When police on a weapons raid swarmed a housing project after London’s 2011 riots, they seized a cache of arms that in the United States might be better suited to “Antiques Roadshow” than inner city ganglands. Inside plastic bags hidden in a trash collection room, officers uncovered two archaic flintlock pistols, retrofitted flare guns and a Jesse James-style revolver.
These days, that kind of antiquated firepower is about the baddest a British gang member can get. Spurred to action by a series of mass shootings — including one startlingly similar to the Sandy Hook school tragedy in Connecticut — Britain entered an era of national soul searching in which legislative bans on assault weapons and handguns were pushed through and background checks for other types of firearms dramatically tightened.
It's interesting that it's the Washington Post, not the Guardian, that breaks down the facts about gun ownership in Britain. I suspect that the British public just isn't that interested in hearing about their gun laws. They work, and that's that.
This week I learned about "time-share" guns, weapons owned by criminals that are borrowed or rented, then flashed around to show other gangsters that someone is capable of acquiring a gun. That's what happened in the Mark Duggan case, whose shooting by police sparked the London riots in 2011.
The number of weapons that were removed since the 1997 school shooting in Scotland that spurred strict gun laws are astounding:
In the U.K., a nation of 62 million people, more than 200,000 guns and 700 tons of ammunition have been taken off the streets during the past 15 years, with offenders in search of firearms now resorting to rebuilt antique weapons, homemade bullets and even illicit “rent-a-gun” schemes. Legal guns — including some types of rifles and shotguns largely suitable for farms and sport — must be kept in locked boxes bolted to floors or walls and are subject to random police inspection and vigorous inquires about the mental health and family life of owners.
Would a scheme like this work in the US? I'd like to think so. However, I can't help but notice this:
Police officers in England and Wales, for instance, now routinely contact the physicians of new applicants to inquire whether they are being treated for mental illnesses including depression.
I'd like to see gun laws in America that include this crucial step. However, until Obamacare kicks in, (and even after, for millions who'll fall through the cracks) many Americans don't have a family doctor. They'll have had access, if at all, to a patchwork of medical providers, including emergency room physicians who aren't equipped to treat mental illness. We (still) need a more comprehensive health care system in America before widespread mental health checks can be as effective as they are in Britain.
Despite the quote at the end of this piece by a so-called gun rights advocate, there is no clamor from the public who long to have guns. I've never heard anyone, in person, or in the media, state that gun control has gone too far here.
The British public like the tradeoff they made: far fewer guns in circulation equal far fewer deaths. Those who have a genuine need or desire can still access them, but they're kept safely locked and out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals.
Here's another astounding statistic:
Today, law enforcement officials say ballistic tests indicate that most gun crime in Britain can be traced back to less than 1,000 illegal weapons still in circulation.
A thousand guns. And 59 deaths last year. That's fewer people than are killed every day in America by guns.