- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

LONDON (AP) Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, worried about an increase in gun crime, yesterday proposed tightening Britain's already tough firearms laws.
Officials say they will press for a minimum five-year prison sentence for anyone caught with a handgun or automatic weapon, both of which have been outlawed for years. The law currently has no minimum sentence for carrying an illegal weapon.
"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," Home Secretary David Blunkett said. "Introducing a tough minimum sentence will send a clear message that serious, violent offending will invariably be dealt with in the strongest manner."
Two teenage girls were fatally shot in the central English city of Birmingham last week, but officials said the sentencing proposal was planned before their deaths.
Latisha Shakespear, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, were killed when they were caught in the middle of a turf war between rival gangs, police said. Two other bystanders were wounded.
The proposal will be added to the Criminal Justice Bill that Parliament is considering. Because Mr. Blair's Labor Party has an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, bills he backs generally pass.
Mr. Blunkett also reportedly is considering a ban on replica guns that can be adapted to fire real bullets.
Some critics said stiffer sentences would do little to deter violence and unnecessarily interfere with judges' sentencing discretion. Judges now have final say on the length of jail terms.
James Paice, Conservative Party spokesman on law and order issues, said the proposal failed to address the complexities of gun violence, and wasn't "a considered response to a terrible problem."
John Stevens, the commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, welcomed the proposal, saying it would send a clear message to criminals.

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