Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has denied that a police crackdown on gun gangs carried out through Birmingham schools and the internet signals that a new wave of armed criminals is threatening communities.
Ms Smith said detectives were carrying out "tough enforcement" against gun criminals in the region and that the streets of the West Midlands were safe thanks to partnership working by police.
The Home Secretary heard senior West Midlands Police officers describe how youths were becoming increasingly aware of gang culture and that social networking sites had became a central part of gang activity.
Assistant Chief Constable Suzette Davenport also said there had been 32 people arrested for gun crime and 3,200 weapons seized since November. The ACC also spoke of how one armed teenager was arrested in Birmingham yesterday after a trawl of the internet uncovered an image of a youth brazenly posing with a gun.
Asked whether a new focus on uncovering younger and more internet-savvy armed criminals signalled a more sinister and worrying trend of gun bravado, Ms Smith told The Birmingham Post: "This just shows that we have some pretty tough and wide ranging enforcement that is being carried out in the West Midlands.
"We have had five people arrested this weekend, which shows that West Midlands Police are being proactive in helping communities fight gun criminals.
"They are using a range of measures and all types of partners at the local authority and in the community to help them in the fight against criminals."
Ms Smith also said gun crime had not had a negative impact on the lives of the majority of people in Birmingham.
She added: "When I think about Birmingham I do not think about gun crime. I think about the great city and the great communities where the majority of people lead lives which are not disrupted by crime."
The Home Secretary was speaking in Birmingham as she was briefed on the work of city’s Home Office-backed Tackling Gangs Action Programme (TGAP).
The force has received £250,000 from the Government to reduce gang activity, gun and knife crime through increasing street patrols and working with schools and other community organisations.
Ms Smith was also briefed on a new national database which is designed to link evidence on gun crime from across the country. West Midlands Police is the lead force behind the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS), which is to be rolled out in September.
NABIS will provide a register of all recovered firearms and ammunition and will enable police officers to link gun crimes across the country within 24 to 48 hours.
Speaking at the force’s headquarters in Birmingham, Ms Smith said: "I think it’s important in tackling gun crime across the country that we have world-leading technology – that is what this database is."
The NABIS will operate out of three main hubs – Birmingham, London and Manchester. The changing pattern of the fight against gun criminals was highlighted yesterday following the arrest of a 16-year-old youth on firearms offences. It followed the discovery of an image on a social networking site of a youth adorned with gold chains pointing a pistol at someone else.
A caption beneath the internet picture said: "Ha ha me bred got scared." Officers yesterday swooped on a terraced house off Washwood Heath Road, in Alum Rock, after trying to identify the person in the image.
Social networking sites, such as Bebo and My Space, are popular with youngsters who upload pictures, messages and videos of themselves. Some use the sites to boast of their violent exploits and pose with weapons and several sites have been set up under the name of street gangs. While much of it is teenage posturing, police said they would take action against anyone found brandishing weapons.