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Thursday, 26 March, 1998, 23:05 GMT
The right to ask questions
The e-mail has been flying back and forth across the Atlantic. The debate: the American right to bear arms.

In the aftermath of the tragic events in Arkansas, chat forums, newsgroups and interactive news sites have been inundated with e-mail from people wanting to vent their deep feelings on the issue.

One of these sites was BBC News Online, which asked "Should America ban the handgun?" on its Talking Point page.

The e-mail response from the UK and America was huge - the biggest reaction received by the site since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

And it showed that, although the two countries are united in their grief and shock, they are very much divided on the question of gun reform.

A ban is the only solution

A ban on handguns and overall reform of gun legislation in America was the majority view of those e-mailing from the UK.

"It is an indisputable fact that if the US did not have such a lax law on the possession of firearms it would not have such a high rate of murder and violent crime," said David Bevan from the UK.

"A complete ban on handguns should be introduced in the US, in the same way as it had been in the UK," said another UK correspondent, Dr Ian Tulloch.

Others wanted a ban but doubted whether it was really possible.

"They must be banned, said Stuart Lawson. "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?"

Right to bear arms

On the other side of the Atlantic, the question provoked a very sharp response.

At least 80% of the total e-mails received came from America, and 90% of them were hostile to the suggestion of gun reform.

"The US can't ban the handgun; to do so would require us to change the Bill of Rights, and that will never happen..," said Tony Carlin.

And equally adamant was Norm Michels who said:

"This is the Second Amendment of our Constitution: A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. "

Futile debate

A sense of futility at any attempt to change gun laws was expressed by another large proportion of Americans - futility inspired by their countrymen's belief in their constitutional rights.

"We've tried tougher laws and longer jail sentences for people who use guns. But the tide of gun crime continues, and because we Americans continue to view guns as an American birthright, we don't have the courage to face down the "gun lobby" and do the right thing, " said Jeff Gillian, USA.

Siddahartha Balla from the USA also thought the constitution was too strong to allow reforms.

She said: "As long as the American people believe that they have a right to bear arms, there will be no legislation to ban the handgun."

Brits keep out

As the messages continued to come in, the Americans and Brits were at loggerheads.

And many Americans, like Alan Johansen, thought the UK should stay out of the debate altogether.

"What right do you have to ask this question? You have no say in how we run our country. Banning guns doesn't solve problems, " he said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Mark Lakonski who said:

"I advise you to concern yourselves with your own domestic problems."

Degrees of unity

But on one thing Americans and British agreed - that the intention to kill is stronger than the weapon used to do so.

"The gun is just a tool....banning them would be as effective as banning cars to stop drunk drivers," said US citizen Bill Hayes.

And over the ocean in the UK, Maureen Wight supported this view, saying: "There are dangerous people everywhere and they will find ways to hurt others, no matter how many means of doing so you take out of their reach."

See also:

29 Mar 98 | Talking Point
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