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Violence in a Gun Free Land



This morning’s news was once again filled with another awful tragedy. A person described as ‘deranged’, ‘unbalanced’ and ‘angry’, who felt wronged by a society who judged him poorly for his own misdeeds, took out his vitriol on those who neither knew of his plight nor were expected to defend themselves. It is right and appropriate that we mourn for our fellow citizens and are saddened the cowardly and self centered choice of this individual to seek retribution in this manner. It is not the way that we as Americans are taught to handle our grievances.


Certainly, we understand the power and the destructive capability of the firearm they possess. It would be preaching to the choir in a land of gun ownership, concealed carry permits and the nonsensical ‘gun free zones’, to point out this heinous act was committed by an individual who bears responsibility for his actions and the manner is defined only by the tool he used.  


I began to wonder, what’s in like in countries where firearms are all but absent – Great Britain came to mind.


In response to the 1996 Dunblane School Massacre, where Thomas Hamilton, an unemployed former shopkeeper and former Scout Leader (fired from his position five years previously when Scouting became “suspicious of his moral intentions toward boys”), took hostage and murdered sixteen children and one teacher. Legislation was hurriedly enacted and passed by the British Parliament in the form of Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and Firearms (Amendment) Act (No.2) 1997. These Acts promoted by a massive Media-driven debate in the public forum effectively made it illegal to own a handgun in the United Kingdom. Limited possession of, and strict regulation was defined for, rifles and shotguns as allowed for sporting purposes.


However, the investigation into the incident identified weaknesses in the data shared by government agencies tasked with gun regulation previous to the massacre. Critics point out that officers from the Police Licensing Firearms Office were unaware of Hamilton’s expulsion from Scouting as well as his allegations of his ‘unsavory’ behavior at Scout Summer Camps and on outings. They contend that had this information not been compartmentalized, it would have exposed Hamilton’s poor character. (It is similar to the argument decrying the use of ‘Chinese Walls’ by law enforcement agencies in the US prior to 9/11. However, I would question whether the actions of a private organization would have been sufficient reason to deny a handgun purchase unless a conviction had been obtained in a court either in the UK or the US.)


All in all, a terrible tragedy committed by an out of work pedophile angry at the world.


In July of 2009, the Daily Mail described Great Britain as the most violent country in the Europe Union.  

Official crime figures show the UK also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa – widely considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries.”


How dangerous is dangerous? Since 1997 the percentage of recorded attacks has soared by 77% to 1.158 million. Or to put it simply, a violent crime is committed once every 30 seconds. There are 2,034 violent acts committed per 100,000 residents earning Great Britain the rank of number one. (Compare that to 466 violent acts committed per 100,000 residents in the same year in the US.) And of those violent crimes tallied, Great Britain comes in 13th, well past France, Italy and Spain for homicides at 1.49 per 100,000 residents.  


A well documented Wikipedia article claims an overall reduction in violence since the enactment of the laws banning and restricting firearms. That is until you look at how the crime statistics are calculated.


In Great Britain, two types of crime statistics exist. The first is called Recorded Crime and is a reflection of the crime categories recorded in police reports. Despite the limitation of attempting to fit a crime into specific boxes on a report, this is the data used for reporting on community trends.


By comparison is the British Crime Survey (BCS) which examines victim interviews. This is considered a more realistic indicator of crime trends as it includes data when a police report is not filed and a crime is just reported. Proponents also use this data as it is unaffected by changes to police reporting procedures.  


Using the BCS report for 2010/2011, we find that there was no statistically significant change in the number of violent crimes estimated by the 2010/11 as compared to the 2009/10 survey (the apparent 6% increase was not statistically significant).”


Yes, you read that correctly, a 6% increase was not considered ‘statistically significant’. Neither does the reporting office believe that a year by year comparison of percentages is ‘statistically significant’. Reaching the trend line back to 1995, the office gleefully reports overall BCS violence falling by 44 % over this period as a whole including a 19% reduction in homicides. The report goes on to identify an ‘as anticipated’ overall decline in crimes involving guns and knives.  


‘Knives’, it is a telling categorical description. While one may find the details of the report interesting or the dichotomy of confusing concepts that seemingly prevail to the ungovernmentalized, one take away is clear. Violent crimes are not limited by the tool involved. If the perpetrator doesn’t have a gun, he gets a knife and by some reporting in the GB, can be just as deadly.


Since the absence of a firearm doesn’t stop violent crime, perhaps we should focus on the person?


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