Gun crime is particularly abhorrent to me because I was brought up in England where it is practically unheard of. I found it hard to understand how this lunatic had been able to get hold of a weapon that had allowed him to kill twenty children before anyone could stop him.
My American friend, Tara, asked me what the rules were in England.
Since anything to do with guns is completely outside my experience – I have never even seen one – I looked up the English law in Wikipedia. This is what it says:
In the United Kingdom firearms are tightly controlled by law, and while there is opposition to existing legislation from shooting organisations, there is little wider political debate, and public opinion favours stronger control. The British Shooting Sports Council now believes that the law needs to be consolidated but it does not call for a review.
The United Kingdom has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world with 0.07 recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009 compared to the United States' 3.0 (over 40 times higher) and to Germany's 0.21 (3 times higher).
With the exception of Northern Ireland, it has been public policy that police officers in the United Kingdom should not generally be armed with firearms. Shooting fatalities of members of the police are extremely rare; there were three in England and Wales in the eleven-year period from 2000/01 to 2010/11. About 7,000 police officers have received firearms training.
The following are generally prohibited.
Fully automatic or burst-fire weapons, which may include some air guns.
Firearms disguised as another item (e.g. walking sticks, mobile telephones, etc.)
Rockets and mortars.
Air guns chambered for self-contained gas cartridges.
Any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid gas or other thing. This would generally include stun guns, or electric shock devices, and CS gas.
Tara points out that gun control laws affect only the people who obey them and she is, of course, absolutely right. No amount of gun control will stop criminals from carrying weapons. They are, after all, already operating outside the law. But the Sandy Hook massacre was not carried out by a career criminal, but a madman. Gun control laws would have prevented ordinary people from buying the weapon he used. He might still have run amok and killed someone, but with any other weapon it would surely have been impossible to kill TWENTY before he was stopped.
I told Tara I couldn’t use examples from my own work to illustrate my point, as I don’t have guns in my books, and she said, “What about Domingo’s Angel?”
Of course I have written about guns, and indeed at one point it is the good guys who wield them. So just to show I’m not a complete hypocrite, here is that passage. It is a scene from the Spanish Civil War. The Republican Army has marched into the village of Amendillas and hanged the priest.
Excerpt from Domingo's Angel
“We did not know what to do,” María José said again. “We did not believe what was happening. Someone went to fetch the mayor and he came into the square and held up his hand and shouted at them to stop.”
“They shot him. And then......and then.....” she hesitated, not wanting to say the next thing.
“Go on,” said Rosalba.
“They went to your father’s house and they dragged him out and pushed him against the wall.”
“How did he look?”
María José bit her lip. “He looked confused. I don’t think he had the slightest idea what was going on. And they shouted, ‘Death to the landlords!’ and some of them lined up and pointed their guns at him. And then Old Juan ran out of the house and they grabbed him and pushed him against the wall too. And they shot them both,” she finished, her eyes downcast.
“So the blood was not all my father’s,” thought Rosalba.
“And then,” María José looked up at Rosalba, her eyes haunted, “one of them grabbed Little Rosa by the arm and pulled her to him and said, ‘Have you got a kiss for your rescuers?’ and she spat in his face and he snarled and twisted her arm. I heard it snap. And she gave a little cry, but that was all. And then he threw her down to the ground and pointed his gun at her and then there was a loud crack and his head snapped back and he fell backwards on to the ground and nobody knew what had happened. I thought he had somehow shot himself. And everyone was looking round trying to see where the shot had come from. And then a voice came from the top of the church. It was Don Carlos.”
“What, my Carlos?” demanded Rosalba.
María José nodded. “He was on the church roof and he was holding a gun, like so.” She mimed holding a rifle to her shoulder with her chin resting on the stock. “And he said, ‘ You are not Republicans. You are filthy, murdering scum. And you will put down your guns and leave Amendillas immediately or every one of you will receive the same as him. And he spat towards the dead man in the square. And the men looked uncertain, but none of them put down their guns. And one of the others, I think he was the leader, he was wearing a red kerchief, said ‘And who will make us go?” And raised his gun. And there was another crack and he jerked forward and fell on his face in the dust. And we looked round and there was Salva the Baker on the roof of your father’s house. And he was pointing a gun like so. And there was another man on the roof of Juan the Shoemaker’s house. I could not see him clearly, because he was against the sun, but I think it was..”
“José Goatherd,” Rosalba finished for her.
There are occasions when the good guys need to be armed and on this occasion the good guys won. But I would argue that the risks of allowing the population at large to own guns far outweighs the risk of an occasion arising when they really need them for self-defence.
Domingo's Angel is available from http://amzn.com/1612352022
And please don't forget to return tomorrow and Tuesday for Tara and Jenny's summing up of their respective arguments.