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Gun crime in the UK.

While not yet at US levels, gun crime in the UK appears to be on the increase. The recent shooting of an 11 year old in the UK, on top of a number of other killings of youngsters in the UK, have caught my attention. Knife related crimes are up too. Apparently it is quite easy to get hold of a gun in the UK now, although press reports state that, luckily, ammunition is hard to come by. Italy, despite having armed police and the Mafia, does not have high levels of youth gun crime – which is probably down to the fact that the family is still a much closer-knit unit than in the UK. Let’s hope it stays this way.

The question is: What can be done to wean kids away from these dangerous items? Education is one answer, only the kids who are using these guns probably do not go to school and have zero respect for authority, which means that while education may keep some away from guns, it will really only have an effect on those who would probably never think about getting hold of a gun anyway. One thing that may make a difference would be to get more police on the beat again – at least their presence may deter the use of guns, but even the police cannot be everywhere all the time.

Time does seem to be something of a key though. It appears that more kids are spending their free time in gangs and that these gangs are adopting a gun culture. You often hear residents of down-beat housing estates complaining that the kids have nothing to do and so they just hang around getting bored and ending up doing stupid things. Then it seems as though the kinds of kids that end up in gangs often come from broken, socially dysfunctional and/or low income families. Which means that gang membership offers them a replacement ‘family’ type relationship. This is something many of these kids have never really had, and, often, they feel that there is the possibility of making a quick buck, so they can get an iPod, flashy trainers and some bling-bling jewellery. Mix the chance of making a some cash through selling drugs with a sense of ‘belonging’ ,and gang membership starts to become even more attractive, especially when you do not really have any future to look forward to. Current pop-culture which glorifies gangs and plenty of gun toting film stars probably do not help matters either.

What is needed are ways of giving these kids real aspirations and ways of keeping them occupied so that they do not end up being drawn into a gang type culture. The only trouble is these things cost money, but running a few cost benefit analyses should reveal that investment now will reduce costs in the future – especially the cost of keeping unwanted members of society in prisons, not to mention social security payments, policing costs and all the rest.

I had a hunt around the www for information about the Croxteth area of Liverpool in the UK and discovered that it has been something of a social minefield from the very beginning, in that this huge housing area was not provided with many shops or other community facilities when it was built. I even took a look at the Liverpool city council website and its youth section – which is as dull as ditch water, incidentally. Look at this for an example of what I mean. It’s not exactly appealing to kids, now is it? If this is an example of how the council is going about rejuvenating places like Croxteth, then it is not much of a surprise that becoming part of a gang seems like a fun thing to do. There are some other initiatives on the Liverpool Council site, but, to me, they just look dull – half-efforts, with nothing really original and appealing to kids, and the presentation is such that it might appeal to a thirty-five year old train-spotter. Asking the kids what they want might help start moving things in the right direction, as would jazzing up the website a bit. Looks as though there is a pitch here for a good web design company.

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Aside from making the website more stimulating, here are a few other things that perhaps could be done to keep kids occupied: Offer free or low cost public transport. Reduce the prices of tickets to sporting events, cinemas and concerts. Cut sports centre and swimming pool admission prices. Set up more facilities that will draw youngsters into the only real alternative to gangs – clubs. More after-school activities, which could also teach skills which can then be applied to later life. In other words, try to give these kids some alternatives to illicit activities, and keep them occupied and interested, and give them some hope for the future. Activities which give kids with some idea of where to go in their lives would be best, plus activities which allow them to let off steam, like banger-racing, pillow fighting and similar activities. Let us get those child psychologists onto the job, and plenty down to earth practical types – members of these difficult communities – ex-footballers and locals who have had runs in with the law and learnt from it. And showing the kids American History X – might convince a few that prison is not a nice place to be. Lots of talks, not sermons, from ex-soldiers who know what it is like to get shot, plus a few graphic images, may start to get the ‘guns are bad news’ messages across, too. If there is not one now, how about a kids’ committee, run by kids, that can decide and develop activities and initiatives? Local businesses could even be offered tax breaks to encourage them to provide funding for community facilities. Anything and everything to offer alternatives to a life which may end up with youngsters ending up in prison, or worse – like shooting a beloved child.

While it may be difficult to break up current gangs, it should be possible, through the introduction of the right facilities, to reduce the number of kids who want to become members, so, in time, the gangs would simply fade away. One thing that could be done and done now, as a result of the Rhys tragedy, would be to use the incident to discredit gangs and guns – so that kids do not want to become members. After all, would you want to be part of an organisation that kills a little kid? Each child killed in this way represents a failure of society in general to care for its members.

By starting to solve problems now, at least there may be a chance to improve the future. And save other young lives.

I’m no social scientist, so I’m sure others could come up with other and better ways to improve the situation in Croxteth and similar areas. How about forming management teams from those doing terms in open-prisons for white collar crimes? Benchmark their progress and reduce their sentences as a reward for positive progress?  And instead of the boys in blue moving on a group of rowdy teens, why not have them say, ‘Hey, kids, have you heard about the X things on down at the youth centre this evening?  Instead of hanging around here getting piss-bored, check it out.

Gets down off soap box.

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