April 17, 2007.

Where is the war on gun crime?

As yet another school shooting incident happens in the United States, I find myself wondering how come this only ever happens in America? You never hear of school shootings anywhere else in the world. It leaves me wondering, yet again, whether Americans are a savage people or whether maybe their near-fanatical obsession to their constitutional "right to bear arms" is just blinkered thinking in a culture of violence that yesterday saw yet more students gunned down in a place that should be safe.

The latest school shootings will no doubt stir the gun control debate once more. Those people who enjoy firearms will doubtless speak up in defense of all the people who have a gun but haven't yet use it to kill anyone. Politicians will do their best to be sympathetic while trying very hard to slide around the issue of imposing sensible gun control in a country that kills more people with firearms every year than the rest of the developed world combined.

In the year 2000, of the 275 million people living in the United States, 10,801 of them were murdered by someone using a gun. Yet despite having over 100 million more people than the U.S, the European Union saw only 1,260 firearm homicides take place in the same year, and Japan, a country of 127 million people, had just 22 gun-related homicides.

As someone who lives in a country with very strict firearm controls, I find myself completely perplexed by the apparent resistance in the United States to gun control laws that might have prevented yesterdays killings, and the 80 or so gun-related killings that occur every day, in the United States.

According to statistics from WHO (the World Report for Violence and Health for international firearm mortality), Americans are 175 times more likely to be murdered by someone using a firearm than somebody living in the UK. You might assume that in the UK a killer would instead use another weapon, but figures do not support that assumption. In fact, there are still nearly 4 times as many non-firearm related homicides in the U.S. than the UK according to the report.

The second amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that "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." But there is no clear indication of what exactly a "well regulated militia" is.

One reason often given for gun ownership within the United States is that the firearm was purchased "for protection." This is all well and good, but the constitutional understanding seems to be that the firearm is being purchased for the owner to protect themselves from a wayward government, not a wayward fellow citizen; for that, there is law enforcement.

It seems strange to me that many Americans will cite terrorism as the biggest threat to America today when in truth they are far more likely to be shot and killed in a violent crime than any act of terrorism.

On average, the annual mortality rate from firearms incidents (be that murder, suicide, or accidents) in the United States is around 30,000. In 2001, America's worst ever year of domestic terrorism that saw the twin towers and the Pentagon attacked, 2,996 people were killed by terrorists. Yet despite the fears of many, the number of victims of domestic terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11 has yet to climb into double digits, while at the same time another 150,000+ Americans have been killed in gun-related incidents.

After 9/11 the United States government introduced a raft of sweeping laws that seem to deeply encroach upon the highly valued "freedoms" of the American people. There seemed little resistance to so-called 'anti-terror' laws which were softly sold as 'making America safer' to anyone who paid enough attention to ask. Yet after yesterday's school shootings, and the many other such shootings that have occurred, it seems highly unlikely that America will demand a similarly sweeping change to make their country safer.

In the next few days there will be 33 funerals for the victims of yesterdays school shooting, but despite the obvious dangers and risks of such easy access to firearms, it's unlikely that the President will boldly announce a 'war on gun crime' in the same way that war was declared on terror and drugs. Perhaps in the land of the free, the right to own a gun is more important than the lives of the 320 people who will die by the bullet before the end of the week.