DOZENS of real guns have been handed in to Lothian and Borders Police after the force launched an amnesty aimed at taking imitation firearms off the streets.
Four shotguns and a revolver were among the weapons that have been handed in to police stations across the region since the amnesty was launched three weeks ago.
The 36 genuine firearms handed over means that there have been five times more real guns collected than fakes. The cache of dangerous weapons also included 16 air rifles and 15 air pistols. Seven replica handguns were given up.
Police today hailed the ongoing initiative as a success despite the surprise result.
The amnesty was prompted by the number of incidents which armed police have been called to in recent months involving pretend guns.
Officers fear that someone waving one of the fake weapons in circulation - which include children’s toys - will be killed because they are almost impossible for police marksmen to tell apart from the real thing.
But police are also anxious to see a drop in the number of real guns on the streets following a number of worrying incidents in the city.
An air-rifle illegally adapted to fire bullets and two high-powered air guns capable of killing were found by officers who swooped on six city homes in April.
Police believe the weapons were bought as protection from other city dealers, and that officers were seeing a growing trend for the use of firearms in the drugs trade, particularly in the Piershill area of the city, where the raids took place.
The fear is that real guns in the community, even if they are not being used, risk falling into the hands of criminals.
Deputy chief constable Tom Wood today welcomed the public response.
He said: "It is a positive start to our campaign. We want to remove the guns from circulation to prevent them getting in the hands of criminals or children."
There is at least one firearms incident in the Lothian and Borders region every day on average, many involving fakes.
The growing number of people carrying replicas led the force to launch the two-month campaign, which runs until September 1.
People handing in weapons will not generally risk prosecution during the amnesty, but officers will look into the circumstances of any real guns handed in.
Many of the firearms handed in have been from people who have discovered them lying around after many years.
One elderly woman has handed in a revolver after discovering it as she was cleaning out her house.
Another woman found an air pistol dating back to 1960 in a box in her house. Three starting pistols were also handed in along with two flare-guns as part of the amnesty.
Thousands of air gun pellets have also been surrendered.
Police have repeatedly warned in recent months that someone with an imitation gun risks being killed by armed officers who mistook the fake for a real weapon.
In the latest incident to worry police, a 12-year-old boy was spotted brandishing what looked liked a pistol at Fort Kinnaird retail centre, last Wednesday. It was later discovered to be a toy pistol.
Armed police were also called to Princes Street Gardens last week after a man was spotted brandishing a toy gun. The west side of the Gardens was sealed off as officers surrounded the man.
It was only when police got a closer look they discovered it was not a genuine firearm. Mr Wood said: "It turned out to be a toy. Parents must be aware of what their kids are doing. It is a good example of what we have to deal with daily. During an incident, it is very hard to tell the difference between an imitation and a genuine weapon.
"Police have to assume it is real. It can have very serious consequences. When police go into a situation, they have to assume it is real until it is proven otherwise.
"When people see a gun they panic and are terrified because they have no way of telling whether it is real or not."
Weapons can be handed into any Lothian and Borders Police station.
Between January and March this year the armed response unit attended 65 incidents, resulting in 24 air weapons and imitation guns being recovered. This is the first time that the force has carried out an amnesty for fake firearms.