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Gun control — clutching at straws

bul-impact-web.JPGAs I labour away at my keyboard I can hear excited Englishmen on Sky News babbling on in the background about a much-needed revamp of British gun laws. Good! If the law is changed so as to make guns more accessible to the ordinary Englishman the authorities could in future warn him about the eruptions of people like that loony Derrick Bird, so he could arm himself in preparation of his arrival. The way things were this week, though, all they could do was tell everybody to lock themselves indoors until the coast was clear. That’s fine if you’re lucky enough to hear the warnings, but not so good if you unexpectedly find yourself face to face with a shotgun-wielding nutter who finds himself with fewer targets to choose from than he expected. I suspect, though, that the much-debated changes will be aimed at removing the very few options that Englishmen still have in terms of personal choice.

After the 1987 Hungerford massacre and the Dunblane killings nine years later, the British government reacted in typically nanny-state fashion by introducing increasingly stricter restrictions on private ownership of handguns and rifles. By 1999 civilian ownership of firearms other than shotguns was virtually impossible in the UK — things are now so bad that the nation’s Olympic shooting team now travels to more gun-friendly European states (of which there are plenty) to practice their sport. Bizarrely, with the Olympics taking place in London in 2012, the British government has very graciously granted a special dispensation allowing the various Olympic shooting disciplines the right to hold competitions in their country during the Games, but their own national team has to train in Switzerland until then. Theirs is also the only Olympics sport that receives no funding from the government, because of the pariah state of the shooting sports.

But did all the knee-jerk legislating really work? Interestingly, only in 2008 did the incidence of gun-related deaths in the UK drop below that of 1988, and last year The Telegraph reported that gun crime has doubled over the past 10 years, with increases in both firearms offences and firearm-related deaths last year. Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling attributed the increase largely to “an out-of-control gang culture” but the rise in so called “gun crime” can be partly attributed to the fact that numerous petty offences involving toy guns, air rifles and paintball guns are now classified as gun crimes in paranoid Britain.

The House of Commons Parliamentary Report on Homicide tabled in May 1999 reflects homicide rates in England and Wales throughout the second half of the 20th century. From 1946 to 1970, when guns were much more freely available in the UK than they were in the 80s, meaning robbers and muggers had to pick their targets wisely, somewhere between 7 and 9 people were murdered every year per million of the population. By 1988 this had risen to 12 or 13 people murdered per million, at a time when gun ownership was being severely curtailed. The Hungerford Massacre (1987) and Dunblane shootings (1996) that led to the current almost totally gun-free state of the UK didn’t help much, with today’s homicide rate being slightly above 14.1 per million. So much for that, then. Today’s UK citizen is almost twice as likely to be knocked off in the new gun-free state than his father or grandfather was in earlier days, when gun ownership was not such a big issue legally and plenty of people had ‘em. In the US on the other hand, more relaxed restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms by licensed owners has led to sharp declines in violent crime in areas where this occurred.

Back in 1982 Kennesaw, a small town in Georgia, US, passed legislation requiring the head of every household to own a handgun. The Kennesaw Ordinance was a rather tongue-in-cheek response to another town, Morton Grove’s total ban on handguns, and the legislators left enough loopholes to ensure that anybody who was opposed to handgun ownership was exempt. The majority of the people in Kennesaw loved the new law, though, and stocked up with weapons that the local police force taught them to use properly and safely. In the next ten years the town had just one murder, and that was with a knife. I phoned the Kennesaw chief of police’s office in about 1998 to see if things were still going well and was told, “Well, this sure is a good place to live!” In January this year the media reported a Kennesaw shooting that killed two and wounded three, which really got the anti-gun lobby hopping with excitement, until it was pointed out that the killing took place near, not in Kennesaw. Visit this site or here for more on the Kennesaw ordinance.

In 1974 terrorists in Israel took 100 children hostage at a school in Maalot, and 25 people were killed and 66 wounded in the rescue attempt. The anti-gun lobby stridently demanded that gun ownership be totally banned for all but government forces in Israel, but the state decided to do the opposite and make weapons more available to decent, law-abiding citizens. Military reservists were issued personal weapons to take home and civilians with clean records were given permits for concealed carry of handguns. Teachers started carrying pistols and children were, at the age of 15, given shooting lessons. The Maalot disaster has not since then been repeated in Israel, while in cases elsewhere, when nutters run amok shooting kids, the action invariably takes place in schools and the other “gun-free zones” that some misguided souls fondly believe will be honoured as such by the murdering scum who do these things. These people are the same ones who were horrified when, after one mass killing, Prince Phillip wondered whether the game of cricket would be banned should the next psychopath use a cricket bat rather than a gun to achieve his aims. I think that’s a pretty fair question …

The United Kingdom has the most oppressive gun laws in Europe, yet places like Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland all have lower murder rates than our Pommie cousins. In Switzerland, every man between the ages of 20 and 30 (33 for officers) is by law compelled to be a part of the military reserve and obliged to keep his assault rifle or service pistol with 50 rounds of ammunition at his home. Once they complete their service older men can either hand their weapons back to the state, or have them converted from fully automatic to semi-auto by the military armourers, after which they’re returned to the ex-servicemen for personal use. Shooting practice is encouraged, and the state subsidises the cost of ammunition to members of the public. Interestingly, the British murder rate is 50% higher per capita than that of the Swiss.

There’s a remarkably strident bunch of anti-gunners out there who really believe that if they disarm the innocent, the villains will start behaving. The most vociferous group in our country is a secretive organisation called Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) that refuses to answer any questions regarding its funding or reveal how many paid-up members it really has; this obviously casts doubt over how much support the organisation actually has among ordinary South Africans. There are a couple of other questions I’d also like GFSA to answer before I can take them seriously. Firstly, do they have intruder alarm systems at their offices, workplaces or at homes? If so have they stipulated that the guards sent out when the trouble starts should be armed only with truncheons or cans of pepper spray?

Secondly, have they considered the fact that when the dog barks in the middle of the night, the only reason the villains who bring about the yapping scarper by the time the lights come on is that they’re very, very aware that the people inside the building could well be armed?


  • Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and researched stories for Carte Blanche. Winner of the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa PICA Profile Writer of the Year Award in 2008. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2015/16/17. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Overall) 2015/16. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorsport Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2017 - Runner-Up 2015/16.