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Minister's careless firing fails to hit the truth about guns

THE horrific and untimely deaths of two innocent teenagers, Latisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis, killed by bullets from a 9mm submachine gun, is cause for great sadness. Who could fail to be moved by the bereaved mother's words: "A part of me died when Latisha died. What could be worse?"

But, however appealing it is to point the finger at a scapegoat, there is no simplistic link between violent crime and either choice of music or exposure to screen violence.

Since Culture Minister Kim Howells' inarticulate outburst last weekend, much of the tabloid newsprint has speculated about whether rap music, video and films are to blame for gun crime.

But his carelessly fired blunderbuss at one of the most significant forms of artistic expression among young people in Britain, especially among those of Afro-Caribbean origin, has missed the point. His indiscriminate peppering of pellets of blame into frightened and grieving communities has distracted attention away from the real causes of gun violence in our cities, such as the entrenchment of poverty, desperation, and despair about the future felt by some young people in our consumerist, yet exclusive, society. In this context, the lure of the drugs business and the guns that go with it, are too hard for some people to resist.

This problem will not be solved by arguments about rap music or by law 'n'

order rhetoric. We need government investment in the schools, leisure facilities and public spaces of our cities. We need parents, teachers and the wider community to nurture non-violence, respect for human dignity and to encourage art forms that inspire the ethics of love, kindness and compassion.

Ben Bowling lectures in criminology at King's College, London University. His book, "Racism, Crime and Justice", was published in 2001 by Longman at pound;22.99

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