I have been spending a lot of time recently looking into gun control because I have been planning to do a number of posts on the issue.
As always I try approach the issue with an international perspective. I attempt to look at the effects of individual laws in the various countries can have on crime. Mass shootings, while relatively rare, do have a tendency to acerbate public opinion.
In a macabre coincidence spent, spend my weekend reading the official inquiry into a another school shooting. Not Columbine, Dunblane, Scottland.
A massacre largely forgotten in the uniquely myopic American psyche, the Dunblane massacre shifted public opinion in England about the ownership of hand guns; the ownership of handguns for any reason, including sport shooting.
On March 13, 1996, Thomas Hamilton walked into the Dunblane Primary School armed with two 9mm semi-automatic pistols and two .357 Smith & Wesson revolvers. He entered the gym and began targeting children and teachers. By the time he had finished shooting, a total of 16 children and one teacher lay dead or dying, another 15 were wounded, 6 of those with very serious wounds.
After shooting the class, Thomas Hamilton used one of the .357 Magnums to kill himself.
Much of the official report centers on two issues: Hamilton’s homosexual, paedophilic tendencies coupled with a feeling of paranoia and Hamilton’s legal ownership of a relatively large number of handguns. As noted in the report the first issue was unrelated to the second.
Despite what gun lobbyists might contend, the resulting hand gun control didn’t change England from being a country where gun ownership was as widespread as America to a self-defense wasteland. At the time of the shooting, it was already very difficult to purchase and own handguns. Only people with either a professional or a legitimate sporting interest could own guns and there was absolutely no wide spread ownership; nothing like the roughly 50% coverage found in America.
The shooting caused England to go through a very difficult time of soul searching. The eventual reaction was drastic. An almost complete ban on private ownership of firearms including air pistols and crossbows. Indeed, the regulations are so drastic that a special dispensation has become necessary to allow shooting events during the upcoming Olympic games to be held in 2012 and the English Olympic team must train outside the country.
To date it is not completely clear how effective these measures have been. While there haven’t been any massacres in the United Kingdom since 1996, there had been only one in the 10 years proceeding Dunblane. People running amok in England is not a common thing.
Probably even less well known in the English speaking world is the 2002 Erfurt massacre. The shooter, Robert Steinhäuser walked into a high school with a 9mm handgun and a pump action shotgun (which he didn’t use). By the time the shooting stopped, Steinhäuser lay dead of his own hand afer having killed 17 people. Again, both weapons were legally licensed in a country where mass ownership of weapons is rare. Again the incident caused widespread worry, discussion and debate about the ownership of guns. Ultimately little changed.
Do I thing hand gun control would be a good thing. Yes. Would it have prevented Dunblane, Columbine, Erfurt or any of the other terrible catastrophes that have happened around the world. Probably not.
But as schizophrenic as it may sound, I don’t think stopping massacres would or should be the goal of hand gun control. I don’t think they will have that much effect.
The area where handgun control might be effective would be in lowering everyday crime rates, in changing the feeling in some cities about whether it is save to walk the streets. It is about lowering the total number and thus the availability of concealable weapons. In lowering the number of accidental shootings in the home. In lowering the number of chldren shot when an adult doesn’t properly handle a firearm – for whatever reason.
If you worked in a hospital and there were large numbers of used needles laying about, you wouldn’t look at buying more needles to cure the resultant infections. You would purchase a sharps container to get rid of the needles causing the problems.
For those Americans who think that the ownership of weapons is an inalienable human right need to think about what is going on in Iraq today. American soldiers search house after house searching for weapons; searching for weapons the Iraqis use against the foreigners who have invaded their country. Homeland defense is of the biggest selling points of the NRA and one of the major problems for the American military. Which right is higher, Americas right to carry democracy to every corner of the globe or the individuals right to protect home and family?So yes. I think gun control and registration is necessary. I think it would lower crime rates in America.
But while I fully believe gun control and legislation is a good thing, I don’t think America can get there from here. It is impossible to get all the weapons off the streets – legal or otherwise. It is a social trap that America fell into for social and historical reasons. I doubt it be changed.
So try to keep that in mind while the lobbyists from anti–gun control and gun control sides scream about whether gun control is necessary or would help. Visions are good, but visions got America into Iraq. Don’t look at the vision, look at the reality.
Don’t ask whether gun control is good, think about whether gun control is possible.