“From my cold dead hands….”

So famously said the actor Charlton Heston, as he held aloft a rifle at an NRA rally during his tenure as its chairman….

Though undoubtedly a great actor – political timing was never one of Chuck’s strong-points, and as this occurred not long after the Columbine massacre – it seemed to me to demonstrate quite breathtaking and crass insensitivity.

Coming to this country you cannot help but notice that Americans do rather like their guns, and I confess this is one of the few things about living here that makes me a trifle uncomfortable….. Britain is a country that totally banned handguns 12 years ago after sixteen children and one adult were killed by Thomas Hamilton at a Primary school in the Scottish town of Dunblane (the UK equivalent of an American Elementary school). There was such a public outcry that the government were forced to legislate, and the vast majority of Britons were fully behind this.

This may come as something of a surprise for folks on this side of the water, but Britain doesn’t even have an armed police force. Designated, specially trained officers can draw weapons should the occasion and circumstances demand it – but ordinarily police both in patrol vehicles and the famous “booby on the beat” are routinely armed with nothing more lethal than a truncheon or baton…

There is the apocryphal story of an English bobby chasing a criminal on foot through the streets of London and shouting:

“Stop ! Or I’ll say ‘Stop’ again !”

I have relatives in the force, and believe me none of them want to see themselves routinely armed….

In April last year I was asked to give a presentation about my impressions of life in the States as a British Expat at my church. My talk, which was entitled “The View from the Cheap Seats”, was a wide ranging and often humerous look at my experiences of having lived here for two years… The overriding theme of the presentation was that I loved this country and was very happy to be living here – but there were a number of issues I raised that I said troubled me…. One of these was the prevalence of guns in the hands of those who really shouldn’t have them. After the talk I was joined in conversation by a number of our members who shared with me the fact that they were gun owners. We had a very interesting and friendly discussion on the concerns that I had raised……

The very next day – April 16th 2007 – Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people after going on the rampage at Virgina Tech……

Now I know that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are decent, honest and law-abiding individuals – but the freedoms that allow them to have their weapons also allow people like Mr Cho, who should never have been permitted to buy a gun, to all too easily acquire one. I take the rather sanguine view that criminals will ALWAYS be able to get guns if they want to, no matter what you do. It is a fact of life, and is just as true in England as it is here. However – these gun massacres are never perpetrated by criminals, they are always the result of someone essentially going insane, and therein lies the problem.

How do you prevent people who either ARE insane, or have the propensity to GO insane from having guns ?

From the admittedly outside perspective of someone like myself, it seems to me that the gun lobbying organisations here care rather more about the prospects of their member’s rights being infringed than they do about the enormous number of innocent victims that those with firearms create…. In fact I’ll go further – they don’t appear to give a rat’s arse…..

What I would really like to see is that those who want to bear arms put their heads together and come up with some kind of system that would ensure that people like Mr Cho, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Jeffrey Weise and others too numerous too mention (198 people have been killed in schools shootings alone since 1966) were never able to acquire weapons. Perhaps this could be done by means of a requirement to have a psychiatric examination before being allowed to purchase guns ? Anything to reduce the likelihood of this happening again….

However – I say with a certain amount of sadness that this is simply not going to happen. I can only assume that Americans in general (and I do realise that this is a sweeping generalisation) are more concerned about that right to bear arms, than they are about the damage that they can all too easily cause in the wrong hands…

I take no pleasure at all in saying that another school shooting massacre like Virgina Tech WILL happen again, it’s just a matter of time …

Is there gun crime in Britain – yes, of course – but it is on a much smaller scale and rarely involves ordinary members of the public. It is frequently gang-related, or professional criminals robbing banks – and is almost never the result of a bad tempered spat at the traffic lights, which it all to often is here…. London is currently going through a spate of knife crimes, and that is terrible too – but there is a subtle difference….

If someone comes at you with a knife you might be more agile than them and be able to parry their blows…

You might be trained in self defence, and a practitioner of judo…

If all else fails you have a good chance off outrunning your assailant….

With a gun you have none of these options….

I’ll close this rather sombre topic with something on the same subject that really made me laugh….

I was at our local library the other day checking some books out, when I noticed a guard in the lobby….

He was armed !

You have to make sure you don’t return books late at THAT branch !

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