The Blog

An American Tribute to British Gun Policy

In the wake of yet another school shooting in the United States, I'm profoundly grateful, as an American in England, to live in a country where my children have no fear of guns at school.

In the wake of yet another school shooting in the United States, I'm profoundly grateful, as an American in England, to live in a country where my children have no fear of guns at school.

The United States and the United Kingdom have many important similarities, but rational gun policy is not one of them.

The UK responded to 1987 Hungerford massacre by banning semi-automatic weapons and to the 1996 school shooting in Dublane by banning handguns. The US has suffered scores of mass shootings--294 in 2015 so far--and responded with well-meaning "thoughts and prayers."

And Obama is tired of it. The president has addressed the nation many times in the wake of mass shootings, and in response to Thursday's massacre at a community college in Oregon, he lamented:

I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It's not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America--next week, or a couple of months from now.

Americans are a profoundly religious people, so the outpouring of prayer is not surprising. But it seems that for far too many Americans their deepest religious allegiance is to Gun Almighty. And he is a jealous deity, demanding no compromise with commonsense. We sacrifice thousands of lives, 316,545 in the last decade alone, on the altar of the Second Amendment--or at least a fundamentalist interpretation of that amendment.

All of this is baffling to Britons. The US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, has visited dozens of schools around Great Britain and asked students what they like and dislike or find confusing about America. The number one dislike is always the same: guns.

These British students understand the issue at a visceral level. They routinely see the news of American students senselessly murdered by a deranged person with easy access to guns that are designed not for hunting animals but for killing humans.

Britain hasn't had a school shooting in nearly 20 years. America has already had 45 school shootings this year alone.

Brad Pitt once said, "America is a country founded on guns. It's in our DNA." Pitt may be right, but Britons recognize this bit of American DNA for what it is: a genetic mutation. And a deadly one.

There is no comparable mutation in the United Kingdom. Here the collective right to safety trumps an individual right to guns. The UK doesn't have a written constitution, but even if it did, it wouldn't have an anachronistic Second Amendment that made sense in the time of muskets but not machine guns.

And, thankfully, guns are not a partisan issue in the UK. It was a Conservative government that introduced the handgun ban in 1996 following the Dublane shooting.

British politicians don't have to fear the lobbying influence of the American National Rifle Association. The NRA-UK is not linked to the American organisation and does not share its militant views. NRA-UK chief executive Derrick Mabbott has called the US group "fanatical" and told the Telegraph "I once had to sit through a diatribe from their CEO and it made me physically ill."

Rather than campaigning for more guns and fewer gun restrictions, the British version of the NRA focuses on training gun owners to safely and legally use their guns for sport and pest control. There's no pretense that guns are somehow for personal safety or to protect citizens from the government.

To obtain a firearms license in the UK, one must provide a compelling rationale, prove his identity, offer two character references, and secure approval from his doctor. Then there's a rigorous background check and home inspection by the police. If a licence is granted, it's usually only valid for five years.

The whole process instills a proper sense of the serious responsibility it is to own a gun. Plenty of American gun owners share this seriousness, but the easy availability of guns in the US breeds a gun culture much more focused on rights rather than responsibilities.

I find it refreshing to live in a country where very few people want guns, even fewer have guns, and those that do have gun licences have been thoroughly vetted.

Once when I was driving down a country road in Cambridgeshire with my children I saw a man carrying a rifle. I instinctively pulled over, rolled down my window, and had lovely chat with him. He showed his rifle to my kids. He was a farmer hunting pesky rabbits, and he shared my view that America's gun laws are insane.

Only afterward did I reflect on the encounter and realise that back home in America I would never approach a man with a gun, especially not with my kids in the car. I would make a whole range of different assumptions about him, right or wrong. And I would make an abrupt U-turn.

After yet another mass shooting, it's high time for America to turn away from policies that enable shockingly high levels of gun crime.

The UK provides an instructive model. As Obama argued, "We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours--Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it."

Popular in the Community