The Cost of the Right to Bear Arms

19/12/2012 16:15 GMT | Updated 17/02/2013 10:12 GMT

America has experienced a dreadful loss of young and innocent lives after the murderous shooting rampage in Connecticut. Such incidents are not unique to America but surely what matters is what a nation does to stop these things happening again.

Without a radical change in the attitudes of Americans towards gun control then surely nothing will change and there will remain a serious risk that another atrocity may take place in another school and children, parents and teachers will live in permanent fear of another school invasion for years to come.

America is a great democracy with a strong belief in individual freedoms and a transparent justice system and propensity for vigorous debate - all of this should lead to a fairer and safer society for its people. Which, is why it is surprising to an outsider like me that a significant number of Americans seem to value the freedom to buy assault rifles over the freedom of even their youngest children to enjoy their education without fearing for their lives.

Many Americans want restrictions on the sale of some firearms but there seems to be an overwhelmingly powerful and effective gun lobby resisting any changes - allegedly one of the most powerful lobby groups in America. If a democratic country is to be measured by what it permits and accepts then we can take the view that America wants its citizens to have as many guns as they can get despite the danger it poses to its own people.

In the UK we have experienced similar atrocities in our communities and schools - but we now have far fewer firearms in private hands. Our starting point in terms of the possession of firearms was low but our reaction as a country to these murderous incidents was to make it even harder to get hold of guns.

One argument by the gun lobby is that you can only be truly safe if you are armed.

Homicides rates in the UK have virtually halved in the last ten years and general crime rates have also gone down over the same period. All of this was without every UK householder owning a gun! The claim that only an armed citizenry can be safe is simply not true - the UK has far fewer guns in private ownership than America but we appear to be much safer.

From my experience in Policing in and around London it seems obvious that if you introduce a firearm into domestic fights - into neighbour disputes - into street fights then you will have more people shot and seriously injured or killed. Domestic violence is bad enough - but it would be worse if there was a gun involved. When you have people angry and losing control then the availabilty of a firearm is going to lead to a worse outcome.

Since the 1996 shooting of 16 children and one adult in Dunblane, Scotland the gun laws in the UK have been tightened and there are now fewer guns and gun crimes in the UK.

It did not prevent another mass shooting in Cumbria in 2010 but it is was surely better - as terrible as this was - that that particular killer was armed only with a .22 rifle (small calibre rifle) and a shotgun - rather than an assault rifle or a handgun with a large magazine. And if there are fewer guns around generally then there must surely be fewer chances of these most violent of people getting hold of one.

Gun ownership in America is at 89 guns for every 100 people and in the UK around 6 for every 100.

The UK has experienced only one mass shooting incident since 1996 - the US has experienced six such shootings since 2007. The UK has around 550 murders a year and America, in 2011 - 12,664 murders of which 8,583 were caused by firearms - this is very high even allowing for the bigger population in the US.

No country can stop these horrible incidents altogether but they can be reduced in number and in terms of how deadly they are by making harder for people to obtain guns.

We can learn much from America - about individual freedom - about being self-confident enough to succeed - about press freedom - but in this one thing we are right and they are wrong. The American obsession with all types of guns - supposedly in the name of freedom - in the name of being ready to defend themselves against their own Government or against some unspecified enemy is costing American lives.