March 22nd, 2005.

Murder by numbers.

As America once more reels in shock at the needless murder of students at the Red Lake High School, on a Native American reservation in the northern state of Minnesota, the question of gun control will almost certainly be raised, and dismissed, once again.

To someone living in the United Kingdom, where handguns are illegal and strict firearm controls are largely accepted without question, it is hard to understand why America is so in love with the weapon that destroys the lives of thousands of people every year. This is never more perplexing than right after yet another high school shooting, of which America seems to hold an ominous world record.

While gun crime is on the rise in the UK, firearms incidents are relatively small in number. Certainly, they are statistically dwarfed when compared to similar incidents recorded in the United States where the 'right to bear arms' is woven into the fabric of the country's constitution. The founding fathers wrote in the second amendment, "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."

It would be very easy to become embroiled in an argument of statistics, quoting numbers and percentages to prove a point that ultimately could then be disproved by simply using another set of equally exploitable figures. Ultimately though the argument fades and the status quo continues, until that is, the next high school shooting.

Strange as it might seem to some, I have managed to get this far in life without the need of a firearm to protect myself, my freedoms, or 'the state'. My freedoms have, of course, been threatened and in some cases diminished, but those kinds of threats would not be have been remedied with a violent exchange of fire. Also, it's true to say that on occasions when angry I've felt like shooting the odd person here and there. But ultimately those would-be bullets turn into a strongly worded letters or emails that result in no loss of life.

Having said this, I will admit that on a few occasions while visiting America, I have enjoyed firing a gun. They make a bloody great big bang, which is curiously appealing to many males in the same way that fast cars and large-chested ladies are. However, despite my own experiences involving guns, I have never felt the desire or seen the need to own one.

Perhaps coming from this British perspective doesn't allow me to understand the needs and benefits of gun ownership in modern society. I do, however, understand that rifles serve a valid practical use in the farming and rural community. Hunting might not be my cup-of-tea, but I also understand the gun-ownership rights of people who enjoy that sport. But try as I may, I simply can see no real practical or social benefit in the ownership of a handgun. As far as I see it a handgun is simply a weapon, and should, therefore, come under far greater controls than a hunting rifle or shotgun.

A while back a female friend of mine in Texas proposed buying a small handgun for, as she put it, "protection." I was stunned as she didn't seem to me to be the kind of person who would want to become a gun-wielding American. She argued that violent crime was rife and therefore she wanted to have a small handgun to confront anyone who might approach her violently.

I argued that while her point about the increasing threat of violent crime was indeed valid, simply arming herself would be of little, if any, practical help. She claimed that a mugger might "think twice" if a gun were pointed back at them. However, I pointed out that most victims of violent crimes have no time or ability to react in the situation as they are never usually in a mental place where they would have the quick thinking agility to react. Mostly they are just shocked, and seconds later, a statistic. Had she purchased a gun for protection, that weapon would now be in the hands of the mugger as they ran off with her bag, and at that point, America would now have one more illegal murder weapon on the streets.

But for argument's sake, let's assume that she did manage to draw her weapon, release the safety, and point it at the mugger. Now what? If the mugger is armed how often do you suppose they pulled the trigger? Should she be quick-thinking enough to draw and arm her weapon, far from the violence being averted the situation is now far worse, with the very real possibility of a gunfight on the street, complete with all the peril that brings. Playing that out and assuming others might also carrying guns, we've suddenly got ourselves something that resembles the days of the wild west as people dive behind cars and other objects to simply reload before continuing to shoot at those they perceive as a threat!

Of course, people opposed to gun control will, despite the recent deaths in another American high school, argue that their right to bear arms is protected by the constitution. But in examining that part of America's hallowed constitution, isn't it clear to see that the right to bear arms comes with two very clear conditions? The keeping of a "well regulated Militia" for "the security of a free State."

Sadly though, no amount of debate or reasoned arguing will bring back those killed at the Red Lake High School, or indeed those who will die from a gunshot wound in America today, or for that matter, any day.