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.