What has gone wrong with society when an 11 year-old boy goes out to play football and ends up shot dead? Mike Chapple reports
IN FEBRUARY, 1997 the Conservative government outlawed handguns. It followed the infamous day a year earlier when Thomas Hamilton walked into the gym at Dunblane High School killing 16 children, their teacher and seriously injuring many others.
The overriding mindset was that by prohibiting the use of guns to even those adults holding legitimate firearm certificates, the lives of young innocents would be protected forever.
Ten years on and the bitter irony cannot be lost that a primary school pupil just 11-years-old has become another apparent victim of the explosion in teenage gun crime in which youngsters are preying on their peers. The suspect is aged between just 13 and 15.
In May this year the Liverpool Daily Post reported how children as young as 12 were being caught by police in Merseyside carrying firearms and Class A drugs.
Figures obtained by the LDP under the Freedom of Information Act showed that 48 under-18s were arrested for gun crimes last year, and another 141 for the most serious Class A drugs offences.
The youngest were just 12, while the youngest of the 141 caught for knife crimes was only 11.
How and why is it happening?
Professor David Canter is the director of the centre for Investigative Psychology at the University of Liverpool. He pioneered criminal profiling in this country, a behavioral and investigative tool that helps police investigators to profile an unknown subject or offender.
“I think the major question you have to ask is how are these guns becoming available to people so young? And what is really intriguing is that the kid who apparently carried out the shooting knew exactly how to use it.”
He explained that the outlawing of guns in 1997 was not really relevant to the problem.
“In America the anti gun lobby will tell you that licensed guns are not the problem – those used in crime are the unlicensed ones.”
He added that the opening up of the UK to countries in eastern Europe where guns were more readily available and Britain being involved in warfare overseas could be factors.
But he emphasised that it was vitally important that people put a perspective on things.
“We keep saying it’s terribly easy for people to get hold of a gun here. But there was a case of someone going undercover quite recently and it took him a hell of a long time to get hold of one. What we don’t want is the media to give the impression to young males that everyone else has got one so they must need one for their own protection. You have to remember that gun crime is still very rare in the country.”
It is however much more prevalent in computer games and the cinema which he believes may have lowered the threshold on what is considered abnormal behaviour to youngsters.
Peter Jones, spokesman for Liverpool Chamber of Commerce’s Business Crime Direct, agreed.
“We think that youngsters have been desensitised by computer games and violent movies where you see characters being blown 40 foot up in the air and nothing happens to them.”
THE Chamber is seriously considering backing an educational package of plans initially put forward by Karl Barry, the spokesman for the security forum of the BCD, and who is an expert in the field of close protection as a bodyguard.
He wants to see a danger of firearms awareness package added to school pupils’ forthcoming citizenship courses in the city.
“We want to be able show them that there’s a difference between the world of Pulp Fiction and gun reality,” said Mr Barry, elected by local security firms as their representative. “We want to be able to show them films, slides and photos of the damage that guns can do. When someone gets shot it causes terrible pain and disablement. You don’t just get up and walk away.”
Meanwhile, the deterioration of family life in the 10 years since Dunblane may have had more to do with the causes of Wednesday’s shooting in Croxteth Park, say child care professionals.
Deborah Hartwell, head of operations at Progressive Care, which provides residential care and assessment services for children and families across the UK, said parents must take ultimate responsibility for their children’s actions.
“All too often we rely on the state to do it for us. I’m not against working parents, as I was one myself, but children need clear and consistent boundaries.
“Instead of chastising parents the Government should find ways to support and encourage parenthood.
“Family values should be passed down through the generations as they were in the past, I think we are beginning to see the results of the breakdown in family life in our society.”
It’s a worthy shot at a long-term solution.
But the fruit that was supposed to be the legacy of Dunblane has long turned sour – and it’s too late to bring young Rhys Jones back.