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Police officers face spike in criminals using imitation firearms

November 16th, 2023

Police figures show that use of imitation firearms in offences is on the rise – Johnny Green/PA

Police officers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of criminals using imitation firearms, official figures show.

Offences involving imitation weapons jumped by 13 per cent to 2,130 in the 12 months to March, up from 1,889 in the previous year. This means the use of such firearms has risen to its highest level since 2008, when 2,561 were used in offences, according to the police data.

Police chiefs believe the success in closing down other markets for weapons such as conventional and converted guns has fuelled demand for alternative sources, including 3D-printed firearms.

“It’s a product of success,” said Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Crime Agency (NCA). “It’s because we’ve actually suppressed firearms use so very well.”

The Government is proposing new laws in its new Criminal Justice Bill to outlaw the possession of the templates for making 3D-printed weapons.

Of the imitation firearms used in offences, 85 per cent were BB guns or airsoft weapons, with the second most common item being imitation handguns.

Most of the crimes they were used in – 1,032 – were classified as “violence against the person”. Imitation firearms were involved in 86 robberies, 17 burglaries and 110 attempted murders or assaults with intent to cause serious harm.

Imitation firearms are defined as anything that looks like a gun, regardless of whether it can shoot a bullet.

Overall, firearms use is up four per cent year-on-year, at 8,767 offences, still below the recent high of 10,003 recorded just before the pandemic, and substantially below the historic high recorded in 2004, when they were used in 24,070 crimes.

Knife offenders spared prison

Separate Ministry of Justice figures showed the proportion of knife offenders sent to prison has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade.

Between April and June, just 1,280 of the 4,608 convicted offenders were sent to prison, equivalent to 27.8 per cent. This is the lowest proportion since the same period in 2012, when just 27.5 per cent were jailed.

A further 23.5 per cent of knife criminals were given suspended sentences, a sanction that has increased in recent years as judges have moved away from cautions. A further 24.5 per cent were given community sentences.

Overall, the number of people sentenced for knife crimes hit its lowest point since 2020 in the most recent quarter. However, those sent to prison have been given tougher sentences, which have increased from an average of 10.4 months in 2013 to 14.6 in 2023 – a record high.

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