In the United Kingdom, access by the general public to firearms is tightly controlled by law. Members of the public may own sporting rifles and shotguns, subject to licensing, but handguns were effectively banned after the Dunblane school massacre in 1996, the UK’s first and only school shooting. (Wikipedia)
So what do criminals use in the UK?
Knives and acid!
Last August, DCG wrote about an epidemic of acid attacks in the UK, especially in London. (See “Acid attacks in the UK now so widespread that public need training in helping victims, warn doctors“).
In London alone, the number of attacks increased 73% in a year — from 261 incidents in 2015, to 454 in 2016. In England and Wales, there were more than 400 recorded attacks in the six months to April last year. In fact, the UK has one of the world’s highest rates of recorded acid attacks per capita. Two people have so far died as a result of acid attacks, with many more left with life-changing injuries.
At the time, there were calls for legislation to make the carrying of corrosive substances in the street illegal.
Lizzie Dearden reports for Independent, March 1, 2018, that according to new guidelines published by the Sentencing Council, an agency of the UK’s Ministry of Justice, acid is to be defined as a “highly dangerous weapon” for the first time, allowing judges to impose harsher punishments on anyone found to be carrying it in public:
- Adults convicted of carrying a corrosive substance in public for a second time will be given a minimum six-month jail term; those under 18 years of age will be handed a four-month detention and training order.
- Anyone convicted of threatening someone with acid or other “offensive weapons” will receive the same minimum sentences as those convicted of threatening someone with knives.
- An offensive weapon is defined as “any article made or adapted for causing injury… Or intended for such use”; a highly dangerous weapon can include corrosive substances whose risk goes “substantially above and beyond”.
Some of the most severe assaults have been carried out using sulphuric acid, but police said dozens of different substances have been used in the UK, including some that are not covered by existing bans and voluntary sales restrictions, such as bleach and chemical irritants that can be found in a kitchen cupboard. Police have so far been powerless to identify corrosive substances that are frequently concealed in soft drinks bottles.
Major retailers have signed up to a voluntary ban on sales of dangerous products to under-18s and the Home Office has proposed separate new laws that could bring in punishments for anyone carrying corrosive substances without “a good or lawful reason” and restrict purchases.
The new Sentencing Council guidelines also target knives and other bladed weapons, ensuring people who repeatedly carry them or use them to threaten others are punished severely. New aggravating factors include the “deliberate humiliation” of victims, including filming them or circulating material on social media, and judges will take into account the defendant’s age, maturity, peer pressure or an “unstable upbringing”. Sentencing Council member Rosina Cottage said: “Too many people in our society are carrying knives. If someone has a knife on them, it only takes a moment of anger or drunkenness for it to be taken out and for others to be injured or killed.”
The new sentencing guidelines come amid concern over a series of fatal stabbings in London, including the killing of two victims within two hours last week. The deaths brought the number of fatal stabbings in London to 16 so far in 2018, with five of them teenagers.
Recorded violent crime has been rising across England and Wales. In the three months to September, there were 3,359 offenses of possession of an article with a blade or point, 1,708 of possession of an offensive weapon and 257 of threatening with a knife or offensive weapon that resulted in a caution or sentence.