A View From Across The Pond: Gun Control

By David Malcolm

Nothing makes me question my faith in humanity like a news report about another shooting in the United States. It scares me because I have good friends in the States and I always worry that one day, they will be among the victims of another mass shooting. Perhaps

I find myself hesitant to talk about gun control. For one thing, I know that a foreigner giving a view on such a controversial topic is usually received poorly. I can understand why since I would be slightly annoyed about Americans giving their views on how Britain should be more religious. It’s a well-meaning gesture but it often means that perceptions of culture clash violently with reality.

However, rather than hash out the arguments for gun control, I’d like to share a few points about the UK

Hungerford, Dunblane and Cumbria

The UK had its own wave of gun violence in the 1980s. The first was the Hungerford massacre in 1987, named after the town of Hungerford where it took place. A mentally-ill man took two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun to go on a rampage which shocked the nation. He injured 15 people, killed 16 people and a dog before killing himself. At the time, shootings of this sort had rarely happened but the government soon passed the Firearms (Amendment) Act of 1988 which banned semi-automatics and restricted the use of shotguns.

Nine years later, another even worse shooting occurred near Stirling in Scotland. On March 13th, 1996, a gunman walked into Dunblane Primary School and gunned down 15 children and a teacher, injuring 15 others before killing himself. This was even more horrific since innocent children around 5 to 7 years old had been involved. It sent a chill down my mother’s spine in the South of England and today, the most famous survivor is British tennis star Andy Murray who had been walking to the gym when the gunman started shooting. After much debate, two new firearms laws were passed, restricting the sale and possession of privately owned guns in the UK.

In 2010, a taxi driver in Cumbria, North-Western England took a shotgun and a .22 caliber rifle and proceeded to gun down his brother, his solicitor and a friend of his before going on a random shooting spree. He killed 12 people, wounded 11 others and then killed himself. That one hit me hardest since I was on holiday in the Lake District, just north affected affect area. It was suspected that he was driving up to the Lake District to continue gunning people down, but luckily he didn’t. This time, no new legislation was passed although there was speculation that there would be further checks and restrictions.

In all of these cases, the UK responded in the same way they responded to terror attacks: with kindness to the victims, with sorrow at the loss and a determination to stop or at least prevent attacks like this again. Guns are still available but there is no real need to acquire them unless you’re a farmer or a wild game hunter. Even when you buy one, there are rigorous checks in place. The police in the UK tend to favor non-violent methods to incapacitate criminals such as tasers or pepper spray.

More importantly, it is generally accepted in the UK that the fact that guns are rarely used or even acquired means that more lives can be saved. A man with a knife or a car can still kill people but the number will never be as high as someone with a gun.

The Other Side Of The Coin

America is different because of its revolution and the belief that anyone can be anything. The gun is a symbol of personal liberty, a means of protecting one’s rights and freedoms while fighting for a worthy cause. In practice, the gun can very easily become a tool for enforcing views and it is easy to use a weapon without first respecting it, using it as an excuse to show off rather than a useful tool.
The biggest problem is that the media tends to forget the victims and focus on the gunmen, giving them a platform of martyrdom that they never deserve. The message is clear: do what this guy did and you’ll make it on the news. No one cares about the victims. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the news right now about the gunmen and try to find anything related to the victims. You’ll notice a stark difference…

In the end, there’s very little I can really say that hasn’t already be said. The sad truth is that nothing will change and mass shootings like this can and will happen again. As long as America refuses to have an open and honest debate about guns, this will happen again. It will affect America’s reputation and the world will see them as gun-toting lunatics. It’s unfair and completely wrong but given that there is a mass shooting almost every day in America, can you blame them for thinking like that?

People may say that now is not to time to talk about gun control. I’m afraid I have to disagree: with the effects of mass shootings so poignantly clear, with the aftermath easy to recall and with the whole country’s attention focussed on the issue that clearly needs to be addressed, now is the best time. After all, we propose new legislation after terror attacks. Why make this different?

After its own mass shootings, the UK said ‘Never Again’ and took steps to show they meant it. America needs to take steps to prevent more massacres and stop putting a gun before the lives of its own people. America needs to be honest with itself and when people say ‘Never Again,’ they need to show that they mean it. People need to put aside their indignation and emotional responses and be brutally honest about why they want guns.

Gun control isn’t about banning the weapons or removing them entirely. It’s about education, smart policing, rigorous background checks, limiting what can and cannot be sold and ensuring that the massacres of Hungerford, Dunblane, and Cumbria can never happen again.

The next mass shooting that makes the news will be even deadlier than before. More people will die and many will be wounded. That is a fact and it will happen because nothing will happen after this.

I'm a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

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