Gangs and Weapons

The vast majority of young people are not involved in gangs and want nothing to do with them. However, the behaviour of the small number of young people who are involved has a significant impact on communities, on their families and associates, as well as themselves.

Why do young people join gangs?

Young people join gangs for reasons which make sense to them, if not to adults.

Some reasons why young people may join a gang are:

  • Respect and status
  • To gain friends
  • A sense of belonging
  • Excitement
  • To find a substitute family
  • Power
  • Protection
  • Money
  • Peer pressure

Signs to look out for

Gangs often leave signs of their presence and your child might adopt some of these signs; either as a member or as an associate of a gang. Any sudden changes in your child’s lifestyle should be discussed. Signs may include:

  • Specific dress style
  • Poor behaviour
  • Talking differently – new slang or language with an
  • aggressive tone
  • Poor school results or skipping school
  • Carrying weapons
  • Unexplained injuries or sums of money/possessions
  • Staying out unusually late
  • Graffiti style tags on possessions
  • Interest in music which glorifies weapons/gang culture
  • Gangs will often have profiles on social or networking websites like Facebook or Twitter.

It’s not just the boys

Girls can be affected by gangs, but their involvement may be harder to spot. They may be asked to hide weapons or drugs, or be targeted by male gang members in acts of revenge or gang initiations. All of this tends to go on ‘behind closed doors’.

Girls who are linked to gang members (sisters, girlfriends, friends, cousins, daughters) as well as female gang members themselves, are at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence. Many girls who are involved with gangs may believe that what they are being pressured, forced or choosing to do is acceptable, even normal. They may not realise that what is happening to them is wrong; they may be afraid of what might happen if they tell anyone and/or they may think that no one will believe or protect them.

Some signs that a girl you know might be involved with a gang include:

  • Changes in physical appearance (for example wearing more ‘adult’ clothes, or wearing baggy clothes and no make up)
  • Unexplained money or possessions
  • Getting involved in fights
  • Committing crimes such as shoplifting
  • Regularly staying out late or going missing from home
  • Abusing drugs and/or alcohol
  • Physical injuries (which may indicate violence from others and/or self-harming)
  • Refusing to seek medical help for such injuries and becoming fearful and/or withdrawn and/or prone to unexplained outbursts of anger

What can you do?

There are things you can do to help stop children and young people from being involved in gangs.

  • Talk to them and listen
  • Encourage them to get involved in positive activities and to think about their future employment
  • Help them to cope with pressure and how to deal with conflict without use of violence
  • Speak to them about the serious consequences that occur from violent or illegal behaviour. Help them to understand the dangers of being in a gang and find constructive alternative ways to use their time
  • Be aware of what they are doing on the internet
  • Look for ways of disciplining children that do not involve harshness, anger or violence
  • Work with other parents and schools to watch their behaviour
  • Contact local voluntary organisations that provide mentoring and
  • other support for young people
  • Talk about their child’s behaviour with their school and parents

If the child is already involved

If a child is already involved in a gang, they may not want to talk about it or be scared. It is important that they know you want to listen and support them. Make sure they know they have a choice.

Seek help from local community organisations or youth services. They can offer specialist support and programmes to help them leave the gang. Contact local support networks such as faith groups or neighbourhood police officers connected to your local school.

What the law says

  • The law focuses on criminal behaviour. If an offender was part of a group or a gang, this may lead to a longer sentence.
  • If your child’s presence or actions lead to a crime they could be charged with the same offence as the main offender. For example, if they provided support or encouragement to a fellow gang member who committed a robbery or injured someone, they too could be charged with the same offence. This is called joint enterprise It is illegal to carry a knife in a in a public place, even if it belongs to someone else
  • It is also illegal to carry a folding pocketknife if the edge of the blade exceeds 3 inches
  • It is illegal to carry a pocketknife if the blade can be locked
  • It is illegal to carry any knife, including folding knives, if there is intent to use it as a weapon, even if it belongs to someone else
  • The maximum sentence for possessing a knife in a public place without a good excuse has been increased from two to four years for 16-17 year olds and adults
  • It is illegal to keep any prohibited firearm, or to carry any firearm – including an imitation – in public, even if you are carrying it for someone else
  • The maximum sentence for unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm is ten years. The minimum sentence is three years for 16-17 year olds and five years for adults
  • Police can and will search someone if they believe they are carrying a gun, knife or other weapon
  • Police and school staff can also search young people for weapons at school

Committing crime and ending up with a criminal record will affect the rest of a child’s life. Having a criminal record can prevent a young person getting a job, going to university or college, or even travelling abroad.

All schools have a policy to help stop young people from carrying knives and other offensive weapons, so that everyone can feel safe at school and in the community. If you are suspected of carrying an offensive weapon you may be searched. If you are found to be carrying or threaten to use an offensive weapon at school/college, you will be permanently excluded.

They may also face criminal charges.

There are three categories of offensive weapons:

  • 'Made' could include a dagger or a gun;
  • 'Adapted' could include a broken bottle; and
  • 'Intended' for such use could include a rock or a firework

Further contacts and advice

You should call 101 to report crime and other concerns that do not require an emergency response. Call 999 in an emergency.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) – runs a wide range of services for both children and adults, including national helplines and local projects. In collaboration with the Home Office, they have extended the use of their helpline to provide information and advice to parents and others concerned about young people who may be involved, or affected by gang activity. Their helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Freephone: 0808 800 5000. Email: 

You can find more advice on gangs and weapons and other subjects in our links section

Taken from Advice to parents and carers on gangs (PDF) - Gov.UK

Information on Gangs and Weapons