As an international student from England, a country which incidentally has one of the world’s strictest gun control policies but has somehow yet to devolve into anarchist madness, a lot of the concerns that make many Americans hesitant about changing gun laws don’t make sense to me. This is because many of them don’t make sense at all.
Tragedies like the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon are tragic because they are an avoidable loss of life. Britain has seen a total of one school shooting in its entire history, namely the Dunblane school massacre in 1996, whereas in the US there have been 52 school shootings so far this year. This has nothing to do with the character of British people compared to Americans and a lot more to do with the fact that, following the Dunblane massacre, two firearms acts were passed in Britain which made private ownership of handguns illegal.
This isn’t to say there aren’t guns or gun crime in Britain. There are around 1.8 million legally held guns in England but acquiring one requires a stringent background check, a referee, a specific reason for wanting to own said gun and an approved cabinet fitted to a brick wall in which the gun can be stored when not in use. By contrast, to buy a gun at a gun show in parts of the US, you need enough money to pay for it.
While there are many people in Britain just as violent and angry as the Americans that commit school shootings, the difficulty of laying hands on a gun stops them from killing on the same scale. You could argue that an angry teen in Britain could go into school with a knife – and some do – but the fact that knives are less efficient weapons than guns means less life is lost. Trying to solve the problems that cause people to want to commit shootings is important but eradicating all interpersonal violence is impossible. Instead, the US needs to make sure that those who do want to commit violence don’t have easy access to tools that will help them do it on a large scale.
While GOP candidate Marco Rubio is right to say that “criminals don’t follow gun laws”, you could make a similar argument against the law limiting blood alcohol content while driving because drunk drivers won’t obey it. If we got rid of laws that criminals didn’t follow, we wouldn’t have laws.
Furthermore, stricter gun control doesn’t just help to prevent shootings by civilians. UK police don’t carry guns unless they’re part of an armed response unit, which is probably why US police killed eight times as many people in a single year as UK police did in 115 years, even after you adjust for differences in the number of officers. According to Marco’s argument, this should leave UK officers vulnerable to gun-wielding criminals but only three officers in England and Wales were fatally shot in the eleven-year period from 2000 to 2011.
The continued existence of democracy in Britain is also a pretty good rebuttal against the argument put forward by objective third parties such as the NRA and Gun Owners of America that gun ownership is necessary to prevent the American people being suppressed by a fascist government. Britain might, for the time being, be under the government of a man alleged to have put his genitals inside the mouth of a dead pig but he’s a dead-pig-fucker we, unfortunately, elected. Gun advocates also like to suggest that Hitler’s rise to power in Germany was possible due to his implementing strict gun control laws which prevented the people from fighting back, a very convincing argument that is in no way based on actual facts. As it is, in 1938, Hitler signed a law that significantly relaxed gun control.
The idea that untrained citizen vigilantes could prevent a crisis like the rise of a dictator or a mass shooting if only they had access to guns is just that: an idea. GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson suggested that, in the event of a shooting, he would “ask everybody to attack the gunman because he can only shoot one [person] at a time” and that his argument is validated by Chris Mintz, the army veteran who was shot seven times trying to stop the Oregon shooter. He claimed that if everybody acted like Chris Mintz then “the likelihood of [the shooter] being able to kill as many people diminishes quite significantly”, ignoring the fact that Mintz had army training that allowed him to react quickly and withstand several bullet wounds. Most people, in the high stress environment of a shooting, wouldn’t be able to respond as fast or as appropriately to the situation as a trained veteran. It’s very easy for someone to claim that, if an assailant was attempting to attack them, they would be able to take out their gun, aim and shoot it, just as it’s easy for Ben Carson to claim a teacher could use unspecified “diversionary tactics” in order to have time to get out a gun if a gunman entered a classroom. In both cases, however, people are ignoring the effect of surprise, a lack of training or skill and the speed at which guns can kill for the sake of an argument.
Even aside from the lack of technical skill most people have with a gun, killing another human being is more difficult than many people imagine. In World War Two, it is estimated that only 15-20% of soldiers, who had been trained to fight, actually fired at the enemy. Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the NRA, might claim that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” but it’s probable that a good guy with a gun would be too good to fire it.
When all else fails, many pro-gun Americans like to derail conversations about gun control by claiming the real cause of school shootings is mental illness and poor psychiatric care. While I’m all for improving mental health treatment, raising this topic only after incidents like school shootings despite the fact mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violent crime than commit them, demonstrates that the people making these arguments only care about the mentally ill as far as they can demonise them as violent and unpredictable in order to justify gun ownership. Since the overwhelming majority of school shooters are white men, should we assume that they are more likely to be mentally ill or does this instead suggest something about the way society moulds the attitudes of young white men and encourages them to deal with emotional suffering by lashing out violently?
There is room for debate about what motivates those who commit violent gun crimes like school shootings and how to prevent these violent impulses forming. That said, even if you do believe mental illness is responsible for shootings, preventing tragedy is not an issue we have to approach in only one way. The US can improve mental health treatment or take any other measures to stop people getting to the point where they feel the desire to kill and also increase gun control at the same time.
To conclude, the Second Amendment was written about half a decade before the first person to suggest doctors wash their hands between performing autopsies and delivering children had his suggestion widely rejected. It was a long time ago, when we had far less knowledge and the world, particularly weapons technology, has changed. It’s time the law changed to reflect that.