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Wednesday, 8 April, 1998, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Reaction to the US handgun issue: Degrees of unity
On one thing most agreed - that the intention to kill is stronger that the weapon used to do so.

Well, I'm a reasonable man. I understand that many of my countrymen justify ownership of a handgun as a form of self-defence. What really needs to happen to allow the handgun issue to be resolved is the development of an effective non-lethal personal weapon - the equivalent of the 'Star Trek' phaser on stun. Once we have something that an individual can use to protect oneself without killing anybody, then the greatest justification for having these weapons will be overcome.
John Barstow, USA

I don't think I have ever seen such an arrogant bunch of Americans in my life. You need to stop being so selfish!! Another human's right to not be killed in a violent crime is more important than your right to carry a gun. In such an important issue, we all need to make concessions in order to help combat the problem.
More laws cause the problems? I think not. The problems are caused by the ignorance shown by such shallow people (as many of those here) to what is trying to be accomplished by them. Guns are the problem. (A very simple concept to grasp). Until Americans can see what is the real issue here, our country will continue to be disgraced.
Lara, USA

Instead of gun owners and gun banners fighting for their separate causes we need to get together and solve the problem. I am a gun owner but I believe certain restrictions and regulations make sense. A total gun ban is not the answer but widespread licensing might help. We have already noticed an increase in persons holding concealed weapon permits. These people are law-abiding citizens who pass exams and receive state permits. Perhaps all gun owners should be required to carry a licence and be registered.
Alan Owens, USA

What's next eh? Banning bananas 'cos people slip on skins? I come from Northern Ireland and you can't buy guns there, and has it cut down on murder? Has it hell. If only the sectarian killers in my neighbourhood could buy their guns legally over the counter there'd be no more of this slaughter nonsense, and you could leave your front door open. I ask you, what's next, eh? Banning mustard gas just 'cos it causes eye irritation, blepharospasm, blurring of vision, pain and tissue damage? How I wish I lived in the crime and murder-free environment of the US, instead of this chaotic, violent society. You Americans don't know how lucky you are. DON'T EVER GIVE UP YOUR GUNS!!
Big Davey, UK

I'm a fifteen-year-old from Wisconsin, USA who is completely against gun control. I enjoy using guns for target shooting, trap shooting, and hunting. These are wholesome activities in which the majority of my school enjoys participating. If we banned guns we would end up like England where you can't even legally carry a pocket-knife. It is none of England's business. We don't tell you how to rule your country so don't tell us how to rule ours thank you very much. Please, we are dealing with this incident ourselves and even the families of those killed have expressed that gun control is not the answer.
Adam James, USA

There are guns here. But people do not murder people here. The problem is not with guns. The problem is a vicious society of self-centred people. People in America are seeing others as they see representations of people on TV - two-dimensional, no past, no future. They kill and expect no consequences. I love America and it makes me sad.
Tamer Farag, Egypt

Making more laws restricting the freedom of the law-abiding is not the answer. If psychopaths are willing to break all the laws against killing people do you really think that they would be swayed by another law that says they can't own a pistol? In addition, an armed populace is an effective deterrent to violent crime. Since it is impractical to pack around rifles, pistols are the answer.
For those of you shaking your heads at my naivete imagine yourself as a 90 lb (41 kg) woman being approached in a dark parking lot by a couple of 250 lb (110 kg) men who are making uncouth remarks and whom you believe have rape on their minds. Now imagine yourself in the same situation only you are carrying a .45 auto on your hip. Which set of circumstances do you prefer?
T Quinn, USA

There is no gun problem, just a crime or mental health problem. In this country repressive gun laws were proposed by a Commission which included a retired Judge. The report from the Commission is being ignored, wisely, by Parliament.
Harold Kidd, New Zealand

Instead of blaming guns for this tragedy, we would be better served if we instead examined why 13 and 11 year old children felt that killing was an appropriate response to a romantic slight. What kinds of values have been taught to these children that they would try to steal from their parents and actually steal from their grandparents in order to commit such a crime?
Daniel Galloway, USA

Our problem is that children are being raised with NO sense of responsibility for their actions! A parent that spanks his/her child will end up in jail. We have liberals, like Clinton, who want to place the blame on everything but the actual cause. Their misguided polices!
Bill Kapaun, USA

GUNS don't kill people...PEOPLE kill people. This has always been true, what we need in America is more people acting responsibly and learning to use and respect guns, then passing this knowledge and respect down to their children. Kids are not being taught right from wrong by their parents, and I doubt from their actions that many of the parents even know right from wrong. The decay of American society falls on the attitudes of Americans and our hesitance to accept any responsibility for our actions.
Todd Wheaton, USA

Violent people will always find a way to excise their violent nature and victimize others. Banning handguns will only remove one more positive hobby opportunity from our people and remove our only means of protection from the violent people.
Matt Branstine, USA

Well, I vote that they should ban guns but that's not really the problem, is it? I understand that most Swiss households have guns since they are trained to defend their country but the murder rate is extremely low. The real problem is the very sick culture of violence that has become the norm in the States as a diversion from the social and economic problems they suffer. The cult of "America, Love It or Leave It", the disgusting display of chauvinism when covering international events such as the Olympics, the chest-thumping brain-dead attitude of overweening megalomania - get the idea? does not lead to a milieu of tolerance, respect or non-violent problem solving.
How can they trumpet this right to bear arms as a meaningful idea of what it is to be a country? Who are these people? The best Americans I know are those who left the States and came to Canada to escape the draft during the Vietnam War. The voice of forceful reasoned debate in the US has very little opportunity to be heard. Target shooting is one thing - living constantly in fear of neighbours (good or bad) with guns is something else.
Pas, Canada

This old saw about guns not shooting people, but people shooting people is plumb worn out. If people did not have such easy access to guns, they would be too lazy and/or frightened to act in an alternate manner that would have such equally deadly consequences. The statistics keep getting worse and more disheartening. It's about time we woke up and began to realize what a specious argument "freedom" is when it comes to being the most inhospitable, violent place in the world.
Jim Stifter, USA

It's not the guns that are the problems. It is the parents who fail to teach their kids right from wrong. It is the fault of society by not empowering our schools to have the strength to discipline our nation's youth. It is the fault of each individual by constantly stressing the importance of violence through our music, movies, and moral laxity.
Shawn Young, US

For those of you who are astonished as to why anyone would ever own a gun you've obviously decided to purposely ignore the huge historical importance of firearms as tools for survival, defence, sports, competition (even Olympic competition). For those who naively say "what use is a device just designed to kill people?" you can go on living in ignorant bliss, willfully dismissing the historical and practical context of firearms that lies behind this debate. Just don't expect everyone else to be as willfully naive or uninformed.
FY Hamada, USA

A few points: First, this whole debate seems very much a clash of cultures. I note that the American side of the debate frequently repeats that anyone could "take away their liberty" were not guns so widespread, and the fear here seems to be either that Americans are afraid of their own government or of foreign invasion. To me both these ideas seem hard to take seriously and I can't help wondering how much the prevalence of guns itself creates this atmosphere of fear. Certainly here in Ireland (unarmed police) there isn't the same degree of paranoia-even with paramilitary violence in the North. (As for the 'remember how we had to bail you out in WW2' remarks: Would a population with hunting rifles have delayed the panzer divisions of the Wehrmacht all that much?)
Second, I've heard more than once from American constitutional scholars that the so-called "right to bear arms" was never meant to extend to the population as a whole but only to "militias", which at the time meant the equivalent of today's armed forces (not the right-wing militias of today). Do any of the Americans in the debate know enough to clarify this?
Thirdly, the argument that "people can kill with cars, so why not ban cars?" (or clubs, or knives). Yes, people can kill with cars, but the primary purpose of a car is not to kill. The only real purpose of a gun is to kill. Add then that this use of guns can be glamourised as (say) automotive homicide cannot. I wonder how much the attachment to guns in the States derives from a subliminal feeling that, well, guns are kinda sexy (and probably make their bearers sexier). (On this point as well I can't help notice that almost all the American correspondents in this debate are men. Can we hear more from women on this?)
Gerard Cullen, Ireland

Any society that lets children regard weapons as toys needs to examine itself. Guns are dangerous. Unlike knives or clubs or many other items that can potentially maim or kill, guns are designed ONLY for killing. They should not be available for children to play with. How can we teach children the value of life and the wickedness of violence when guns are touted as fun toys or smart accessories?
I'm not arguing for a total ban (though that would be nice) but some sort of education programme and new laws to enforce stricter guidelines on the use and storage of firearms. Just a little common sense now could well save lives in the future.
Susan Stead, UK

This is the question which should be asked: Why are individuals at present finding it so easy to shoot others for no reason at all? A choice was made in Arkansas. Those two young boys CHOSE to shoot. The weapons did not jump into their hands and ask to be fired. The existence of guns did not cause these boys to fire upon innocent and defenceless human beings. I would like to know what did. This blaming of inanimate objects seems ludicrous to me.
Daryl Harris, USA

I would like two simple questions answered by those who would ban handguns in America.
1) What difference would it have made in Jonesboro as the guns which fired the bullets that killed were not even handguns, they were high powered, non-semi-automatic rifles? and
2) I have broken no laws (except for one speeding ticket). Under what moral principle or theory of law am I to be deprived of my right to own a handgun? Would someone please explain this to me.
The problem we are dealing with here is that two young persons were so mentally-diseased that they thought it was acceptable to shoot innocent classmates because of a jilted love affair. Has anyone considered that, even if all firearms were banned, these two children could have simply loaded their stolen van with home made ammonium nitrate explosives? Hundreds would now be dead instead of five. Sick individuals will always find some tool to do their disgusting task. The true task for our society is to learn how to identify and stop these diseased persons before they use any tool to harm others. Of course, that requires some effort. The gun banners are always looking for a simple (but ultimately ineffective) solution to a deep-seated problem. A better first step would be for Hollywood to stop glorifying murder as entertainment in film and television.
Loyd Gravitt, USA

The availability of firearms is not directly linked to violent crime, and the country of Switzerland has proved this. In Switzerland the government requires every adult male to to keep an assault rifle, ammunition, gas mask, and other military equipment readily available in their home. Women are not required to own firearms, but they are encouraged to. In a nation of only six million people, there are at least two million firearms, including six hundred thousand automatic rifles and five hundred thousand pistols. Yet, Switzerland is considered one of the safest nations in Europe and the world. If firearm availability is indeed directly related to violent crime, then Switzerland should be the most violent and dangerous nation on the face of the planet.
Michael Andreev, USA

Firearms kill thousands in the US every year. In other countries, where guns are more strictly regulated, there are relatively few homicides resulting from gun shot wounds. This is not rocket science. Either we argue, rather implausibly, that Americans are a particularly violent bunch, influenced by Hollywood's culture of violence. Or we agree that America's liberal gun laws have something to do with otherwise inexplicably high homicide rates.
Erol Kaymak, USA

I have to agree with Chris Pallaris, England. "...It would seem, however, that thousands of children will die before American ignorance and arrogance are laid to rest." What it all boils down to is EDUCATION. And from what I have seen during my stay here the basic standard of school education in this country (the USA) is appalling. You cannot expect a poorly-educated people to come up with any more worthy an argument than "It's our right" or "Free men are armed - slaves aren't".
As for the Brits minding their own business, the Americans are fine ones to talk. They have stuck their noses in more countries' affairs than any other nation. Look at the record of the CIA in South and Central America. I think Chris Pallaris is also right when it comes to WWII. The US may have played a major role in the outcome of the war, but if the UK and USSR had waited around for them to get involved without doing anything, as is the case these days, then Hitler probably would have been knocking at America's door before they knew it.
Phill, USA (Brit ex-pat)

Banning handguns, or any guns for that matter, is not the answer. America is simply becoming more and more violent. Millions of households here in the western part of America own at least one, if not several, guns. If handguns were outlawed the "underground" market for guns would explode. One must remember that with Mexico on our southern border, guns would easily be brought into the country for those who have the money. Prohibition did not work and I hear no-one demanding that we bring back that failed idea to solve the problem of drink-driving. Criminals need to be dealt with harshly. If you take a life, you give up your own-no matter your age! That is justice.
Erich Meyer, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

The problem is not with guns. Guns are just tools, useless hunks of metal, unless picked up by a human. Unfortunately, some humans are intent on evil, they will use any tools for their purpose, to harm others. The school shooting in Arkansas is a tragedy, much like the one in Dunblane. The two children were not taught to properly revere life, they were not taught the proper limit of reaction when your girlfriend breaks up with you, or when your classmates make fun of you. The fault lies with the two boys and their parents, not with the guns, not with the tools.
Erich Shanholtzer, USA

Guns are not the problem! Taking Mum out of the home and into the workforce has left no-one to raise the kids, unless you call TV an adequate sitter!
Don Underwood, USA

Here in Texas we still have some freedom in spite of Clinton. Some disturbed kid just ran down the halls of his school slashing people with a straight razor. The liberals keep telling us character doesn't count. I guess some kids are listening. The strongest country in the world (USA) doesn't ban guns. The rest of you cowards depend upon us for protection. Almost all of the problems in the USA can be traced to liberalism, aka socialism.
Bob Starr, USA

We have been out of control for too long. I'm afraid my kids will need a bullet proof jacket for school.
David Bolin, USA

A properly administered registration and licensing system, with safe storage facilities ensured, should continue to provide Americans with the right to possess firearms. State intervention and a blanket-ban, as in the UK is not the correct step to take.
Thousands of innocent, responsible gun owners in the UK have been denied their favourite sport, because politicians saw mileage in a disastrous situation caused by one man, Thomas Hamilton. Failures in the administration system were also to blame for the dreadful and tragic Dunblane shootings. What is next? A ban on archery? The list becomes too terrible to contemplate.
Peter J Dutton, UK

We should teach our children that everything in our society is to be done or not done strictly according to our system of laws, morality, and ethics, i.e., that handguns, as well as rifles and shotguns, are for punching holes in paper targets, empty tin cans, game animals, and, as a last resort, human beings, only strictly in accordance with state and federal laws.
What else but illegal, immoral, and unethical violence do you expect from a generation of children who have been raised on a steady diet of such violence in Hollywood movies, television dramas, video games, and "comic" books? Children taught to solve problems with words rarely solve problems, either large or small, with baseball bats or firearms.
I served as an attorney for the City of Atlanta and State of Georgia Boards of Education for many years, and am writing this e-mail based on my personal experience. Blame the potter, not the clay, for the failed or ugly pot! And stop trying to destroy our Constitutional Second Amendment!
Lee Perry, USA

Though I do think a ban would be a step in the right direction the American attitude must be changed. Here in Canada and in the UK (I am also a British citizen) society is more interested in the good of the whole, not the individual. The basis of this can be found in a comparison of the Canadian Constitution and the American one. Where the US has "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" the British North American Act has "peace, order and good government." This is supported by the majority of people in both the UK and Canada.
The death rate in the US by pistols was 5.50/100,000 in 1992. In Canada it was .46/100,000 in the same year and .06/100,000 in the UK in 1992. The murder rates show the same trend. I do know that in Northern Ireland the murder rate at the height of the troubles was much lower than that of an American city.
Finally, as a member of the Canadian armed forces I know that people in the military have no reason to fear that they will be instruments of the government to enslave the people. Oh, and on the point of the UK needing rifles in 1939/'40: there was no gun ban at that time and the weapons needed were not hunting rifles, they where military grade rifles.
OS Mullan, Canada

It seems that America has desensitised and trivialised the powerful image of guns around the world. Perhaps the glamour comes from the entertainment industry or the big business of war - who can ever prove it? The facts are that the boys who committed this crime lost their innocence long before they held guns. This tragedy was calculated and cold-blooded but it was as a consequence of something else. What we should ask ourselves is how does a child become evil? It goes beyond their environment and laws. Their parents and all of America must search their souls for answers. In the meantime, sympathy and condolences must be extended to the families.
Brigitte Lawson, Canada

Once gain the media lobby is trying to blame a situation on an object. If the kids really wanted to carry out their plan and a gun wasn't available there are always sticks, knives and cars. As a whole the media, and Clinton, are blaming guns for a failed educational, and parental system. According to the FBI, last year in America, guns were used more then 250,000 times to save lives, yet that never makes the news, because in those cases guns are used for the good. There are more people killed in and with cars and kitchen knives than guns, but no-one is trying to ban cars or knives.
Stuart Fjeld, USA

Shootings such as the one in Arkansas are indeed tragic. However, the frequency of this type of incident is dwarfed by the number of rapes, muggings, carjackings, and murders against people (especially women) committed by criminals (usually repeat offenders). To ban guns would put so many more people at risk of being easy victims of violent crime with no means of defence, than would ever fall victim from incidences such as happened in Arkansas. Remember, criminals will always be able to get guns -THEY ARE NOT AFFECTED BY GUN CONTROL-THEY DON'T OBEY THE LAWS!!
Bonnie Ryder, USA

True, It's people that kill people not inanimate objects. But, it's also true that we all lose our tempers from time to time. If there's a gun to hand the consequences of a temporary loss of self- control may be somewhat different from a simple verbal argument.
Guy Blackburn, UK

The possession of firearms doesn't automatically mean that people will use them to commit mass-murder, as we can see from the Swiss example. The US problem seems to be more to do with their society than guns per se. But if you want to kill a lot of people quickly, guns are dead useful tools.
Therion Ware, Malaysia

There is absolutely no need to ban handguns. Handguns have never been the issue. They have merely been a facade to confuse the issue. We have a crime problem in our country because of individual PEOPLE. We would like to simplify it and say that guns are the problem. We want to find the easiest way to solve this problem, and banning firearms seems to be the easiest way to do that. We need to educate our children in order to keep them from making mistakes that will lead to extreme consequences when they get older. They must be taught to RESPECT firearms in order not to MISUSE them. Remember, what we do today will affect tomorrow. We can't take the easiest way out, we have to weigh the issue and do what is right.
Jack Thompson, USA

Punish the criminals. No plea bargaining. Violent crime, where a life is taken or killing is attempted, should be met with the death penalty.
James L Smith, USA

One reason why our barely free country is still barely free is due to the fact that guns have not been banned completely, thanks to the 2nd amendment. I'm sure that the socialist gun ban folks will try to ban every rifle, pistol and shotgun now that this incident has occurred. It's time to get rid of the emotional sensationalism and get to the facts that banning an inanimate object won't curb crime. Getting back to the moral roots this country had when it was once great is the only way to stop needless acts such as these. Get a life, people! Criminals DON'T obey laws. That's what makes them criminals! Laws banning firearms only affect the law-abiding. It only makes sense.
Mark Matthews, USA

Since we have started banning firearms in Canada the rate of violent crimes using firearms has gone up. Gun control is not crime control it is people control.
R Ward, Canada

The private ownership of firearms is our country's guarantee of freedom. The American people need to be armed and vigilant. More restrictive laws are not the solution, as there were already plenty of laws in place which prohibited many of the actions taken by the juvenile perpetrators. In my opinion, gun safety and responsibility should be more widely taught to children. I have personally owned firearms for sixteen years and I have never hurt or killed anyone. If guns cause crime, then all of my guns must be defective.
Richard J Ertl, USA

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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