Children as young as 11 are committing gun crimes every day across Sussex.

Shocking new figures reveal almost 130 children have been caught by police with imitation firearms or BB guns in public in the past two years.

The results emerged as Sussex Police warned people found in possession of the weapons in public were putting their lives in danger and wasting police time.

Anyone in possession of a BB gun in a public place is likely to be arrested and could be subject to a fine of £5,000, six months' imprisonment or both.

However, there is currently no age limit for owning a BB gun and the Home Office told The Argus yesterday it was not going to ban the weapons despite calls from campaigners.

Chief Inspector Lawrence Hobbs, of Sussex police, said firearms officers were being called out every day to deal with children seen walking the streets with BB guns or imitation firearms.

He said: "It is causing us enormous difficulties because each time we need to ascertain whether it is a real firearm.

"We do not want to deploy firearm officers every time this happens so we have to carry out some sort of assessment.

"Some of these weapons are extremely realistic unless you can closely examine them.

"Each time it happens, it takes up to 30 minutes to one hour and it is happening every day."

The roll-call of 128 offences includes: More than ten teenagers, including two 13 year olds, reprimanded for using a firearm or imitation firearm to intimidate the public.

More than 50 youths, some as young as 12, found with imitation firearms.

One 17-year-old caught with a hand gun.

Five teenage girls , including one aged 14, committed firearm offences.

Maggie Smeeth, of Whitehawk, has worked tirelessly to tackle the sale of BB guns in Brighton. As part of an action group, including Brighton and Hove City Council's trading standards team and the police, she organised an amnesty day for BB guns.

A total of 44 people exchanged their weapons for water pistols, and she has successfully achieved a ban on the gun sales at some Sussex markets, including the regular events held at Brighton Racecourse.

As a result, the number of children wandering the streets of Whitehawk with these weapons has fallen.

The Criminal Justice Act 2006 will come into force next year, putting more stringent controls on the sales of BB guns and raise the minimum age for buying them to 18.

Air weapons can only be bought in person from registered firearms dealers and the prison sentence for anyone caught with an air weapon in a public place without a reasonable excuse will increase to six to 12 months.

However, the Home Officesaid: "A total ban on all air weapons would be disproportionate and would penalise the vast majority of legitimate and responsible users.

"The way forward lies in controlling the easy availability of air weapons, which can currently be sold from market stalls, car boot sales and by mail order."

Ms Smeeth said without a total ban children will still be able to get hold of the guns and she was particularly concerned about the ease with which they were available on the internet.

In just a few minutes, The Argus found dozens of websites selling BB guns, including the Nightstalker, a semi-automatic CO2-powered rifle for £140.

Ms Smeeth said: "The only way to resolve these issues is to have BB guns banned. They are shooting animals, buses and I had a taxi driver tell me his windscreen was hit with one.

"I cannot believe laser guns, BB guns and high-powered BB guns are available to children. Parents need to be told these guns are not toys."

A Home Office report warned last year that a quarter of those who went on to commit serious gun crime had "first experienced airguns and BB guns, typically in their early teens".

l The Argus reported last week Hastings Borough councillor Keith Bing is continuing his campaign to get the sale of catapults banned following a spate of attacks in the town.