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Imitation Gun Law: An Assessment

NCJ Number
Howard Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 48 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2009 Pages: 172-183
Henrietta Wheal; Nick Tilley
Date Published
May 2009
12 pages
This article examines the potential of legislation as a response to the problem of realistic imitation firearms (RiFs) and describes the experience of the Metropolitan Police Service's (MPS's) efforts to deal with RiFs.
Imitation guns are involved in a high proportion of gun-enabled crimes and account for a significant number of offenses, particularly in metropolitan areas. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (VCRA) attempted to respond to the issue and was welcomed by the police. However, the VCRA's loopholes mean that a determined offender will not find it difficult to acquire a new RiF to use in crime. Pressures on Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and competing police priorities suggest that strict enforcement of the legislation relating to the import, supply, and carriage of RiFs will be very difficult, although there is no reason to believe that efforts to flout the new law would be the normal response of most tradespeople. Even if obeyed, the legislation does nothing to impact the large existing stock of RiFs. It is not clear whether a reduced supply of new RiFs through legitimate channels will effectively cut imitation gun-enabled crime by lessening their ready availability to the less-determined or opportunistic offender. In the longer term this effect on the less-determined offender may also be brought about through further, improved surrender schemes that might be expected eventually to lead to a significant decrease in the existing stock of RiFs. Data were collected by interview from those who have responsibilities for implementing the VCRA: members of HMRC in Felixstowe (relating to sea freight), Heathrow (relating to air freight), Coventry and London (relating to mail/parcels), HMRC headquarters staff, retailers of RiFs, members of the MPS, Home Office officials, and members of key exempted groups. Tables, figures, notes, and references