I had been planning on writing a blog post about celebrating Christmas in the UK and the great Christmas markets but I just can’t stop thinking about the horrific events of last Friday. Friday morning I was at Kellen’s school going through their Christmas market so when I read the news I couldn’t help but think of all the kids who had been running around earlier in the day grabbing sweets and talking about Father Christmas. My immediate reaction was tears, which actually surprised me because you would think that by now I would be desensitized to news stories like this, it was impossible not to think of the parents and the unimaginable pain they must be in. Since then I’ve been listening to NPR, reading articles online and watching the US news we do get. I am not an expert on gun laws and I’m sure anyone indoctrinated by the NRA could debate me into a corner but here is my perspective.
I was not raised around guns and am actually extremely uncomfortable having them around. I do not know how to handle a gun and see it more as an awesome responsibly and danger that I have no interest in taking on. When I do talk to someone who has guns I always hear about the precautions they take with their guns, the locks, safes, out of reach of children, etc. If that is the case then stricter gun control should not have an impact on them. It would be naïve to think that all guns would be made illegal with no options for responsible gun owners. The problem is that there are so many irresponsible gun owners and there is a fear that I don’t understand to take the steps to prevent these people access to guns. With so many guns in circulation and with minimal oversight it seems inevitable that guns would end up in the hands of the people you least want to have them.
In the UK guns are essentially illegal; the gun laws are some of the strictest in the world. Police officers don’t even carry guns and there have been discussions to tighten their knife control laws… But there are still people who need guns or want to own guns responsibly; there is a long tradition of wild game hunting in the countryside. Those people are able to apply for a license to own a limited number of guns and the types of guns they are able to apply for is also limited.
To obtain a firearm certificate, the police must be convinced that a person has "good reason" to own each firearm, and that they can be trusted with it "without danger to the public safety or to the peace". Under Home Office guidelines, firearms licences are only issued if a person has legitimate sporting, collecting, or work-related reasons for ownership. Since 1968, self-defence has not been considered a valid reason to own a firearm. The current licensing procedure involves: positive verification of identity, two referees of verifiable good character who have known the applicant for at least two years (and who may themselves be interviewed and/or investigated as part of the certification), approval of the application by the applicant's own family doctor, an inspection of the premises and cabinet where firearms will be kept and a face-to-face interview by a Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) also known as a Firearms Liaison Officer (FLO). A thorough background check of the applicant is then made by Special Branch on behalf of the firearms licensing department. Only when all these stages have been satisfactorily completed will a license be issued, which must be renewed every 5 years.
Any person who has been sentenced to three years or more in prison is automatically banned for life from obtaining a firearms licence. Similarly, persons applying for licences with recent, serious mental health issues will also be refused a certificate.
Any person holding a Firearm or Shotgun Certificate must comply with strict conditions regarding such things as safe storage. These storage arrangements are checked by the police before a licence is first granted, and on every renewal of the licence. A local police force may impose additional conditions on ownership, over and above those set out by law. Failure to comply with any of these conditions can mean forfeiture of the licence and surrender of any firearms to the police, though due to the complicated laws, different forces in the UK interpret the regulations in different ways, and many conditions have been overthrown following legal proceedings against issuing Police forces.
It is hard to own a gun in the UK and I think that’s great. Laws like this have made it so that only people willing to take the needed steps to ensure responsible gun ownership are able to own a gun. How is that bad? From a US perspective I can see how the fact that self-defense is not considered a valid reason for gun ownership can be shocking, but if no one has a gun you don’t need one either. If someone breaks into your home you can be assured they will not be armed with a gun. You won’t be caught in a mall during the holidays while someone opens fire and you can be sure a gunman won’t walk into your child’s school. These laws work and the murder rates reflect that.
The United Kingdom has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world with 0.07 recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009 compared to the United States' 3.0 (over 40 times higher) and to Germany's 0.21 (3 times higher).
Why are we afraid to take these kinds of steps in the US? Why do we continue to believe that adding more guns is the answer? There was an interview with some security expert on NPR and the first thing he recommended what having armed police officers on school grounds at all times. Is that the world we want to live in? Is it better to have 1st graders walk through metal detectors then to limit the number of guns in circulation? At this point I’m honestly asking the question because I cannot understand when we will reach the tipping point. Anyone who has turned on the news has seen the stats on the number of mass killings over the last 10 years, it’s horrible, and it’s shocking. But think about all of the one-off deaths caused by irresponsible gun ownership Darius Simmons, Treyvon Martin, Jesse Rainey; the list goes on and on. Do a search for accidental shooting and you will be shocked to see how many results come up. The line I seem to hear in response to this is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Well maybe if we don’t allow those kinds of people to have guns then less will die.
Thinking again about Sandy Hook Elementary it is clear that there are a number of factors that lead to Friday’s events. When someone takes drastic actions like that there are obviously mental health issues involved and those shouldn’t be ignored. Even without guns there will be crime and people will be killed. I believe that there are more people in the US, both gun owners and non-gun owners, who believe that we need to tighten control on guns for the greater good of our country and our kids then those who believe in no regulation. The question is at what point do we stand up to the NRA and the extreme wing of the conservative party and say that enough is enough. If Friday was not bad enough to spur change then I do not want to know what it is going to take.