How to tackle gun culture

Politics and sociology undergraduate Chinwe Akomah gives her take on Britain's gun 'culture'

In the aftermath of the four London murders in February Tony Blair, criticised for responding to the growing level of gun crime with "knee- jerk" reactions, has upped his game in a bid to try to tackle the escalating firearms culture in Britain.

The Prime Minister is proposing an extension of mandatory sentencing of 17 year olds from the already implemented three years to five years - the current ruling on 18+ teenagers toting guns.

Blair is also considering introducing surveillance methods to track down individuals suspected of carrying weaponry, another dogged step toward creating Labour’s model “surveillance society”.

There is definitely something to be said of Blair’s iron grip legislation. Indeed, implementing such policies will reduce the number of reported crimes in the short term yet gun crime itself will continue to fly under the policy radar. It has already risen by 0.6:% in the past year.

Some of members of the black community have also voiced their concerns over whether the law will drive gun crime off the streets or merely into the hands of even younger individuals. Drug dealers, using firearms to protect their trade, will target legally-protected youngsters to run their violent errands. How does Blair propose to tackle this? How far will the legislative bar be lowered? Will we soon be handcuffing infants?

Moreover, it is important not to forget that someone as young as 16 can purchase a knife. In 2006, knife crime rose to 42,020 incidents almost 72% more than gun crime but in the furore surrounding the London murders, tackling rapidly rising knife crime has been blindsided.

Blair has lucidly stated that gun crime is not a "general state of Britishness" and "British young people" but concerns a specific culture and specific group of people. The commonplace notion is that the problem is primarily within the black community but with such undertones highlighting government’s course of action how is the trust of the black community to be enlisted when the Downing street introduces its new spy kit.

It is too early to have the phrase "institutionalised racism" bandied around but one cannot escape the possible detrimental effects this could have on community-police liaisons.

Lords and MP alike have grappled with why youngsters engage in gun crime, citing phrases such as the “glorification of guns and knives” and “the alienation of young people” but as is the case with judges who sit on their aristocratic pedestals and dictate how the law should be obeyed, the very people who recycle these overused statements are those who are considerably distanced from young black teens.

Occasionally The Times will draw on the words of a youth worker from south London for solid social backing but talking about teens as opposed to talking to them is to alienate them even further.

The truth is, one can only be so sure as to whether it is the broken family or the lack of male models in society that accounts for high levels of crime but by talking, communicating and trying to understand the young people themselves.

If we continue to treat the youth as individuals at the margins of society; statistics to be analysed or as scapegoats to be criminalised then 'gun culture' will only escalate.

Chinwe Akomah is in her final year of studying for a BA in Politics and Sociology at Warwick University. When she graduates she plans to study to become a newspaper journalist.
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Brexiteers want national sovereignty and tighter borders – but they can't have both

The role of the European Court of Justice is a major sticking point in talks.

Why doesn't Theresa May's counter-offer on the rights of European citizens living and working in Britain pass muster among the EU27? It all comes down to one of the biggest sticking points in the Brexit talks: the role of the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission, under direction from the leaders of member states, wants the rights of the three million living here and of the British diaspora in the EU guaranteed by the European Court. Why? Because that way, the status of EU citizens here or that of British nationals in the EU aren't subject to the whims of a simple majority vote in the legislature.

This is where Liam Fox, as crassly he might have put it, has a point about the difference between the UK and the EU27, being that the UK does not "need to bury" its 20th century history. We're one of the few countries in the EU where political elites get away with saying, "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" when it comes to checks on legislative power. For the leaders of member states, a guarantee not backed up by the European Court of Justice is no guarantee at all.

That comes down to the biggest sticking point of the Brexit talks: rules. In terms of the deal that most British voters, Leave or Remain, want – a non-disruptive exit that allows the British government to set immigration policy – UK politicians can get that, provided they concede on money and rules, ie we continue to follow the directions of the European Court while having no power to set them. Britain could even seek its own trade deals and have that arrangement.

But the problem is that deal runs up against the motivations of the Brexit elite, who are in the main unfussed about migration but are concerned about sovereignty – and remaining subject to the rule of the ECJ without being able to set its parameters is, it goes without saying, a significant loss of sovereignty. 

Can a fudge be found? That the Article 50 process goes so heavily in favour of the EU27 and against the leaving member means that the appetite on the EuCo side for a fudge is limited. 

But there is hope, as David Davis has conceded that there will have to be an international guarantor, as of course there will have to be. If you trade across borders, you need a cross-border referee. If a plane goes up in one country and lands in another, then it is, by necessity, regulated across borders. (That arrangement has also been mooted by Sigmar Gabriel, foreign minister in Angela Merkel's government. But that Gabriel's centre-left party looks likely to be expelled from coalition after the next election means that his support isn't as valuable as many Brexiteers seem to think.)

On the Conservative side, a new EU-UK international body would satisfy the words of May's ECJ red line. On the EU27 side, that the body would, inevitably, take its lead from the treaties of the EU sans Britain and the ECJ would mean that in spirit, Britain would be subject to the ECJ by another name.

But it comes back to the Brexit dilemma. You can satisfy the voters' demand for non-disruptive control of British borders. You can satisfy political demand for sovereignty. But you can't have both. May – and whoever replaces her – will face the same question: who do you disappoint?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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