April 20th, 1999 was like any other Tuesday for the students of Columbine High School. Krista Hanley remembers that it was two days after junior prom and that her “fingernails were still painted a dark red to match the dress” she had worn. But that Tuesday turned out more catastrophic than anyone could have imagined. Around 11:10AM, two students armed with military grade weapons shot and killed 13 and injured 24 more in one of the bloodiest mass shooting in United States history. The freedom and promises of prom was strippped away from students like Krista and was replaced by “feeling trapped” when trying to escape the building now encased by death. That feeling has followed Krista and will continue to follow her for the rest of her life. This event has forever struck fear into the heart of those who see themselves in these students.
This fear is reproduced in heinous acts of gun violence throughout the country. Places like Sandy Hook Elementary School, Virginia Tech, Pulse Night Club, Red Lake High School, the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, and so many more have seen these kinds of traumatic events in the last year. And the number keeps going up. So many kids are scared of going to school. So many mothers and fathers are scared that today could be the day that someone who obtained a gun, legally or illegally, will kill their child. Americans are “10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries.” The fear the American people face every day is curable if people would realize that a movement passed over 200 years ago is outdated and harmful. Not to mention, the person who lobbied for it ironically died at the pull of a trigger.
In 1996, when a man shot 16 children and their teacher in an Elementary school with his legally purchased handguns, the banning of several lethal weapons became obvious for many citizens of the United Kingdom. When a man killed 20 elementary schoolers and six teachers at a school in Connecticut 2012, nothing was done. The United States has become a country that will allow the lives of innocent children to be taken, day in and day out.
What are their laws?
Similarly to restrictive gun laws in countries like Japan, the United Kingdom also does not allow guns to be purchased and used as freely as they are in the United States. Weapons like machine guns, “pepper spray, semi-automatic, and pump-action rifles, and any firearm that has a barrel less than 30 centimeters in length” are banned according to an article on Business Insider. The United Kingdom, a country that does not allow their citizens to even consider purchasing heavy armory like an assault rifle, had 33,455 less gun violence related deaths in 2014. It does not seem surprising that a country with 305,940,000 more privately owned firearms has thousands of more reported casualties, but it is surprising and horrific that the U.S. Government will let these deaths continue.
But the threat of being accused of taking way someone’s civil liberties or being blackballed in Government by the NRA and other pro-gun organizations often discourages legislators from taking action.
Limiting the types of guns that can be purchased is only one of the ways that the United Kingdom has limited gun violence and trumped America in safety. It is also much harder to obtain a gun certificate in the country. According the the United Kingdom’s official government website, to get a firearm certificate, one must
- Fill out an application
- Have four passport picture
- Have two people refer you for the firearm certificate or one for the shotgun
- Pay the fee posted by the local station
After all that, they must still “prove to the chief officer of police that [they’re] allowed to have a firearms certificate” and “pose no danger to public safety or to the peace”. But wait, there’s more. If someone does not prove to the chief officer of police that they should be allowed to have a shotgun, a “shotgun certificate won’t be given or renewed” under the Firearms Act. They can also deny obtaining or renewing a certificate “if they don’t think you have a good reason to have, buy or acquire a shotgun.” The process of getting a firearms certificate is just the first step in the long process of obtaining, maintaining and legally using a firearm in the United Kingdom.
Certificates “usually lasts 5 years” and they must be shown “if asked by the police.” There is no guarantee that a certificate will be renewed or even have the chance to expire. According to an article written on gun control in the United Kingdom, the certificate can be revoked if the person who possesses it is
- “A danger to public safety or to the peace;
- Of intemperate habits;
- Of unsound mind;
- Unfit to be entrusted with such a firearm;
- A prohibited person under the Firearms Act; or
- No longer has ‘good reason’ for possession.” (Feikert-Ahalt)
If someone has an expired certificate or none at all, the penalties are a lot harsher than they are currently if you do not have a license in the United States. In America, the consequences for operating a handgun vary from state to state: “state law penalties for [handgun] possession by convicted felons range from misdemeanors to felonies with mandatory minimums.” Inconsistencies from an example like this to the differences in fines or even the necessity of a permit leaves the country vulnerable.
In the United Kingdom however, the repercussions of handling a gun without a certificate or are much harsher and consistent than in America. There is a mandatory minimum of five years when “anyone found unlawfully possessing a firearm.” The strict sentences enforced under the United Kingdom’s firearm law is one of the factors that improve it so greatly. America should at least clean up it’s process and stability of punishment around illegal gun use and purchase.
What We Should Take Away From It
My step-grandfather, born and raised in England, feels more at ease knowing that the gun control in his country is what it is. He told me it was hard moving to America with my grandmother because they “will not be as safe” as they were in England. He feels a comfort in knowing my cousins living in London are safe on the streets. He also does not understand why America has not done more to protect their people if it can be done. There are many people looking at the United States gun related violence problem wonder this same thing. Comedians like Charlie Brooker have spoke out about their confusion around America’s lack of gun safety.
There are many aspects to the U.K’s Firearm laws. There are many arguments to be made and perspectives to look through, but the facts and people’s stories prevail. While the United Kingdom still has crime and gun violence, they do not have as many guns on the streets since legislation passed and crime rate has been declining since 2005. The discussions around gun control in America will carry on because there is not just one solutions but there are steps we should be taking.
Banning military-grade weapons from civilian use, making acquiring a license and a gun more tedious, being more strict and united against illegal firearm handling and enforcing the laws are some of the things that should be done by America’s legislature to help insure the safety of their citizens.
Much like the United Kingdom, the developed country of Australia has very strict gun control and little to no gun violence. Their reason as to why they proposed implemented such strict laws at first was due to a man killed 35 people and injured 19 more in 1996. This event shocked the nation and action was taken right away: “just 12 days the government proposed and passed the National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program”. These actions had a massive impact on Australia. Most importantly, they did exactly what they were intended to do and the country has not had a mass shooting since April 1996.
A comparison of gun death rates image by Mary Wilks on Wikipedia
What are their laws?
Australia has functioning, uniform, gun safety laws. These laws have two main purposes: “[ban] rapid-fire long guns” and buy back those already owned by the public at “market value.” The federal government bought 643,726 of these newly prohibited guns, purchases “funded by a levy on income tax.”
The most surprising part of these progressive and life preserving movements to those of us surrounded by closed minded gun lovers is how open the public was and still is to tight gun safety. In the days after passing these restrictions, people gave up their firearms even if they were not ones that were not specifically banned by the new laws. Moreover, they did so without asking for compensation. Through these actions the government was able to get rid of 700,000 guns from their population of roughly 12 million.
Australia’s legislative response sounds like a nightmare for those who hold their gun closer to their heart than the lives and wellbeing of those around them but what is important is that it works. The people of Australia are able to feel safe with the knowledge that people don’t have easy access to murderous weapons.
Aubrey Perry was born in America but is now living in Melbourne, Australia. She wrote an open letter to Australia thanking them for the sense of safety the gun safety measures provide. It opens, “Thank you, Australia. Thank you for making me feel safe when I walk out my front door.” The post continues and Aubrey speaks of how thankful she is that her daughter is safe and how “America’s gun laws foster an unhealthy suspicion of its citizens and turn people against each other.” This powerful letter shows the real impact of Australia’s laws. Millions of people in the country feel the same way. It is common sense to them that no one should have the machine power intended for the Military.
Gun ownership is not completely outlawed in Australia. Much like England, certain weapons are prohibited and the process to obtain a firearm is rigorous but it can be done. While the mentality of Australia is, for the most part, uniformly anti-ownership, people still do obtain them. In 2016, there was an estimated 3,150,000 guns, licit and illicit, held by citizens. Those who wish to purchase a gun have to go through a complex process. The extensive and detailed process with all the ramifications can be found on government websites but they are quite similar to that stated before with the United Kingdom.
What We Should Take Away From It
All it took was one tragedy to get the Australian people to realize that no one should have the ability to take another person’s life at the end of a weapon designed for murder, not self defense. Australia’s laws are strict, enforceable, impactful and most importantly, effective.
Having more guns is not going to keep people safe. As long as guns are made and sold, they will be used to hurt people. The Second Amendment is used as a shield to protect those who want the ability to kill something. But that will not stop those who want to protect the lives of their loved ones.
Featured Image by Tony Webster on Wikipedia