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Wednesday, 8 April, 1998, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Reaction to the US handgun issue: A futile debate
A sense of futility at any attempt to change gun laws was expressed by many - Futile because of the strength of the pro-gun sentiment in America.

Unfortunately, and predictably, this issue brings responses from the US that are mostly from the pro-gun lobby. Let me give a different perspective. Of course it is true that we live in a different culture from the British, but that does not mean that their views on the issue of guns and gun violence in the US have no value. The British grow up in a society where they can be fairly secure in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be the victims of gun violence even if they live in the very centre of the inner city. That is not true for Americans. We grow up in a society where handgun violence, especially in the inner cities, is an everyday occurrence. Only read your local daily newspaper and see how much coverage the average shootings get. We hardly notice them any more. We have become inured to gun deaths except when we witness horrors like that in Jonesboro and suddenly we realise for a few days what a violent society we have become.
There is no real answer to this problem in modern day America. We are awash with more than 200 million guns and the number rises every day. I am one of those strange people who cannot understand why anyone feels more secure with a gun in their possession. I have managed to survive almost fifty years on this earth (and not always in peaceful surburbia in case you are wondering) without feeling the need to own a gun. In fact the very thought of it makes me feel sick. But I do know that we are never going to be able to prise Americans away from their guns. They are much too ingrained in the culture and the National Rifle Assocation is much too powerful a lobby, so we'll just go on seeing more and more people shot to death each year - 23,000 plus at the last available count. What a tragic waste of so many lives and so much unfulfilled potential.
As far as I am concerned, guns are a national disgrace of which I an ashamed.
Jeannie Brooks, Seattle, USA

Aside from the Constitutional guaranteed right to keep and bear "arms" (already partially infringed), banning of handguns in the US would be both impractical and prohibitively expensive. There are too many illegal handguns in circulation for a ban to be effective. There are enough legal handguns in circulation to break the budget if owners were fairly compensated (as if that were possible). And, the American civil rights campaigns of "civil disobedience", coupled with the ill-considered 55 MPH speed limit has resulted in a populace which routinely disobeys laws which they consider to be "wrong". A very large segment of gun owners would simply refuse to obey any attempt to force the turn-in of all handguns. In Britain, handgun owners were too few (and too well-documented) to effectively resist. Not so in the US. A handgun ban would simply result in huge new rents in the fabric of society.
Harry Miller, USA

Most countries allow possession of handguns and many of them have lower homicide rates than Britain. Blaming guns is a simplification leading to feel-good legislation which does nothing to solve the real problems.
Kaj Schlupp, Finland

Ban handguns and I'll have to take up knitting or something to pass the time. Keep them and I'm laughing all the way to the mortuary. If the good ol' boys don't get to shoot each other at home then they will just have to go and kill people in another country under the guise of a 'peace-keeping force'.
G Reaper, England

I believe that collectively, as a society, we Americans would be far better off without handguns. But to expect gun owners to voluntarily surrender their side arms is, I can assure you, next to impossible. The only solution, as I see it, is to make the penalties for crimes committed while armed with a handgun so severe that whomever is so inclined to take a gun in hand would be compelled to think long and hard as to the consequences. Part of the problem exists in the fact that guns are cheap and easy to acquire. I, personally, don't own one and consider this a prerogrative I am better off without.
Adam Sichol, US

Whilst I believe that the UK was wrong in the "knee jerk" reaction to Dunblane I feel that in some ways the US still considers itself to be "frontier territory" and fails to understand that the rest of the "civilised" world looks horrified at this gun twirling democracy.
Bryan Morris, UK

To ban the gun would only bring more violence; violence against the government, violence on behalf of pro-constitution radicals, etc. A greater regulation of guns, namely against the cheapest mass-produced guns, would be a prudent measure.
Stephen Kenney, USA

American laws towards handguns highlight once again Americans' inability to learn from superior approaches elsewhere while dictating how others should live. The majority of Americans have consistently wanted responsible gun legislation but will likely never get it because of the power of lobbyists.
Paul Forman, Canada

Obviously there is a problem but why insist upon attacking an inanimate object in some attempt at a quick fix. "Feel good" measures are never effective and only result in shifting attention away from the actual problem. The boys themselves have a problem and attempting to remove any object in which they might cause harm is fruitless and impossible. Let us strive to find the actual cause and not shift blame just because that is the easiest route.
James Clark, USA

If you ban the handgun, you must ban knives, baseball bats and rocks too. Humanity will always find a weapon if they think they need one. Leave responsible handgun owners be.
Johann Snyman, South Africa

Knee-jerk reactions must be avoided. The problem of violence, whether by children or adults is being studied in an objective and dispassionate manner. So far the results I have seen show that the causes are far more fundamental and related to moral values and mental health and not to the presence of absence of guns.
Bill Masi, USA

The problem is not with an inanimate object. The problem is with the person who wields the object. The problem is not with securing an object by locking it up, as in the Jonesboro case where the firearms were stolen. Cars are stolen everyday and sometimes it leads to deaths by the perpetrators of the crime. I dare say that no one would have "felt better" about the event had the weapon in question been an Ax or Cricket Bat. So where does the problem lay? There is not an easy answer, nor will there ever be in instances like this. Whatever the reason in the mind of the youngsters who committed the crime, rooting out the catalyst that initiated the unfortunate event will take time and answers to the lingering questions will be difficult to pinpoint.
Ron Millar, USA

If you give an American kid $20, he could buy you a handgun off the street within the hour. The question is not whether or not America should ban handguns, but how such a ban could be made possible in a country so thoroughly saturated with firearms.
S Frost, USA

Banning handguns will stop nothing. Again, its the people that kill each other not the guns. If the kids had baseball bats, that would have surficed!
Dave Walton, USA

As sad as the situation in Jonesboro is, it is even sadder to see the anti-gunners use these tragic deaths to further their political agenda. I see and hear cries to ban assault rifles and handguns to prevent another event like this, but apparently neither of these were used in this tragedy. Our society has become corrupt, and banning physical objects will no more effect a resolution than bandaging a small pox sore will cure that disease.
M. Cira, USA

"The parents of one of the children shot during an attack on a school at Jonesboro in Arkansas on Tuesday are to launch a civil law suit against gun manufacturers." Amazing. And let's file civil suits against the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages and automobiles for all the drunk-driver fatalities. While we're at it, let's file civil suits against the manufacturers of other implements that have been used to kill people: kitchen knives, rat poison, boats and ships, aircraft, electrical appliances, buildings and bridges, man-made lakes, glass, hammers, baseball bats, arrows, rope, bricks, shovels, and explosives. Now that all those business have been sued, are we all safer?
Rick Slemmer, USA

Why has an incident involving rifles prompted the BBC to ask whether the US should ban handguns? How can you say that children are "armed to the teeth" when they are clearly not? The boys in Arkansas stole the guns from a careless grandfather. The problem of child violence is one of poor parenting directly resulting from an economy which forces both parents to work and leave their children unsupervised. While it may be easy for those in London and New York to demonize "rednecks" in "barbaric" places like Arkansas, the cause of societal breakdown actually originates in places like London and New York. The US government runs the US economy for the benefit of Wall Street and not ordinary people and this is the problem. The answer to this societal breakdown is not to ban handguns or any other gun. Why should any government have a monopoly of force in a free society? A government which forbids its citizenry to defend itself it de facto totalitarian.
Peter Cook, USA

The USA has enough laws already. Swift and sure punishment for these boy killers is what is needed, not more restrictions on the responsible citizen.
Fred McWaid, USA

When our forefathers wrote the constitution and that little line about the "right to bear arms" they had no idea what types of weapons we would end up creating. I think that if they were here today, their laws would be very different.
Elwing Borden, USA

The question should really be about the access to guns not the ownership of guns.
Sean Kelly, Isle of Man

Although Britons may enjoy claiming the moral high ground over the Americans, the fact of the matter is that a gun ban anywhere is usually ineffective, pointless and costs more resources than it is worth.
Will Christie, Canada

How many people have been killed/maimed attending British Soccer Matches?
David Hornyak, Sweden

The ability of humans to deny personal responsibility constantly amazes me. Those boys (evidently) committed a horrible act. The guns were tools they used to commit those actions. Would it be more socially acceptable if those people were killed by bow and arrow or stoning? Blaming the guns instead of the users, is like giving credit to the hammer for building the house rather than the carpenter. It has been proven time and time again, gun control laws do not work!
H Goodman, USA

If a person is willing to break the law to murder someone, They'll break the law to obtain a banned handgun.
Russell Salerno, USA

These were children. Punish the parents harder for failing in their responsibilities.
Bruce Boyce, USA

Restrictions on the rights of law-abiding citizens do nothing to stop the law-breakers.
Jim Mayhugh, USA

Banning handguns is not the answer. Look at what happened in Liverpool. Two young boys killed a two-year-old. No guns involved. It's a problem of troubled youth and what to do about it. These incidents of child violence will continue after guns are banned.
Robert Slater, USA

I don't think that availability of handguns is the problem. It's how these children are raised and were they given too much too soon with regard to their access to these firearms. Bear in mind they broke into someone's house to get them.
Kelly Page, USA

This is one more example why GUNS should not be so easily available to the average individual. The US is one of a few countries that allows easy access to fire arms, and often times they fall in the wrong young hands. It is high time that our leaders gather enough nerve and take the right approach of opposing the National Rifle Association from continuing peddling guns to the citizens at low cost. Owning a gun must be made very difficult if we are to stem this deadly trend before too many lives are needlessly shortened.
Fauz Kassamali, USA

They must be banned. But it will not come down to a decision to save lives, it will come down to a decision to win votes - can President Clinton afford to antagonise the Gun Lobby?
Stuart Lawson, UK

How long are people going to continue to delude themselves into believing that things like this only happen to other people in other places?
J E Terrell, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA

First we need to diminish the powerful gun lobby of the national rifle assoc., then we need to amend the constitution that states we have the right to bear arms. This is not the Wild West anymore.
S Slane, USA

The answer to the question is yes - it is time ban handguns. More importantly, in the tragedy, I believe there is blood on the hands of National Rifle Association, the interest group that has done all it could to stop gun control legislation where and whenever it could. It is true, people kill people, but the easy access to firearms in this nation makes it pathetically easy for those people.
Chet Cutick, New York City, USA

I am sick and tired of seeing my countrymen murder each other. We should stand up to the NRA and repeal the 2nd Amendment now!
Daniel Elsea, USA

Unfortunately I think the US has too much of a gun culture for an effective ban on guns of any kind. Plus the fact that they're saddled with a bill of rights which is 200 years out of date. Unlike Britain with its Common Law, the US is hamstrung when it comes to gun control.
Ray Marsh, Australia

They should, but they won't. And nobody in the US will dare to say it. The death of a number of children is the prize most Americans are willing to pay for their right to carry arms (Rights obsessed as they are anyway). The waiting is for the next incident.
Lyckle Griek, Japan

Here we go again. The right wing NRA (National Rifle Association) is going to get "up in arms" because somebody has the gall to suggest that it is in fact guns that do kill people. These people hide behind the all too glib phrase that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" Well answer this : How many of the 5 people mudered yesterday would have actually died had the two boys been carrying a knife or a baseball bat ? The liklihood is that they would have been stopped well before they even got close to a second victim. The fact remains that they had easy access to a firearm, and that is what caused these tragic deaths.
Gurpreet Bhatia, Canada

See also:

29 Mar 98 | Talking Point
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
30 Mar 98 | Talking Point
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
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