Wednesday, 18 April 2007

I wish I didn't feel I had to write this

I’ve read an awful lot in the past 24 hours or so regarding the ‘debate’ about guns that is supposedly taking place following the shootings in Virginia. I’ve read news articles, blogs and message broads. And there is a common theme – those Americans who are beloved of their “right to bear arms” are shouting loudest, whilst those Americans who aren’t, are keeping quiet apart from expressing shock, horror and condolences.

At the same time, there are voices from Europe, questioning gun control in the US and a backlash against them from the pro-gun lobby essentially telling them to mind their own business.

Now, let me make this clear – I have no opinion on gun control laws in the US. I do not live there, and they do not affect me (or at least they don’t unless I visit the country). I would never presume to tell another country how to run their own affairs.

But that said, I do not, and don’t believe I ever will, understand the so called “American love affair” with firearms. I’ve heard all sorts of arguments for guns, and all sorts of arguments about how control is bad. The most common ones I’ve read are these :

1)If everyone had been armed, the shooter would not have been able to have killed so many people – he’d have been gunned down himself first. Oh, right, well, that’s okay then. But I’m sure when I was growing up that the phrase “doing it just because someone else has doesn’t make it right” or “If he jumped off a cliff, would you do the same just because he has?”

2)Criminals who want guns will still be able to get them, even with effective gun control. Yes, okay, point taken. But as I understand it, the shooter in this case wasn’t a hardened criminal and didn’t have to look very hard to find a gun for sale. He was a depressed and unstable young man who went to the nearest gun store and handed over a few bucks in cash. There are reports that the receipt was still in his rug sack. If I wanted a gun and I lived in the US, I would just walk into a gun shop. I’m sure it’s not quite as easy as that and there are forms to fill in, identities to be proven and so forth, but the point is that living in the UK, I wouldn’t have a clue where to even start looking if I wanted a gun. So even if my wife left me and I wanted to take it out on those around me, I wouldn’t have access to a gun in the first place.

3)You Brits need talk, you’ve had massacres of your own. Yes, two in twenty years that I can remember – Hungerford and Dunblane. Sure, ‘gun crime’ is increasing in some inner-cities and among certain communities, but these are the ‘criminals’ I spoke about above – not “law abiding citizens” and is no different from the situation in other major cities around the world. The last time a madman shot a load of innocent people was over ten years ago and his gun was legal and he was fully licensed to own it. Yet, as I said yesterday, it seems like we get a tragedy like this every six months or more in the US.

4)This would have happened even with strict gun controls and there is no way to stop it from happening again in the future. Let’s ignore the fact that I’d dispute this argument and assume it’s true – even so, just because ‘you can’t stop it’ doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try and make it more difficult for it to happen. I can’t stop my 15 month old son from hurting himself, but I can try and make it harder for him to get into situations where he might hurt himself – a gate on the stairs, locks on the doors and drawers, I’m having a fence built on the wall to stop him falling down the 4ft drop onto the drive next door (I live on a hill) and a gate on the driveway to stop him running into the street and in front of a car. I can teach him about how to behave safely and what things will hurt him (or try to).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I live in a country where it’s not possible to pick up a Glock 9mm from Tesco along with your loaf of bread and pint of milk, and I have no interest in or desire to tell the US how to run their country, it’s none of my business. But I resent being told that I’m wrong simply because I don’t understand why anyone would want to own a gun in the first place. I resent being told I’m not allowed an opinion because I don’t own a gun and am not allowed to even if I wanted to. I resent certain interest groups jumping up and down, shouting loudly and dismissing any view other than their own when what they should be doing is thinking about the relatives of those who have died. Political arguments aside, yesterday, 30+ families were devastated, and their lives will never be the same again. And that, like so many other premature deaths around the world each day, be they from murder, disease or accidents, is a very real, very human, tragedy.



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