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Robin Lustig Headshot

'Guns don't kill people'. Really?

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I'd like you to imagine that you're a teacher in a classroom full of young children. Suddenly, a masked man bursts in, with an automatic weapon in each hand.

In your desk drawer, there is a revolver. You know it's there, because you put it there. You also know that it's loaded and ready to fire.

I don't have to ask the question, do I? Would you, or wouldn't you?

I'll make my own position as clear as I can, which I am able to do as I am no longer bound by BBC rules of impartiality. I am not, repeat not, in favour of arming teachers, or indeed anyone else, in schools.

But I recognise why others may disagree. In America, in the numbed aftermath of the Newtown killings of 20 children and six adults, there have already been suggestions -- apparently in all seriousness -- that the best way to protect children in schools is to arm either their teachers, or other members of staff.

Er, no actually. Because here's another scenario: you notice a man at the school perimeter fence. You think he looks odd; he's acting strangely and scares you. He stares at you and very slowly puts his hand inside his jacket as if to pull something from an inside pocket. A child is running between you and him, and you're convinced he's about to pull a gun.

But you have a gun in your pocket, too. Would you, or wouldn't you?

Guns don't kill people, say the anti-gun control activists, people kill people. Well, yes. The same could be said of tanks and Predator drones, yet somehow no one argues that the Second Amendment of the US constitution ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed") should guarantee the right of any US citizen to own, and use, the really big bazookas.

One local Connecticut resident was quoted a few days ago as saying: "Personally, I feel safer where there's guns. I don't want to go to any gun-free zones any more." I happen to take the opposite view, and feel a great deal safer where there are no guns at all.

I remember many years ago getting into a huge row with a man from Texas who refused to believe that I had never handled a firearm. It was the absolute truth: I had never, ever held a gun. But he regarded that as so intrinsically incredible that he called me a barefaced liar and stormed off.

The US has the 10th highest firearms-related death rate (homicides and suicides) in the world: 10.2 per 100,000 population. (Above it come countries like El Salvador at No. 1, followed by Jamaica, Honduras, and Guatemala.)

The highest placed European country is Switzerland at number 21 with 3.5 firearms-related deaths per 100,000; the UK comes in at number 65, with 0.25 deaths per 100,000.

According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, figures from 2007 suggest that with less than five per cent of the world's population, the US is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned guns. I find it difficult to believe that the number of guns has nothing to do with the country's high gun-related death rate.

Middle America has a deep distrust of government, based in large part on the country's early history as a destination for dissenters and rebels. Many Americans believe that the right of the individual to bear arms will always trump the right of their neighbours to feel safe.

Recent US opinion polls suggest that popular sentiment post-Newtown may be marginally more sympathetic to the arguments of the pro-gun control lobby, although the numbers are still only a little over 50 per cent. But perhaps there is now going to be a real debate.

You will have noticed that I have chosen, in my first post-BBC blogpost, not to write about the BBC. I hope you'll agree that I've chosen to focus on the right thing.