Words cannot express how terrible the events in Connecticut are. 27 people gunned down, 27 families who have been torn apart just 11 days before Christmas. It is impossible not to feel angry at what has happened and not to desire and demand that something is done to prevent it happening again.
The obvious solution to many, as is always the case when tragedies like this occur, is for the United States to immediately ban all guns. Such a knee-jerk reaction may make sense in the emotive aftermath of a tragedy, but it ignores the true cause of such events. Banning guns assumes that it is guns that cause mass shootings, while ignoring what drives the perpetrators of these atrocities to commit them in the first place. Guns do not kill people – people kill people.
It is assumed, largely due to ‘documentaries’ such as Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’, that one can simply walk into a shop and walk out with any gun they like. Indeed, in ‘Bowling for Columbine’, Moore walks into a bank, opens an account, and walks out with his free gun.
The reality, however, is very different. As a minimum, in order to purchase a gun one must pass a Federal background check and convicted felons are prohibited by law from owning any kind of firearm. There are also waiting periods between ordering weapons and taking them home – something Moore edits out of his film. On top of that, there are State laws to further control what weapons can be purchased own and who can own them. States like Colorado and New Hampshire permit “open-carry”, where civilians may openly carry handguns in public, and the majority of US States offer ‘concealed-carry’ permits to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms.
Other States, such as California and Massachusetts, have much tougher gun control laws, and cities such as New York and Boston have an almost complete ban on the private ownership of handguns.
There are also local restrictions, such as bans on carrying weapons in Government buildings, and local authorities often designate shopping centres, cinemas and other areas as ‘gun free zones’. Schools are ‘gun free zones’, as was Virginia Tech and the cinema in Illinois that was the scene of a shooting earlier this year. The fact that a legally designated ‘gun free zone’ does not deter someone who has determined to kill from committing such a heinous crime should give an indication of how seriously such people will take a law banning them from owning one possible instrument of that crime.
The UK has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, and yet in the past two years alone we have had shooting sprees by Raoul Moat and Derrick Bird, not to mention countless gang-related shooting incidents involving illegal firearms. Norway too has strict gun control, but that didn’t stop Anders Breivik killing 77 people last year.
The logic gets blurred still further when one looks at the statistics in the United States and finds that the States with the toughest gun control laws tend to have higher rates of gun-crime compared to States such as Texas where gun controls are more relaxed. Not only that, but many of these shootings are committed with illegal firearms, just as they are in the UK. Banning the legitimate sale and ownership of guns will not prevent these criminals from carrying and using illegal weapons.
Guns are not magic artefacts that use their mystical powers to drive people to commit murder. They are little more than tools, and a gun without anyone holding it is about as dangerous as a paperweight. People do not kill because they have easy access to guns, they make a rational decision to kill and then select the means to do so. To suggest that people who have made a decision to commit murder will suddenly change their mind if they can’t get hold of one possible instrument of that crime is as naïve as it is absurd. If someone who is determined to kill cannot obtain a gun they will select some other means to do so. For proof of this one need look no further than the UK’s frankly staggering knife-crime statistics, or the number of people who are beaten or bludgeoned to death.
In order to try and prevent atrocities such as the one in Connecticut we must understand what drives people to commit those crimes, not just apply the sticking plaster of gun control and pretend that will make everything better. You cannot legislate against a nutcase, as demonstrated by the likes of Moat, Breivik and Bird.
Knee-jerk reactionary laws are renowned for trampling the rights of the law-abiding majority while failing to actually solve the problem they were originally designed to solve. We need to learn why people do this so that we can try to spot the signs that someone is about to go off the rails and the US needs to look at its system of background checks to see these warning signs can be spotted before someone gets hold of a weapon.
At the same time, we must recognise that the vast majority of gun-owners in the US are sensible, law-abiding citizens who have never and will never do anything wrong.