc
The contents of this paper were provided by the Outsights-Ipsos MORI Partnership. Any views expressed are independent of government and do not constitute government policy.