My heart sank when I heard about the shooting of 49 people in Orlando, with many more injured, at a LGBT nightclub. As a gay man, my first thoughts were for my LGBT brothers and sisters and their allies caught up in this act of violence. But then my sadness turned to disappointment.
As a former police officer who has worked within Britain’s most populated urban areas and saw firsthand the effects of firearms, why can America ban everything apart from guns?
The shooting at the Pulse nightclub reminded me that the Land of the Free has a problem when it comes to guns, and the control of them. I’ve just read that last year alone, more than 13,000 people were killed in the USA by firearms, with twice as many injured. But why won’t the States as a nation say enough is enough when it comes to who can and cannot have these weapons?
The problem is not just political, but a social one too. There are those in America who argue that tougher gun laws could see lives saved, which makes sense to me as a former policeman, yet others argue that this would do nothing to stop deaths when the gun is in the hand of a violent person. But Australia did it after such a massacre, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since.
So, it can work.
However, and unlike down-under, America cannot get a grip on its gun problem because its highest court has ruled that an outright bans on civilian ownership of handguns is unconstitutional. So the law is telling people that they have a right to bare arms, regardless of the many gun deaths. But how many lives have to be lost in order for America’s lawmakers to actually do something positive?
Of the 372 mass shootings in the United States last year, which claimed 475 lives, 64 of these incidents were in schools alone. You would think just one incident would be enough to start the process of banning guns outright, but I’m reminded of 2012 when the Sandy Hook school shooting took the lives of 20 first-graders and even this wasn’t enough for America’s leaders to get tougher.
In the UK, we haven’t been without our own mass killings. In 1996, there was the murder of 16 five- and six-year-olds, along with the teacher who tried to protect them at Dunblane in Scotland. But unlike our closest ally across the pond, the public outcry here was such that it led to the banning of handguns. Until this point, we had not saw such an incident on the UK mainland, which rightly started a serious yet sensible debate, and some soul-searching by the British people.
Britain is not perfect when it comes to firearms offences, but we do react rightly when such a tragedy takes place. The reason our firearms incidents are so low, is because of the stringent legislation we have. It’s one of the toughest in the world, with only Japan tougher on gun law.
It gives me comfort too that I do not live in a country whose police are routinely armed, as I believe this would only increase firearms related offences. Having worked on a national firearms amnesty, there’s a kind of mutual respect between criminals and the police with the former knowing officers are not armed so death and injury towards police although a real concern remains relatively low. What we do have, is an Armed Response Vehicle capability with gun officers patrolling our cities.
For me, relying on your constitutional right is a cop-out over the amount of lives that could be potentially saved by tougher gun laws. Now, another 49 names have been added to the long list of those who have died at the hands of a firearm. And soon, we’ll be talking about another incident.
President Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to do something about access to guns in America, including taking executive action, but one person alone cannot change the culture of a nation. I know there is public support for tightening the laws, but when will this actually happen?