Greater Manchester Police have this week launched an amnesty, allowing anyone in possession of a firearm to hand it into the authorities anonymously and without consequence, in a drive to make the city’s streets safer. It is part of the wider ‘Give Up The Gun’ initiative taking place nationwide.
Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle, in charge of the crime and forensic services division, urged the public that guns on the street are something to be concerned with. She pointed out that far from affecting just those most closely linked to gang crime and feuds, innocent members of the public have also been caught in the crossfire in recent years.
Doyle told Manchester Evening News: “It’s worrying because we know the damage firearms cause and it’s not always the person who’s targeted who gets shot. We’ve had incidents whereby innocent children have been caught in the crossfire. I think it would be naive to say don’t worry.”
The scheme was backed by Halton McCollin Sr., whose son was gunned down at a Stretford takeaway in 2008 in a case of mistaken identity. His killer remains unidentified. In 2015, Jayne Hickey and her seven year-old son Christian were shot dead on the porch of their Eccles home in an incident related to gang warfare.
The amnesty comes just 18 months after the last, in which 221 guns were handed into GMP. Whilst Doyle admitted that she didn’t realistically expect the most serious criminals to hand in their firearms, she asserted that any measure to take guns off the streets was in the greater public interest.
The announcement follows the release of Home Office statistics in October suggesting that crime in Greater Manchester in the year July 2016 – June 2017 rose by 31 percent. In particular, violence against a person rose 46 percent, sexual offences climbed 31 percent, burglary increased by 14 percent and robbery was up 53 percent on the year before.
In recent weeks there has been particular concern for student safety in the notoriously under-policed Fallowfield area. A petition entitled ‘Greater Manchester Police and Andy Burnham: help us to make Fallowfield safe for students!’ was signed by 9,638 people, signalling that years of frustration at the city’s neglect for student wellbeing may be coming to a point.
In lieu of police action, the Students’ Union recently announced plans for its ‘Night Owl’ scheme, whereby student volunteers, trained in self-defence, will patrol the streets in student residential areas and chaperone the most vulnerable. However, the proposal came under criticism from those sceptical of volunteers’ ability to protect against severe violent crime – a criticism thrown into stark relief by Chief Supt Doyle’s announcement.
Students’ Union Communities Officer, Jack Houghton, previously spoke to the Mancunion in defence of the Night Owl scheme, saying it “has worked really well at other Universities” and that it is “not supposed to be reactive and therefore will avoid putting [volunteers] in direct danger.”
Sadly, gun crime is an all-too real danger in Fallowfield. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, exclusively told the Mancunion about an incident that occurred in his second year: “I was walking through Fallowfield at about 11 o’clock at night on a Sunday. As I got to the intersection of Amherst, Brook and Clifton someone cycled past me, dropped their bike and pulled a gun on me about three inches from my face and shouted what I could only understand as, ‘phone and money’.”
“He was dressed in black with a hood up. It wasn’t underneath a lamppost and the lighting wasn’t great, I can no longer remember what he looks like or many details at all. My only reaction was to shout, kinda throw a punch, and run to Shell as fast as I could. I sat in Shell for half an hour shell-shocked on the phone to the police. I have had PTSD and still have nightmares from time to time.”
“There was no way of knowing if the gun was loaded or even real, but the fear factor was there. And that’s the most traumatising part, how you are utterly helpless in that situation. Luckily I wasn’t harmed: A slight ego bruise and months of insomnia, yes, but if I had I may look back on it differently.”
The student in question was not optimistic about the Police’s ability to prevent such attacks: “Realistically, as far as prevention, there isn’t a lot that can be done in my opinion. Unless you have a member of the police on every street every night from ten to four in the morning , nothing will change.”
He postulated: “Patrols are another option, but they aren’t a sure-fire way of preventing or reducing crime. Security cameras are an option, but they are expensive.”
Ultimately, he said, the crux of the issue is cost, and the GMP just does not have the funds.
Speaking on the gun amnesty, he commented: “I agree with it, and I have said multiple times that this should be an option open to not just guns. It won’t solve the problem as people will be able to get more guns, but it’s a start.”