"SUPPORT Law and Order: Buy a Gun". That is the message on the counter of a Bournemouth shop displaying a frightening-looking array of weaponry in its window.

Although the guns are either air weapons or fakes, they include a 1920s style sub-machine gun, an assault rifle and a very realistic-looking handgun. All are on sale legally and are accompanied by a crossbow and several knives.

With a national knife amnesty yielding a total of 459 weapons in Dorset during its first week, the owner of Modern and Antique Firearms in Tuckton dismisses any suggestion that shops such as his are contributing to the rising tide of violence in Britain.

Former serviceman Gillie Howe points out that the majority of stabbings happen in the home and are carried out with kitchen knives. Among the knives he has in stock is a fearsome Gurkha-style blade popular, he says, with fishermen for cutting back undergrowth on river banks.

"I sell them to anybody who is over 18. No-one has ever been in court for one of these," he says. "There are lots of fancy knives, but they look stupid so I don't bother with them."

Mr Howe tells me that screwdrivers and pens can be just as dangerous as knives, and that the enforcement of the law is at fault. "All you have to do is put people who use knives in prison for 20 or 30 years. If you don't have a deterrent, that's it."

He believes that the clampdown on handgun ownership in the wake of the Hungerford and Dunblane incidents did nothing to stem the flow of illegal firearms circulating in the UK although it did interfere with the activities of the law-abiding gun enthusiasts who make up most of his customers.

"We have probably the most stringent gun laws in the world. Unfortunately it's done no good. Everyone handed in their pistols and the government said it had all the guns off the street. From that day on, there have been more shootings than ever before," said Mr Howe.

At the moment, anyone can buy an item from the shop's window display as long as he or she is over 18. But the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, if it goes through, will make it illegal to manufacture or sell firearms that could be mistaken for real or converted to fire real ammunition. Air rifles will still be available, although the age limit for buying or firing them will be raised.

  • It is against the law to sell knives, axes, razor blades or any article with blades or sharp points to children under 16. Knives can be surrendered without reprisal at police stations throughout Dorset until June 30.