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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 11:00 GMT
Can gun control reduce crime?
A series of high-profile shootings have highlighted the issue of gun control in the United States and Australia.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has called for a ban on handguns following a shooting rampage at Monash University that left two dead and five wounded.
Meanwhile, the string of sniper shootings in the area surrounding Washington DC has prompted calls for tighter gun control in the United States.
There are an estimated 200 million privately held guns in the US, where the number of gun-related deaths each year runs into the tens of thousands.
But pro-firearm lobbyists say that restricted access to guns in countries like the UK and Japan leads to more crime against unarmed citizens.
Critics point out that some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Sierra Leone and El Salvador, are among the richest in weaponry.
Do you support or oppose the use of personal firearms? Can tougher gun laws reduce crime?
We have been discussing the issue of gun control in our global interactive phone-in programme on Sunday 27 October at 1405GMT.
Click here to watch the forum.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Hanna H, Chicago, USA
While I've read some interesting arguments on both sides, I can't help feeling that if someone broke into my house and I went for my gun there's a good chance someone would end up dead and it would not necessarily be the burglar. I think I would rather just let them take my stuff, life's are more important than belongings.
I see no reason whatsoever in a civilised society for people to own their own guns.
Britain has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world, yet London has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Ray Wilde, Portland, Maine, USA
It seems to me that any society which legitimises firearms will see an increase in their use. Why would we want that?
Gun control is rather similar to locking your front door when you leave the house. Neither will stop the hardened criminal, as most crimes are opportunistic.
The licence to carry arms automatically provokes the license to kill anyone at any time.
It's not the gun that is the devil. It's in the mind. The media is partly responsible for encouraging such gung-ho attitudes. Even cartoons show guns, missiles, tanks and killings.
I believe that we should be allowed to bear arms. At the moment it is easy for a criminal to obtain a firearm. The police too should be armed, what use is a baton against a handgun?!
Guns are made to kill.
Agha Ata, Houston, USA
Since 1997 ban on guns in UK the UK murder rate has increased to a 100 year all-time high. You can not hide those facts.
If you are not an American do not worry about our laws, look instead to your own yard and well look to ours. Owning firearms is our right, a right which we have fought for. Ban firearms? What's next, banning freedom of speech, press or religion? Banning firearms puts us down the same road as Hitler, Mao and Stalin.
Guns kill. Ban them.
Anon, Whitstable England
Matt, Scotland asks, "What, in a civilized world would it take to convince Americans to stop owning guns?" And I respond: "What civilized world?"
Since the UK banned hand guns in 1997 in a knee jerk reaction, the country has been flooded with illegal guns, and gun crime has climbed at an alarming rate. Even though the Government would have us believe that we have an unarmed police force, there are more and more instances where police officers are routinely carrying weapons. It has traditionally been the Americans' right under the terms of the constitution to bear arms and they should be allowed to keep that right.
Adam Reed, US
Since the handgun ban in England, gun crime has gone up by something like 40%. That says it all. Increased gun control simply appeases politicians (and anti gun lobbies) but does nothing to solve the underlying issues, nor does it reduce the very crimes it is introduced for.
A lot of the postings here point out that disarmament is a way for governments to gain total control over its citizens. I believe that the U.S government has no need to gain total control since it has already done that through other means such as the total control of the media.
When are people going to realise that if a person has the intention of using a firearm to kill someone, they aren't going to worry about the illegal possession of the weapon. Handguns were banned in the UK some time ago, and is anyone seriously trying to pretend that no handguns have been used illegally since then? After all if a criminal needs a car for a smash n' grab or as a getaway from a robbery - they'll steal one and they don't care about illegally owning the vehicle for that purpose - so do we ban cars too?
I've lived in the US for over twenty years, and it's the most violent place on earth. They have guns here for one reason - it makes American citizens feel more powerful. Once one understands this primary motive, all the ridiculous assertions about constitutional rights, self-defence, pre-emptive defence, evening the odds, and so forth, are dispelled.
Force and coercion are the bedrock of American foreign and domestic policy. Our schools here practise education by threat, the religions are autocratic, and government is seen as something draconian and irresistible. As a result, it is not surprising that the gun is seen as an appropriate method of expression.
Take away an American's right to arm, and you take away his ability to communicate.
Ask why handgun crime had not dropped following the banning of handguns in Britain a senior police officer said, "We didn't expect it to".
I suggest those that think guns work for self protection go to a library and pick up a Time magazine from the late '80s that published a picture of every person killed with a gun in the US in one week. There wasn't a single criminal shot while trying to commit a crime. However, there were many people shot accidentally while coming home late at night, or kids that found their dad's gun and shot each other.
Not even the police are armed in Ireland!
For all you people that think there is a relationship between guns and crime, you need to look at countries like Austria and Switzerland. Those countries have more guns per capita than anywhere else in the world, yet their gun crime rate is very low.
The right to keep and bear arms in the US has nothing to do with hunting or target shooting. We have this right in order to protect ourselves. I live in a wilderness area and cannot depend on the police for protection. It would take at least thirty minutes to respond to my home. I am responsible for my own safety, and that is my choice.
Leo, New Zealand
Okay, this is for all the folks that don't have a clue. In 1997 there were 32,436 people killed by guns in the US. This figure is .0125 of 1% of the population. Now, of these 32,436 people shot, 33% were accidental. Which means 10,703.8 people were accidentally killed by firearms in the US. This figure is approximately .0038 of 1% of the population. (out of 280m people). Now, in 1992 drunk driving in this country killed a little over 100,000 people. Lung cancer in 1992 directly linked to cigarettes killed 400,000 people in the US.
All loss of life is regrettable, but for anyone to recommend that guns are the biggest threat to society is nothing short of being incorrect. It is quite obvious that lifestyle choices kill more folks than guns do, by far.
Roger, Jacksonville, FL, USA
Heroine, cocaine, marijuana, and many other drugs are illegal in the US. The US government is involved in a "drug war" to end the drug trade. And yet, in a 5 minute walk, I could buy a huge amount of drugs. Gun control laws in the US will be as effective as the drug war. If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will own guns. Drugs and guns are an unfortunate part of our culture, but laws won't change that.
There seems to be a common theme across the Americans writing to this site, justifying the ownership of personal arsenals, which is the paranoid distrust of their own 'democratically' elected government. For a nation which advocates democracy as the solution for the rest of the world┐s problems, it is an irrational contradiction.
Most of the statements made here are so ridiculous that a reply to them would only create more ignorance.
The reason for our 2nd amendment was basically for protection against our enemies either foreign or domestic.
We have more gun laws than any other country. The problem is these laws are not enforced.
I suspect that part of the American love of guns lies in a desire for control. I know that I'm better off without a gun. I'm not making myself a victim, mind - I've only decided that there are better ways to defend myself, like martial-arts training, a compact police flashlight, and plain old street-smarts.
When will we all recognise that today's murder rate is the symptom of a society that has been de-sensitised to the value of life? Isn't it better to spend more time wondering how we got in this mess than to chase our tales; asking governments to pass gun control laws that don't work? Time to point the finger at ourselves and stop asking the government to protect us from us.
Daniel, Orlando, FL United States Of America
Those who are comparing UK and US firearms death statistics are overlooking one thing. It is a sad fact that what is driving the current increase in UK gun crime is more villains getting involved in drugs because there is a profit to be made. The villains use guns to protect their businesses. Why not take away their businesses by legalising drugs thereby reducing gun crime in the UK.
As always, I am ashamed to read some of the comments my "fellow Americans" have made. Yes, quite obviously we have a gun problem in the US. I am a student, and just by attending class every day I put myself at the risk that the students in Columbine, Jonesboro, and most recently Melbourne, Australia did. I don't want to live in a country where I have to fear that I or someone I love will be shot by one of the millions of abundant weapons.
To all those people that are "defending themselves and their families": Can't you see that it's because of those gun laws that you need to defend your families? I live in a big city and have never even seen a gun in my life. You're in a circle that will keep on running and getting worse until you do something about those laws.
Stu, London, UK
I saw on TV last a German presenter being shown round a gun range in Arizona. At this Gun range there was one man with a .50 cal browning machine gun. The type you see mounted on tanks and jeeps in films. I ask you all this what purpose does that gun serve in a civilized society? The facts speak for them selves reduce the number of guns and you will reduce the number of gun related problems. I quote Bill, USA (see below): "I will fight to the death before a government takes away all of my guns". Surely this statement is an argument for gun control? Here you have a person publicly stating that he would kill law enforcement personal in order to protect his guns.
A quick history lesson: The first thing Hitler did was disarm his people. A people without firearms are at their government's mercy. Sit back and think about that for a while.
I have read the statistics, which state that far less murders have been committed with guns in the UK. However, I wonder how many other crimes have been committed in the UK by other means. As with 9/11, even a box cutter can become a weapon in the hands of the wrong person. Unfortunately, some people just want to cause harm to others. I don't believe that the people who are committing crimes with firearms bother with our laws and obtain their guns legally. So instead of changing our gun laws, I believe we should focus on stopping the illegal sales of firearms.
Rudolf Berndt, Whitehorse, Canada
As an Brit in the States, I can tell you that while the UK may have a small (but rising) number of gun murders, the petty crime (burglary, robbery, mugging) and assault rates would be considered unbearable in the US. Our neighbour's son was beaten to death by a gang of thugs in Bristol's town square. Things like that wouldn't happen if the government trusted the people with guns.
I am in the UK and I know what the Americans think of our gun laws and of us. But listen, I am a keen shooter and often wish we had rifles legal here. But in the US you have everything. I think that the laws in the U.S should be tightened. Why on earth would you need a machine gun? They are only used against people! Rifles and shotguns are okay because you do use them for hunting and defence, so I hope you get my point.
It is amazing that Brits seem to neglect or disregard Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. What about all the gun violence there? What about the cache of machine guns just confiscated from protestant militants? What about the IRA's stockpiles of weapons? Gun control is a feel-good solution for most people and a way to total control for Government.
Ben Snowden, Virginia Beach, Virginia
No, in fact the gun laws should be relaxed. And although you say the "number of gun-related deaths each year runs into the tens of thousands". you conveniently omit to mention that the vast majority of these fatalities are suicides attempts. How will restricted access to guns change this? You also fail to make mention of the fact that a large proportion of the remaining fatalities are a result of law enforcement officers and law abiding citizens protecting themselves. Care to explain how that is a bad thing? Maybe if British citizens had the ability to defend themselves, there wouldn't be the consistent escalation of violent crime as is currently the case in the UK. In the US, violent crime has been in decline for almost a decade now.
The most effective regulation will implement widespread ballistic fingerprinting measures to trace the bullet to the gun. Countless gun owners complain that they will lose their privacy rights as a result, but he whose bullet is found in a murder victim deserves no such rights.
I'm so sick of Americans claiming that guns are absolutely required. Reading the comments on this page, people claimed everything from needing protection from wild animals (including sharks, which is puzzling) to protection from each other (which is circular and alarming at the same time). Yes, rifles and such might be useful for hunting and recreational target practice. But not many people get killed on the streets with thirty-gauge shotguns. I think outlawing guns with no recreational purpose (i.e. assault rifles and such) would be a good start. We have a truly ridiculous number of gun deaths a year (over 11,000, compared to roughly 40 in Japan) Making firearms illegal would not rid the USA of our gun problem, but it would be a good start.
Scott Weaver, USA
Taking guns away from Americans is like taking away a mother's baby. I will fight to the death before a government takes away all of my guns. Once that happens how can you trust your government to stay in check? Would the massacre had happened in Yugoslavia if the innocent citizens had guns to fight the injustice from their government? I don't think so. Another thing, what foreign military would try to roll in USA knowing that over 50% of the population have guns?
To Pip, UK: Your statement is simply not true. There are other countries that have extremely restrictive gun laws bordering on complete confiscation and they have a far higher rate of firearm crimes. Gun crimes have actually been decreasing every year in the US regardless of what lies are being told about it. Please note that the UK has had an increasing number of gun crimes every year since your ban on handguns.
The constitution of the US says that "a well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed". The US couldn't be any more free. If people want to carry guns or are concerned about the US's freedom, they should join the well regulated militia that is the US army.
Grizzly bears, buzzards, alligators, rattlesnakes, sharks, wolves - all native to America. If our European fox was three times its size and attacked humans, every house in the UK would own a gun.
Given the native species the US has, how can they effectively outlaw weapons that some parts of the country still need?
Alex Banks, UK
An overhaul is decades overdue. Yes, criminals will have access to illegal guns, no change in the law can guarantee that no one will ever be shot again, but at least such a change can prevent disgruntled teenagers from taking their parents' legal firearms and shooting up their high schools.
Any nation that can imprison people for possessing a small amount of pot, whilst allowing them to own an arsenal of automatic weaponry is in need of some very serious soul searching.
I don't really know what you can do about it. It's an unwinnable war. The government attempt to ban certain guns and then the manufacturers put them back on the market with a few tiny differences so it's perfectly legal again. When you purchase a gun you have to wait while they check to see if you're mad. Even if they stop making guns this very day, there are so many out there already it would be impossible to get them all, you just can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.
I'm not American but I understand why they have guns.
This is just a case of punishing the innocent to catch the few.
In a utilitarian sense consider the impact on jobs in the firearms industry too.
I wonder what the National Rifle Association's (NRA) reaction has been to these shootings. Presumably they would remind us all that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people". Well yes, I have to agree. The problem is that people are killing people with guns. Take away the guns or at least make them less readily available and you stand a chance of making society a safer place.
These attacks are terrible, but to the people who believe that gun bans or gun registration would somehow prevent the attacks, think again. The most heinous attack on America was carried out on 9/11 by people with unregistered box cutters, and FAA certified and registered jet airplanes. It is no coincidence that these attacks are centred around DC, arguably the most gun controlled metropolitan area in the US.
I am a Brit living in the US at the moment. I would like to say how ridiculously easy it is to purchase or hire a gun here in the USA. I went shooting in my first week here- it took them all of 5 minutes for a cursory glance at my passport for them to hand me an M16 rifle and 100 bullets to hire for the day! To those misguided people who think that tougher gun laws won't work, I have an interesting statistic. In 1996 - 70 people shot in UK. Over 10,000 people shot in USA in same period (look it up yourself).
Why can't gun laws in the US be like those in Canada? My opinion is that guns should be kept in lockers provided by the government where you need to sign them out if you need them, and once you're done, you must return them. This way, they will know what guns are out there and who has them.
obviously certain US residents feel their right to posses a gun is more important that those people killed by guns. Would it not be a simpler matter to require that every legitimate gun has a test firing (at the owner's expense) and the result recorded for later forensic use?
To Nick, Netherlands: It would not be simpler to test fire legitimate guns. There are millions of illegitimate guns that would not be tested. Guns stolen from owners, or bought in other countries. To Alaa, Ottawa, Canada: It would be useless to keep guns in a lock-up. Most Americans keep guns for safety reasons. If the gun is locked up when it is needed most, it is useless. The criminals will rule the streets, and innocents will be in jails.
Since the Dunblane massacre, the UK has seen a 40% increase in gun-related crime. Only the law-abiding people obey the law. I would rather have my loaded .38 Smith and Wesson handy, than not. The police in the States can't protect us, and, as I read in the British media, the UK cops are no better. When you have twisted thinkers that put Tony Martin in jail for killing a burglar, I'll happily stay on the US side of the pond.
Richard Namon, USA
Gun control only works for legally held firearms. We have very strict gun control and it has not stopped gun crime. In fact crime involving guns is still rising. So why bother with tighter gun control when it is so ineffective?
Of course America's gun laws need to change as in the US a psychopath can go and buy a gun quite easily, with no questions asked. However this is not the main reason for my views, thousands of Americans are killed every year through gun-related accidents that would not happen if gun ownership was more strictly controlled. The second amendment (right to bear arms) is an archaic law with no place in present day America. Civil liberties need guns like a fish needs a bicycle.
It's all very well talking about the right to defend yourself but let's not forget that in the US, robbers, rapists and psychopaths carry guns also. As for it only being the 'odd' gun incident - 28,000 gun-related deaths last year is a little more than 'odd'.
There are plenty of lawful gun owners in the US. Why should their rights be limited because of criminal acts? More work should be put towards enforcing the gun laws already in place.
The US certainly needs to rethink its gun culture. There have been several cases over the last 10 years of people turning psychotic and shooting people dead. If there was a ban on guns several of those people would be alive today. I think the case three years ago when a five-year-old shot dead another child at school highlights just how easy it was to get hold of a gun. I fear going to the US even for a holiday, it's turned into such an unattractive location. No one should be allowed to possess a gun for personal use in any country, not even for hunting or sports.
This sniper would have had a gun anyway, no matter what the law was. Living in south Tottenham myself I never leave the house without my (illegal) gun. And it saved me from being robbed twice already. As long as the government is unable to protect me, I will take matters into my own hand.
It strikes me that it is very easy for a person to come into possession of a gun in the US. With a population of 280 million why is there a need for 200 million privately owned guns? In this modern day and age there is no need for these barbaric devices in homes.
The answer to the question is yes, but Americans cannot associate gun ownership with attacks from a sniper.
Rob Harris, UK
Rob Harris: The sniper and other spectacular shootings that make the news may be exceptional, but the truth is that gun incidents happen every day in the US and it would be very hypocritical to suggest that there is no direct link between gun availability and the nature of violent crime in the US. Also, the sniper may be a whacko or scum of the earth or whatever but he hasn't come from another planet. He's partly the product of a society fascinated and overwhelmed by violence.
Perhaps Rob Harris can explain why the US has a higher incidence of all these crimes than any country that restricts ownership of guns? Maybe, just maybe, the two are closely related.
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