The British Take On Gun Control

Countries all over the world have their dark parts of history and social stigmas held against them as stereotypes forever because of the ideologies  of the past. America is no different from any other country when it comes to having skeletons in the closet, and to be quite frank, America has one skeleton that has escaped and is running around flying the Star Spangled banner while shooting a semi-automatic rifle.

The Second Amendment, which protects the rights of individual Americans to keep and bare arms, is profusely protected by the NRA, even during times of tragedy in schools and other public shootings they still stand to defend their rights and challenge any kind of reform from the government.

The Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre took place just over a year ago, but what has America learned from one of the most tragic events in it’s history? Just days after the tragedy, President Obama promised to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop massacres like the slaughter at the school that shocked the nation, hinting at a fresh effort to curb the spread of guns as he declared that there was no “excuse for inaction.” Even in the last week there was a shooting at another school in Colorado and a bomb scare on four campuses of Harvard University. But where does Obama stand on his promise now?

Over the last 20 years, the Second Amendment has been exposed to renewed both public and academic scrutiny along with judicial interest. In District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court passed a landmark decision which stated that the amendment protects an individual right to possess and carry firearms. Despite these continuous conclusions, the debate between the gun  control and gun rights movements and related organisations doesn’t seem to have a definitive ending in the foreseeable future.

Obama and Bloomberg are pulling out the stops, knowing that support for gun control–which rose in the days after Sandy Hook–is waning. Not only was the Obama gun control agenda defeated in the Senate last spring, a new CNN poll shows that support for gun control has dropped by six points since January, and a majority of Americans now oppose stricter gun laws. On Dec. 21, the National Rifle Association called on the United States Congress to appropriate funds for the hiring of armed police officers in every American school to protect students. The NRA also announced the creation of a school protection program called the National School Shield Program, which would be led by former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) administrator and United States Congressman Asa Hutchinson. The argument currently seems like it will never end and it’s difficult to say whether or not any major legislation will take place during the rest of Obama’s time in the White House.

The debate of gun control against gun legislation is a constant lingering shadow on American society, and every so often a catalyst will occur and society pushes for action again. So what are the main defences of the NRA and the gun rights movements, and why do they constantly stand in the way of improving legislation? To many Americans, history and heritage means a lot more than just facts and information of past events, to them it it a precedent for future events and as a guide on how to act in the future.

I spoke to Colonel Ivanoff of the United States Army, and he believes that “From the very beginning of our country, the American people have been more concerned about a standing army than about individual possession of gun. This may seem strange given our recent history, but the fact is that our constitution specifically states that our Congress will provide and maintain a Navy, but must actually vote to raise an army.”
With this is mind, it’s easy to see that since the signing of the Second Amendment in 1791 why Americans feel the need to uphold tradition. The country has to maintain a certain level of national defense, and based on the beginnings of the nation, “our founding fathers felt that a militia would suffice for local authorities when it comes to defense.”

To accomplish this, individuals were then given the right to bare and keep arms.

What if we next decided to oppress the freedom of speech? The freedom of press? This would change our nation in unimaginable ways.

— Col. Ivanoff

“This is why many Americans argue that self protection isn’t the only reason that they uphold their right to bare arms, it’s implemented in their ideologies and they have grown up with images of guns all around them, whether that be on television, in the movies or even firearm related imagery around the home,” he says.

“I know this might seem a little strange to continue this argument today since we obviously don’t rely on an armed militia for national defence. Actually, the reason the argument still works is because it serves as an extension of the preservation of all rights in our constitution. Many are concerned that if this basic right is lost, others will also be compromised.  What if we next decided to oppress the freedom of speech?  The freedom of press?  This would change our nation in unimaginable ways.”

The USA is spending billions of dollars on fighting the war on gun control. Some argue that those dollars should be put to better use and provide the police departments with the man power that is needed to keep the streets safe. With that alone, the government could do more in both preventing violence and detouring the ‘at risks groups of the population that tend to get into violence due to the lack of activities and work available to them. Others argue that the government needs to fix more than just gun control to solve their problems. Schools for the children that will lead the country in the future, are decayed, need of bulldozing and starting anew. America needs healthy, educated young people to take over the messes that they are creating, but they are not equipping them to do so. People are now so tied up in gun control and all of the other issues around the world that it takes a mad man with an assault rifle to wonder into a school and massacre a group of small children for not just America, but for the world to take notice, yet still  nothing major has taken place.

Colonel Ivanoff believes that “as a citizen of the United States of America, my opinion about my right to bear arms, I feel that the freedoms granted in our constitution are provided under the general assumption that responsible people will conduct themselves responsibly.  Those who do should continue to be afforded the right to act responsibly.  Those who don’t should be held accountable for their actions.“

In the United Kingdom, the gun laws are a lot more restrictive and have been for a number of years now. Firearms have always been controlled by law, and while shooting groups and supporters provide opposition to existing legislation there was little wider political debate on the subject as UK public opinion had previously favoured strong control. These laws are much less restrictive in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK. In 2012, the British Shooting Sports Council believed that the law needed to be consolidated, but did not call for a review.

Sir Nick Harvey MP

The United Kingdom has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world. There were 0.04 recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. Gun homicides accounted for 2.4 percent of all homicides in the year 2009. Is it safe to say that government legislation formed upon the Bill of Rights has been successful every since these laws have been implemented? Nick Harvey, an MP who was Minister of State for the Armed Forces for two years and Lib Dem Shadow Defence Secretary for four years, said:

“Although historically, the Bill of Rights entitled British citizens to possess arms for their own defence, this right has proved much less constitutionally significant than the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Since 1920, a series of measures have restricted ownership of most firearms and completely banned others, such as machine guns. A regime of firearms licences has been shown to be an effective way of protecting people from the obvious potential dangers of guns whilst still allowing responsible, controlled ownership.”

A regime of firearms licences has been shown to be an effective way of protecting people.

— Sir Nick Harvey MP

Compared to the United Kingdom, the United States has done very little when it comes to being pro-active about gun legislation he says, and it takes a tragedy like Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook to really open up the minds of the people and of the government. It’s hard to listen to those who upon seeing 20 dead 6- and 7-year-olds in ten minutes, their bodies riddled with bullets designed to rip apart bone and organ, say that this is impossibly hard, or even particularly complex, problem. It’s a very easy one. Summoning the political will to make it happen may be hard. But there’s no doubt or ambiguity about what needs to be done, nor that, if it is done, it will work.

Harvey continues to say that “Even after the tragedy of the Sandy Hook school shooting, the current political climate in the U.S. looks far too polarised for any transformative reforms to succeed. President Obama can take small, symbolic steps to tackle America’s gun problem, such as enacting federal legislation targeting a few specific types of firearms. Anything more would require a presidential executive order which would bypass Congress altogether, and he doesn’t seem to have the political will to do this. Besides, any attempt to do so would surely lead to a long and drawn out legal challenge by the large pro-gun lobby. One reform that could have a real impact is enacting tougher penalties for gun trafficking. This may help improve the situation in places like Chicago, which has one of the highest rates of gun crime in America, even though it’s impossible to buy a gun legally in the city.”

Hannah Fusco, 19 from the UK, owns an air rifle and engages in sporting shooting and a weekly basis. I went shooting with Hannah. The club itself is a male dominated, testosterone filled environment in which you wouldn’t really expect to find a teenage girl.

Hannah, her Father and her Grandfather

“I go shooting because it’s a passed down through the family. My granddad has done it for 30 years and my dad started, so I did too. I enjoy it as a hobby, and I’ve been told to enter the championships. I do own my own air rifle, and we don’t have to have a license for it here in the UK, but also we are covered as we are part of a team.”

Is it now safe to say that if laws were put in place that made it either impossible or extremely difficult to own firearms, those of whom that obeyed the law would lose their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms? They would also lose their ability to protect themselves from the criminals who will illegally acquire guns despite any law put in place by the government. Laws like this will prevent very little if any violent gun crimes simply because if an individual is willing to attempt or commit murder, a gun ban will be but a laughing matter.

Debates like gun control will always have it’s controversies, and maybe one day someone will find the answer to some of these seemingly impossible questions. People from all over the globe have different ideas and beliefs when it comes to gun control. Some people even go against a regular stereotype, so who is to say what people can and can’t enjoy?

All over the world guns of all shapes and sizes have an impact and can be a part of life for many people whether it be for comfort in knowing you can defend yourself or for leisure and sports. The fact of the matter is that no matter what legislation any politician can come up with, people will still want a gun and illegally or legally they will be able to get them. But if no legislation takes place, then aren’t the people in Washington just dooming more and more innocent children to die at the hands of a maniac with a pistol?

The honest truth? Violence will always go on. Ban any form of gun control will in a sense be good at controlling guns. Gun control can eliminate the risk of gun massacres in America as surely as antibiotics eliminate bacterial infections.

Surely something worth fighting for?

The victims of Sandy Hook. 2012
The victims of Sandy Hook. 2012