Police in the West Midlands have launched a massive operation to tackle gun crime and gang-related violence in the region.
As part of a Home Office-led initiative, more than 25 arrests have been made since yesterday morning and a number of weapons, including guns, replica firearms and CS canisters, seized in raids throughout the region.
It was the result of the Tackling Gangs Action Programme, with a focus on neighbourhoods in parts of London, Liverpool, Greater Manchester and Birmingham.
Businesses and the homes of individuals in the West Midlands were raided as part of the Tackling Gangs Action Day.
Along with Trading Standards and a number of other partner organisations, the force also visited licensed gun dealers to make sure they were complying with the law.
Superintendent Carl Foulkes of West Midlands Police's intelligence department, said the introduction of the Violent Crime Reduction Act in 2006 meant it was "an offence to sell or manufacture firearms that are imitation or replicas of the original".
This, he said, was a significant problem in the region following a growing number of armed robberies or gun-related crime involving a replica firearm.
But he added it was near impossible to tell the difference until the firearm had been handled by experts.
"Personally, I believe a lot of crimes with firearms are committed with imitation firearms but you just don't know," he said.
"We will never know with crimes with firearms unless we recover them. The reality is we have to react in the same way as if if they were real."
Demonstrating how difficult it was to tell the difference by displaying a replica next to a real gun, firearms officer Rob Anderson added: "Thankfully, I have never been in a situation where I have had a firearm pointed at me.
"Until we have opened them up, we can't tell if they are real."
Speaking yesterday about the operation, Supt Foulkes said: "We have got a number of highly visible patrols going on in the city. Activity will go on throughout the day.
"This is on top of our normal business as we do this day in day out.
"It is about our partnership approach. I do not think we can tackle this as a single authority.
"By working with the schools and community safety partnership, young people's probation service and so on, we can deter this type of crime."
He added the operation also involved visits to schools in the West Midlands to talk to students about gun crime, as he said many youngsters were involved with gangs because of peer pressure.
"It is those children that we are working with and working with the schools," he said. "They have got links with firearms through peers and siblings. They might be wearing clothing or jewellery that links them with firearms.
"There is nothing to say there is a gang culture in schools but there is in certain areas of the city," he said.
"A lot of these kids don't want a great deal but they want to earn a living. We need to deter them from gang culture. It is about giving them opportunities."
During 2006/07 a provisional 9,608 firearms offences were reported in England and Wales.
Firearms were used in 3,891 robberies and handguns in a total of 4,144 crimes, in both cases fewer than in 2005/06. However guns were used in 61 homicides, up 18 per cent from the previous year.