Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech - Banning Handguns Is Not a Panacea

This morning 32 students were killed at Virginia Tech campus after a gunman went on the rampage. It is the worst mass-murder shooting in US history.

With emotions running high, there is an understandable need to blame someone or demand that the 'government must do something', namely to ban handguns. Folk in the UK look to the free gun ownership laws in the US and see a link. But it is worth reviewing the facts with a cool head.
Firstly, the situation in the UK;

Has violent crime in the UK really worsened or are the media to blame for scare-mongering?

Well, it really depends on your time perspective.
  • In 1899, there was just one handgun murder in London and four armed robberies.
  • In 1986, Britain witnessed 423 murders.
  • In 2005 Home Office statistics recorded 5,001 injuries from firearm crimes and 833 murders in England and Wales.

So yes - it has.

Following the Dunblane massacre in 1996, the government passed the Firearms Bill, prohibiting the use of handguns.

So did the ban reduce gun crime?

In the five years after the ban (from 98 to 03), handgun crime doubled. British surgeons are now receiving training in bullet wounds.

So no - it didn't. The handgun ban has been an abject failure.

So is the US the gun crime capital of the world?

The US is always hailed as the capital of gun crime because the Second Amendment allows its citizens to carry firearms. In 2005, there were 10,900 gun related murders in the US or 3.6x the rate of the UK per capita. More worryingly for those in the UK, the murder rate is increasing, whilst that in the US is declining.

Also, gun crime is actually higher in those US States that have banned guns. Washington is one of the few US States to have banned handguns. The result? Marion Barry, a local Democrat politician says, "we are in the midst of a gun-violence epidemic. We need to see gun violence as an emergency in the District of Columbia."

Legislation in Oklahoma which allowed the home-owner to use force no matter how slight the threat has reduced burglary by nearly half since it was passed 15 years ago. What British police condemn as "vigilante" behaviour " has produced an American burglary rate less than half the English rate. And, while 53% of English burglaries occur when someone is at home, only 13% do in America, where burglars admit to fearing armed home-owners more than the police. Violent crime in the US is at a 30-year low; in the UK it is at a 30 year high.

The UK's response to rising crime has been fourfold;

i) Increasing restrictions have been placed on the use of handguns.

  • In 1920, the Firearms Act limited private indivduals from carrying a gun.
  • This was tightened further in 1969 with the Home Office deciding that "it should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person".
  • In 1953, The Prevention of Crime Act made carrying a weapon in a public place illegal.
  • In 1967 the concept of reasonable force in self-defence was amended and lowered.
  • In 2003, the Criminal Justice Act mandated a five-year minimum sentence for the offence of carrying a gun for those over the age of 18 and three years for those under 18

ii) A softer approach to offenders. From the 1970s, sentence times have been reduced (made particularly acute by Britain's prisons now working at maximum capacity) and incarcerating fewer criminals.

iii) Reducing the number of bobbies on the beat.

iv) Making it harder to carry out a Citizen's Arrest. In 1994 an English home-owner, armed with a toy gun, managed to detain two burglars who had broken into his house while he called the police. When the officers arrived, they arrested the home-owner for using an imitation gun to threaten or intimidate.

So the matter is highly complex.

Update; Gateway Pundit has a heartbreaking post with pictures of the victims.