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Another day, another high school massacre. They happen so frequently now, that the shock value just isn’t there anymore. How awful, that the senseless deaths of children no longer shock us. Predictably, pro-gun spokespeople including politicians and celebrities have been scratching around for as many excuses as they can to deny that lax gun regulation was the cause of yet another school shooting.
Again and again, we hear about the rights of gun owners, and nothing, absolutely zilch, about the responsibilities that come with those rights. Apparently it’s about freedom and the need to defend one’s property against a theoretical rogue government that ceased to exist over 150 years ago. Advocates of gun ownership also emphasise the need for self-defence, yet they prioritise their individual safety over that of everyone else. A key problem with owning guns for self-defence is that it increases the number of guns in circulation, which increases the chance of a gun being misused. Those with guns feel that they have status and protection by owning a dangerous weapon. But their guns are a threat to the freedom and right to life of every other citizen.
We hear from the gun lobby that if we ban guns, killers will simply find another way. They often cite UK statistics on knife crime to demonstrate this fact. Yet they’re shooting themselves in the foot (pun intended). When the UK strengthened gun ownership laws, more murders as a proportion were carried out with knives. But using a knife as a murder weapon is far less effective than a gun. There are more survivors from knife attacks, and it’s very difficult to go on a rampage with a knife as opposed to an assault rifle. Yes, knife crime went up slightly, and that’s actually a good thing given the alternative.
It’s worth remembering why we have strong laws on owning guns in the UK. Virtually the only people permitted to own a gun are farmers and sportspeople, and additionally there are heavy restrictions on the types of gun that are permitted. Even our police only carry guns in specific circumstances, and those officers are specially trained. You don’t get assigned a gun as standard if you join the police here. Apart from those officers from firearms units, it is also illegal to carry a loaded gun in public in the UK. Guns and ammunition have strict storage conditions, and the police carry out random, unannounced checks on licence holders. Of course, criminals can get hold of guns if they want to. But we’ve made it a lot harder for them.
I remember the day of the Dunblane massacre. I was 12 years old and I attended an English lesson straight after the lunch break. Our teacher came in and just said to the class “this morning, a group of children were murdered at a school in Scotland.” None of us knew what to say or think. It seemed like such an uncharacteristic thing to hear, ever. School shootings were not a regular occurrence, and we were speechless at the notion that a life could be cut short at even our young age. It could have been us. Our youth and innocence would not save us from death. Our teacher obviously didn’t know what to say or think either. I suppose she was in shock about the whole thing. I mean, she just randomly blurted it out in front of a class of pre-teens, which isn’t exactly what you expect to happen.
We were horrified, and so was the rest of the nation. Political pressure forced the government to act. And they decided that we weren’t going to tolerate this kind of shit ever again. And so it has become part of our culture that guns are a tool to be used only in specific circumstances, and not as a fashion accessory or means to threaten. If you want to own a gun in the UK, you’d better have a bloody good reason. And do you know what? Our society hasn’t collapsed. We just get on with our lives, knowing that our streets are safer and we’re very unlikely to die from gun violence. And there’s not been a single school shooting since. It’s up to a society to decide what it values more: human life or the false sense of security afforded by firearms ownership. Now is the time to decide.