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Guns, gangs and knives

Most people think of a gang as the ‘urban street gang’ – made up of young people who take part in a range of criminal activities, lay claim over territory and who are often in conflict with other, similar gangs.

However most gun crime is carried out by serious organised crime gangs, responsible for crimes such as modern slavery; trafficking and dealing in drugs, people, weapons and counterfeit goods; sophisticated theft and robbery; high-value fraud; money laundering and other forms of financial crime; and cyber crime.

The activities of street gangs and organised crime gangs can have a serious impact on communities, their families, and the gang members themselves.

Knife crime can have serious consequences for the lives of victims, perpetrators, their families, friends and communities. It has a far reaching and lasting effect on everyone it touches. Young people often associate these deadly weapons to having status, power and control or as a need for protection and safety.

Although knives can be associated to gang members this is not always the case. Many incidents of knife crime have no relevance to gang members.

Individuals may also be affected by:

How it can affect you

If you live in an area where a gun or knife attack has taken place, you may feel afraid and not want to leave your home. You won’t be the only one to feel this way, but try to find some reassurance in that gun or knife crime is rarely random and usually takes place between two gangs, with a specific target in mind.

If you have been injured or witnessed a gun or knife attack, it can be a traumatic, life-changing experience. Even if a gun isn’t fired or a knife wasn't used, and is just used as a threat, it is still crime and still likely to cause a great deal of shock and distress, affecting you both physically and mentally.

Losing someone to violent crime

If you have lost someone to a violent crime, the emotional effects can be devastating. Coping with bereavement and loss is not easy for anyone, but if you have lost someone because of the violent actions of someone else, it can be even harder to cope with.

You might find it hard to manage your feelings which could be all over the place, veering from extreme grief to anger and rage at what has happened. It may feel like there is no way out and no way forward.

Although talking won’t undo what has happened, it can help you find ways to cope and recover from what has happened to you. You are not alone and help is available.

Worried about a child?

Young people join gangs for lots of different reasons, including for respect and status, to gain friends and feel a sense of belonging, and for money and protection.

Organised criminal enterprises are often large and well-structured, with individuals of varying seniority and influence carrying out the activities. Generally speaking, the people at the bottom of the chain, some of whom are young people, are instructed to carry out criminal activities to protect those further up the chain from getting their hands dirty.

The whole enterprise is a network, with those higher up the chain manipulating, exploiting and threatening those beneath them. Vulnerable young people and adults are often ‘groomed’ into criminal gangs, sometimes being promised or ‘rewarded’ with gifts for carrying out criminal tasks. They then become trapped, are exploited and in many cases violence is used to ensure they toe the line.

It can be hard to know what our children are up to at the best of times, but there are signs you can look out for, which may indicate they have joined a gang. For example, they may start talking differently or adopt a specific dress style; they may carry weapons and start behaving badly.

Worried about knife crime?

Young people carry knives for lots of different reasons, including for respect and status, to gain friends, on behalf of friends, to feel safe and secure and for protection.

Within criminal gangs young people are often initiated to carry out specific activities on behalf of other gang members further up the gang hierarchy so as to avoid getting their own hands dirty or being caught themselves. These structures often pressure and intimidate young people to conform and subscribe to the gang. Violence (threats and physical assaults) may also be used to ensure young people comply.

Young people who are being bullied or intimidated within the community and school may feel their only option to protect themselves is to carry a knife, even if they have no intention of using it. Carrying a knife for protection is still illegal.

For more help follow the links below:

Help for young people

Organised crime involves violence and the threat of violence, often against members of the gang itself to make sure they stay disciplined and loyal.

Manchester’s Integrated Gang Management Unit (IGMU) is just one of the multi-agency teams addressing gang and gun crime in the North West. They work with young people at risk of entering the gang lifestyle, and support those people who want to leave gang life behind.

Most people associate gangs with boys and men, but girls can be affected too. They may be asked to hide weapons or drugs and are sometimes targeted by male gang members in acts of revenge or initiation. Girls linked to gang members (e.g. relatives, girlfriends, friends or daughters) are also at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

If you’re in a gang and want to get out, or you’re worried about gang violence, you are not alone. Help is available:

Help for young people and knives

Many young people feel that they have to carry knives for protection. Carrying knives under these circumstances is still illegal. If you are worried about yourself or another young person and need help and support don’t suffer in silence.

There are a number of organisations which can offer you advice and information or signpost you to appropriate services. In addition you could also speak with a trusted member of staff within school or college. You could confide in a friend and seek help together.

(can include same info from guns and gang page)

Advice Leaflet

The government has released this resource for parents and carers worried about their children’s involvement in gangs.

It provides information and advice on:

  • Why young people join gangs
  • Signs to look out for
  • Girls and gangs
  • What you can do
  • If your child is already involved
  • The law
  • Useful contacts

Download leaflet

Find help and support

If you have been affected by gangs or organised crime, don’t suffer in silence. Even if you don’t want to report it to the police, tell a trusted friend or family member about it and use them for support. You can also search our directory to find help and support to help you cope and recover from what’s happened.

How to report it

In an emergency: dial 999

An emergency is when a crime is being committed or has just been witnessed, there is a risk of injury, or a risk of serious damage to property.

In a non-emergency: dial 101

Use this number to report a non-emergency incident or make a general enquiry.

Report anonymously

Contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Crimestoppers is a charity, entirely independent of police. Crimestoppers never shares with police details of people who have got in touch.

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