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West Midlands Police is launching a firearms surrender following a law change that will see anyone found with a gun risking life behind bars.
The new legislation, which came into effect on July 14, increases the maximum jail term for illegal gun possession from 10 years to life – and that includes anyone who’s storing a weapon for someone else.
The Home Office amendments also clamp down on antique firearms amid fears obsolete weapons are being made viable by criminals with ballistics know-how.
Anyone given a prison sentence, including suspended sentences, of three months or more is now banned from possessing antique firearms which could previously be held as a “curiosity or ornament” with a relevant certificate.
It means they must now make arrangements to dispose of such weapons and, to ensure none are dumped or fall into the wrong hands, the force is launching a firearms surrender that allows guns to be handed over at police stations.
Between 19 July and 2 August anyone surrendering a firearm – including handguns, rifles, BB guns, imitations, ammunition or antiques – at a West Midlands Police station can do so without being prosecuted for gun possession.
West Midlands Police Detective Inspector Andy Bannister (pictured), said: “The problem of antique weapons being used in crime is an emerging threat we need to address. The law has been changed to make communities safer and we welcome the tighter controls…the change in legislation closes any loopholes that may be exploited by criminals.
“The possibility of life imprisonment for anyone found in possession of a firearm will certainly act as a powerful deterrent. And this includes anyone who may, out of misguided loyalty, be knowingly storing a gun for someone else.”
Following the 2011 summer riots, Aston woman Janine Francis and Nadeen Banbury, from Bromford, were both handed jail terms after being convicted of storing firearms for friends.
Both weapons – a 9mm pistol and a St Etienne revolver – were later linked to disorder on August 9 when shots were fired at the police helicopter.
Det Insp Bannister, added: “They were jailed for seven-and-a-half years and five years, respectively, but in a way they can consider themselves lucky because if they were sentenced today they could be looking at life behind bars.
“People need to ask themselves: are you prepared to risk a life behind bars by holding a firearm for another person? The answer must surely be ‘no’ and I’d urge anyone in this position to also take advantage of the firearms surrender and hand in these guns.”
Guns can be taken to any one of the 41 police stations across the West Midlands – 11 of which have 24-7 front desks – but people are advised to check station opening times in advance.
The last surrender back in 2003 saw 1,265 firearms – including 168 illegal handguns and 412 imitation guns – plus 53,190 rounds of ammunition handed over to West Midlands Police as part of a month-long nationwide amnesty.
Det Insp Bannister added: “The intention is to reduce the overall availability of firearms…people can hand over weapons anonymously but the history of any live weapons surrendered will be checked for evidence of its use in crimes.
“However, someone found in possession of a firearm in public can’t simply claim they were en route to surrender the weapon. They would need to prove they had good intentions and we’ll take into account their location, the time and the manner in which the weapon was being carried. This isn’t a get out of jail free card for gun criminals.”
Gun crime has fallen dramatically over the last decade – offences fell from 24,000 nationally in 2003 to 8,135 in 2013 (according to ONS data) – whilst the number of fatal shootings in the West Midlands has also decreased.
There were 17 fatal shootings in the five years between 2004 and 2009 but that fell to nine between 2009 and 2014. One of those saw Leicester man Sylvester Koroma killed outside a Digbeth club last August - and his mother, Eunice, has urged anyone who knows the whereabouts of illegal firearms to take advantage of the gun surrender.
She said: "My life has been shattered by gun crime...I don't want anyone to go through what I've experienced. It's not cool to carry a gun and I know more than anyone what damage they cause to families, to communities. Anyone who carries a gun or is storing one for someone else deserves to face life in jail - don't ruin your life, hand the gun in whilst you have the chance."
Det Insp Bannister said: “We’re doing lots of work in partnership with community leaders and local agencies…and although no-one would pretend the gang menace that’s blighted Birmingham in the past is over for good, today there does seem to be a sense of optimism that the city has turned an important corner.”
Weapons and ammunition can be surrendered at any police station but anyone handing in a firearm during the surrender is advised to check the opening times of their station.
To receive advice on how best to transport the weapon responsibly from home to the police station phone 101 before travelling. Anyone unable to reach a police station is also advised to call 101 and arrangements can be made to collect the weapon.
Detective Chief Superintendent Iain O’Brien, head of the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS), said: “We welcome this surrender which means that more weapons will be removed from the streets and out of the reach of criminals. NABIS is dedicated to working with forces to tackle gun crime and keep our communities safe.”
The law changes also means anyone handed a suspended jail term at court of three months or more from July 14 will now be prohibited from possessing licensed firearms for five years – previously such bans only applied to people actually jailed.
If you suspect anyone to be involved in illegal firearms call West Midlands Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
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