"Gun Crime a Growing Concern in GB"
Thoughts? Insight? I feel awful for those kids.
LONDON - Police stepped up armed patrols in south London Thursday after the month's third fatal shooting of a neighborhood teenager gave rise to mounting concern about gun crime, despite statistics that showed many such crimes dropping.
Billy Cox, 15, was shot dead in a public housing complex on Wednesday. On Feb. 6, 15-year-old Michael Dosunmu was gunned down in his bedroom, three days after James Andre Smartt-Ford, 16, was killed by a gunman at an ice rink in the city.
The killings stirred public attention in part because the victims had not been reported to have done anything to provoke their attackers. Dosunmu was described as a churchgoing, family-oriented teenager, while neighbors said Cox had no ties to local gangs.
A man has been charged in Dosunmu's death but there were no charges in the other two killings.
Possession of handguns was largely outlawed in 1998, in reaction to the massacre two years earlier of 16 kindergarten pupils and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, by a man armed with four legally owned handguns.
In England and Wales, the total of 46 homicides involving firearms in 2005-2006 was the lowest since the late 1980s.
Gun crime in London fell 14 percent last year, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair told reporters after an emergency meeting with commanders Thursday, but added that he was worried by an emerging trend which has seen boys with guns involved in killings and other serious violent crime.
Blair promised to step up high-visibility patrols in the area. He also asked Britain's Home Secretary Thursday to support lowering the minimum age for the mandatory five-year sentence for illegal gun possession from 21 to 17.
Few details have been made available about the recent fatal shootings, but some south London residents blamed the rise of a street culture that glorified gun possession and membership in criminal gangs.
"Guns have gone from the domain of the crack-cocaine dealers to now being an everyday accessory, a fashionable accessory, that young people want to be seen with, unfortunately," said Claudia Webbe, vice chair of an independent panel which advises Operation Trident, which London police set up in 1998 to combat gun crime, much of it involving drug dealers.
"I think that's what's motivating young people, where a gun has become almost a status symbol, demanding respect and power," Webbe said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Joanna Harrison, 37, said her daughter knew victim Billy Cox, who had been a target for abuse because he wasn't part of a gang
"He got beat up for no reason. People went and bottled him and his mother in his own home. He got hammered. He looked like the Elephant Man," Harrison said.
More than 300 police officers and 70 support staff are assigned to Operation Trident, which has claimed many successes. In 2005-2006, officers arrested and charged a suspect in every murder case investigated, won life sentences in 12 cases of gun crime, seized 117 firearms and $700,000 in cash.
A Home Office report last year found that a handgun which has already been used in a crime could be bought for $300-$400, while a "clean" 9mm gun would fetch $2,000 or more.