Are these criminals politically correct ?
The gun shown here, a Webley, is up for sale in London for £150, one of hundreds of such weapons that are easily and cheaply available on the streets of the UK's big cities, a Guardian investigation can reveal.
The variety of weapons on offer in Britain is extensive and includes machine guns and shotguns, as well as pistols and converted replicas. A source close to the trade in illegal weapons contacted by the Guardian listed a menu of firearms that are available on the streets of the capital.
"You can get a clean [unused] 9mm automatic for £1,500, a Glock for a couple of grand and you can even make an order for a couple of MAC-10s," he said. "Or you can get a little sawn-off for £150. They're easy enough to get hold of. You'll find one in any poverty area, every estate in London, and it's even easier in Manchester, where there are areas where the police don't go.
"People who use shotguns tend to be lower down the pecking order. There is less use of sawn-off or full length shotguns, and if a criminal wants street cred, he wants a self-loading pistol, a MAC-10 or an Uzi submachine gun."
This week a man who ran a "factory" for converting replica weapons into working guns was jailed for life. Police believe the products of Grant Wilkinson's workshops were used in more than 50 shootings, including eight murders. His speciality was turning legally purchased MAC-10s into weapons that could fire live rounds, an increasingly common practice.
According to David Dyson, a leading firearms consultant, it is possible to learn through the internet how to make a firearm, given a degree of skill, and converted deactivated weapons also feature in shootings.
But it is the arrival of eastern European weapons that, alongside a homegrown industry in converting them, has contributed to the firearms glut. "There has been an influx from eastern Europe and particularly from Poland, and there are also a lot coming in from people who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq," said the source. "In Liverpool docks, you can put in an order for 10 guns and some grenades and they'll say OK and two weeks later, they will be there - and they are straight goers."
According to Dyson, the latest "weapon of choice" is a Russian 8mm Baikal self-defence pistol, originally used for firing CS gas. "They are legally sold in Germany and won't fire a bullet but they can be converted by removing the partially blocked barrel, and replacing it with a rifled barrel," he said. "After other small alterations, it can then fire 9mm bulleted ammunition. The replacement barrel is longer than the original, and is threaded so that it will accept a silencer, which is commonly sold as part of the package.
"There are hundreds of these floating around and hundreds have been seized," he said. "They look the part as they are based on the Russian military Makarov pistol. If you are a 20-year-old drug dealer and you want a gun, that is what you will get and it will cost about £1,000 to £1,500."
"The trends in firearms are driven by the suppliers," said Dyson. "About two years ago, a supplier brought back hundreds of German-made revolvers, blank-firing pistols which can be bought legally in Germany. They were then converted and new cylinders made. They could then be sold for £700 to £800 when the supplier would have bought them for €60 and spent about £30 on converting them."
Home Office data shows that gun crime is up since last year, despite the recent doubling of sentences for possessing or supplying firearms. There were 9,803 firearms offences in England and Wales in the year to March 2008 with most in London, Manchester and the West Midlands.
Most buyers are involved with drug dealing, the source said. Some are used to rob other dealers in crimes that go unreported, others are used as protection while a deal is under way. "Someone will have a tool and there is always one guy in a posse willing to use it. They will have one guy who doesn't give a ****.
"Everyone wants to be a gangster now, mainly the kids. You have five or six in a little crew and one of them will be carrying. They want handguns - shotguns are too big and bulky. The sawn-off doesn't look so good but use a machine gun and you get known as a heavy guy. They have them just to be a chap on the street, to pose. Some of them walk around all day with a .38. It's 16-year-olds at it and it's getting like America, silly as it sounds."
In terms of nationalities, the influx of eastern European criminals has changed the balance of power. "Who's using the guns? The [Jamaican] Yardies' value for life was so minimal that they thought nothing of killing people," said the source. "We don't like them, they have no moral code. But it's the Russians and the Polish and Albanians around now. They are bullies. They want to take over the flesh business. The Russians are cold-hearted fuckers. What they have been doing is following the card boys [who put cards advertising prostitutes in phone booths in central London] and then taking the girls hostage, armed if need be."
Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, who has investigated some of London's most high profile shooting murders, said he believed the age of offenders was getting younger, and sometimes guns seemed to be used for the slightest reason.
"Playground squabbles are now being settled with guns," he said. "And drug dealers are taking a policy decision to get youngsters to carry guns."
He said guns could be purchased for a few hundred pounds in many parts of London. "You can hire a gun for a period and, if the gun has already been used for a murder, the going rate comes down."
While the conviction of Wilkinson was seen as a breakthrough, it is accepted that with the increased traffic between Britain and eastern Europe, stemming the flow of weapons remains an almost impossible task.
"Guns are always available," said Dyson. "You can go to the former Soviet Union, or countries with less stringent regulations than ours, and although British Customs have their successes, many guns appear to be smuggled into the UK."
Amnesties for people to hand over weapons are greeted with scepticism by criminals. "The gun amnesties are meaningless," the source said. "All you get handed in are guns from boys who wanted to be gangsters and then got a job or someone whose mother found it in their bedroom. If I had a gun, I wouldn't take part because, if I got pulled, what would I say - 'Oh, I'm just on my way to the amnesty.' Also if it gets out that you've given in your tool, people will think you're a wrong 'un."
Few professional criminals would keep guns on their premises. "Only silly people keep it in their homes. Normally, you have a 'keeper' a couple of miles away and some of them have been at it for 20 years. It's best to have an old fellow with no previous or a woman. You keep the ammunition separate because you'll get a much heavier sentence if you have them together."
When guns are moved from place to place, a young woman is often used as the courier because there is less risk of her being stopped and searched.
What is not in dispute is the devastating effect that the casual use of a gun over a minor argument can have on dozens of people. In December 2006, Sean "Stretch" Jenkins, 36, an amiable, 6ft 8in window-cleaner from south London, was shot dead at a party in Carshalton. His killer was a cocaine dealer called Joseph Greenland, a volatile man with a quick temper, who had apparently taken offence at something Jenkins said. The men had earlier been at a boxing night at Caesar's in Streatham, where there had been some fighting outside the ring. Greenland had left the party, driven home in his Range Rover, picked up a gun and returned to kill Jenkins in front of at least five witnesses, who were warned not to talk.
None of the immediate witnesses gave evidence against Greenland, who had a reputation for threatening to "annihilate" anyone who crossed him, but there were traces of his DNA on a cigarette end and a wine glass at the party and his bragging about the shooting was to be his downfall. His recourse to a gun, for no other reason than some perceived slight, left Jenkins's six-year-old son without a father and saddened a wide network of friends and family. Greenland was jailed for life last week and will have to serve 30 years before he can be considered for parole.
"We got what we wanted," said the victim's mother, Maureen Jenkins, of the verdict and sentence last month. "I went to the cemetery and said, 'Well, boy, I can put you to rest'."
The detectives investigating the killing and the prosecution team that secured Greenland's conviction were "marvellous", she said. "I shed tears every day and I probably will till the day I die. Why do these people have to kill for nothing? If they want to kill people, why don't they join the army? You don't ever think a shooting will happen in your life. It's all down to guns, just guns."
The Guardian's source said that guns were becoming a first rather than a last recourse. "A gun used to be used as a mediator; now everything is revolved with a gun. It's brought the heat on everyone. Before you would get a two [years jail sentence], now it's a five. It's getting like the US now, like The Wire. It's like a prediction of what will happen here. I think they all think they're playing Grand Theft Auto. It's madness out there."
About this articleClose Firearms: cheap, easy to get and on a street near you
This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday August 30 2008 on p16 of the UK news section. It was last updated at 00:21 on August 30 2008.