The parents of a South Yorkshire youngster shot dead by a friend with an air rifle are backing a police campaign to take the lethal weapons off the streets.
Chief Constable David Crompton thanked 12-year-old Alex Cole’s parents at the launch of new educational video Dirty Nails – and revealed his firearms officers have been called to more than 750 incidents in three years
Mr Crompton said this year South Yorkshire Police officers had been deployed to 581 firearms incidents.
Of those, 35 involved air weapons – bb guns and pellet guns – being seen or used and in about 20 per cent of firearms cases - 130 - the victims had suffered injuries.
The new film will be shown to 20,000 schoolchildren a year by the force’s Guns and Knives Take Lives team, to educate youngsters about the dangers of using weapons.
It features the death of Alex, from Conisbrough, who was accidentally killed when a friend showed him his father’s new air rifle.
The gun went off and a pellet was fired into Alex’s eye, which penetrated his brain.
Mr Crompton said: “Most of the injuries tend to be at the minor end of the scale, but that isn’t always the case.”
The force seizes about 1,000 weapons from South Yorkshire’s streets every year, most of them air weapons.
Mr Crompton said some of the most powerful air weapons were viewed in law with the same severity as handguns and machine guns.
He said: “The phrase ‘lethal barrelled weapons’ covers a multitude of different things – it could be a revolver, it could be a pistol. The law views all in the same way because of the danger they pose.
“Armed officers go along – maybe it’s at night, maybe it’s dusk, maybe the weather isn’t good – and they see something and they aren’t sure what it is in front of them. “That could be a situation that could quite easily result in a tragedy.
“That is a threat to officers and any individual who carries an air weapon, because it is extremely difficult in the heat of the moment to tell the difference between the two.”
But Mr Crompton stressed the streets of South Yorkshire remain safe.
He said: “In comparison with other metropolitan areas we don’t suffer the same sort of problems that many of them do.
“This latest film brings home, in the saddest possible way, the consequences of carrying air weapons.
“I admire the strength and determination of the family for being prepared to relive their harrowing experience.
“It enables us to reinforce to young people the dangers of air weapons and helps us in working to avoid a similar incident occurring to another family in South Yorkshire.”