There are moments when I feel incredibly grateful to be living in the UK. When I have a craving for mushy peas, passive aggressive bar staff and giant-killing FA Cup results for example. More recently however I’ve started to think about guns and the UK.
It has been, of course, motivated by the events in America, a horrific shooting in a school in Florida. It reminded me, as Sandy Hook did, about the Dunblane Massacre in 1996. I was 11 or 12 at the time and remember it vividly. I remember coming home and it being on the news, on all four channels, and sitting in our lounge with my mum and dad and watching it. It was the first time I remember crying at something happening in the world. I think because they weren’t much younger than me and my sister, that the school and the classrooms didn’t look that different to the ones I’d attended and that my mum was a primary school teacher too. It was a feeling of helplessness and, slightly of fear, of a world (or maybe just me) entering a new unknown state where kids could die in schools.
How would I have felt if that awful event had been a regular occurrence in my childhood, how would it have changed me?
As I grew up I played violent video games depicting war and killing, watched TV and film filled with it and when I was younger played games on the schoolyard based around battles, wars and shooting. But guns, for me, have always remains almost an abstract concept. Because I never came into contact with them, never had that connection with them in reality, there was never a discussion about them being, in reality, anything other than a last resort, an evil – these horrific events (usually in the USA but also briefly in Australia) have always been, in my consciousness, reinforcing the notion that firearms are something to avoid at all costs.
It is curious how this creates a hypocrisy – the fiction in contrast to my reaction to the reality.
Now I’m in my mid-30s I’ve become aware of the huge benefit that the UK’s stringent gun laws have. Statistically speaking at the moment the person most likely to hurt me is… me. In the UK a man takes his own life every two hours. So limited access to guns is probably helping keep that figure, that appalling figure, down.
I watch the comparisons between US and UK policing and I see further benefits, the number of officers and suspects killed is drastically different, the police, while not well-loved (are they ever?), have more respect than I suspect they would if they were armed and frequently shooting people who need help not a bullet, they are also safer. I read that the problem with escalating police armament is that it escalates criminal armament.
So what do I think about guns?
I think that a device created to kill should be the most regulated, hard-to-access thing available. I think that violent games, movies etc… are here to stay and that the hyper-realism particularly in VR gaming over the next few years will pose questions regarding narrowing the gap between the abstract and the real. I think that our police should absolutely not be armed and I think that our mental health services should be funded better as should social services. I also think that you can’t plan and regulate for the criminal and the insane and that something terrible will happen again and it’s our role to make intelligent, evidence-base, statistically-led decisions on change that happens as a result of that.
I’ve become aware how many people I know when they discuss the gun massacre epidemic in the states feel disbelief that the answer to children dying could be anything but “ban guns”. But am I surprised at the lack of a blanket “ban guns” approach in the States? No, for many of the reasons in the Jim Jefferies clip below, but also because we are a contradictory people, we live in a world of injustice, things that seem, on paper, simple, no-brainer things to do, are frequently not. There are children dying of starvation right now, but we don’t stand up quick enough to sort it out. Nor have we dealt with poverty at home, kids going to school hungry. It’s self interest, self preservation, we want to be better but we don’t want to have to do it ourselves. The world is more closed off, more right wing and more protectionist than we think.
Here’s a really great bit of stand up about Guns in the USA.