Almost inevitably following the tragedy which unfolded in Cumbria yesterday, where twelve members of the public were murdered and many more injured by a serial killer cabbie, the media quickly sought out agendas to pursue. One of them was an attempt to seek out someone to blame for the fact that Derrick Bird had ever been granted the shotgun and firearms licences which allowed him to legally own the weapons he used on his killing spree. The second was a knee-jerk reaction to immediately re-open the debate on gun laws, which had already been tightened following the Hungerford and Dunblane massacres to become some of the strictest in the world.
The latter reaction annoys me, to be perfectly honest. The time for reflection on whether this incident could have been prevented is after the police have completed their investigations, not when so many aspects of the case – the killer’s motivation, for example – are still up in the air. It seems unlikely to me that even stricter gun laws will do much to prevent someone who really wants to kill people being able to do so, since the loopholes which allowed the previous tragedies to happen have been closed pretty effectively.
If I really wanted to, I could right now take a kitchen knife out of my house and stab complete strangers to death with it. Alternatively I could get into my car, head into town, swerve onto the pavement, and make my little Yaris a vehicle of extreme death in a grisly game of human ten pin bowling. I won’t do either, of course, and can’t imagine being in a situation when I would ever actually contemplate such things, mainly because I’m not a nutcase.
The point here is that guns don’t kill people, it’s the person holding the gun who is the perpetrator. There is an argument that removing all guns from society would further prevent firearms-related crime, and I’m certainly not advocating for a second that handguns should be made legal again, but it seems to me that removing all shotguns from farmers and clay pigeon fans would be rather like banning music simply because of the existence of Westlife. It would just push the trade in weapons further underground. In some parts of the UK you can hire a gun for as little as £50 per night – a sort of firepower version of Blockbuster (I presume the late fees are pretty… er… nasty).
The checks conducted on people who apply to hold a shotgun/firearms licence are surprisingly extensive, and any licence has to be renewed every few years. Your lifestyle, criminal history and even family connections are checked to make sure that you’re not a maniac or related to a maniac, and even if you pass that bit, if you don’t have the right land to shoot on or keep a properly locked gun case, you won’t be allowed to keep so much as a water pistol.
In my opinion it’s far better to have dangerous weapons strictly regulated rather than let the black market dictate proceedings (as in various gangland shootings over the years), and the existing laws have helped to bring gun crime down to its lowest level ever. With all that in mind, shouting about how all guns need to be banned – disadvantaging the vast, vast, vast majority of responsible owners – seems like an overreaction worthy of… oh, the tabloids. Ah.
Still, at least videogames have got off scot-free so far, though the night is young.