Thursday, June 03, 2010

A community in mourning

Once again our quiet English backwater of West Cumbria is in the news for the wrong reasons, this time after hitherto mild mannered taxi driver Derrick Bird went on the rampage with a sniper rifle killing 12 people and injuring 11 others - many apparently for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time - before killing himself. This kind of event is traumatic at the best of times, but in a sparsely populated area there are few people who don't know, or know someone who knows, someone who witnessed or has been affected by the atrocity.

Britain has very strict gun control rules. Gun owners have to give good reason why they need to own a weapon and confidential enquiries are made as to their soundness of mind before granting permission. Derrick Bird had apparently legally owned his weapons for 20 years. But understandably questions are now being asked as to why people who have no professional need to own weapons capable of such carnage should be allowed to keep them in their house.

The sporting guns lobby has reacted with, it seems to me, rather disrespectful haste, to stem cries for even tighter controls, using arguments such as banning guns would make it impossible for Britain to host the Olympics. I doubt if the relatives of the 12 innocent people who were killed could give a damn about the Olympics at this moment.

There are many other silly arguments being raised against tighter controls. It is argued that much gun crime is carried out with illegally owned weapons, so making it harder to legally own one wouldn't make a difference. But if Derrick Bird and others who use guns in crimes of rage or passion had to obtain them illegally first they would probably just resort to shouting or using their fists like the rest of us.

Another daft argument is that cars can kill and no-one advocates banning the use of cars. But quite apart from the fact that cars are useful to almost everybody whilst guns aren't, it is also true that serious road accidents are examined to see if road safety legislation could be improved in order to try to prevent such accidents in the future. So I think that examining the laws regarding gun ownership is entirely appropriate.

If people own guns solely for sporting reasons, do they need to keep these weapons at home? Perhaps they should be securely kept at a licensed gun club or a police station and signed out for a specific period of time and purpose.

If Derrick Bird had not been able to get his hands on his weapons whilst he was thinking murderous thoughts, 13 people would still be alive today and 11 more would not be in hospital. Can anyone seriously argue that their sporting freedom is more important than that?


M0XDF said...

Well, I have to say I don't agree with you on this one Julian.
I don't believe preventing the use of guns or locking them away would have any effect. The laws were introduced after previous incidents - they have not prevented this one. If Derrick had not been able to use a gun, he might well have used an axe, a hammer or even his car. Guns are available if you really want one - licensed or otherwise. Who can foresee what someone suffering temporary insanity will do.

I don't believe preventing the use of something to the majority, solves the misuse by the minoriy. On that basis, we should all be prevented from using radios, because some in our hobby misuse them (or repeaters).

I'm not a gun fanatic and don't own anything more powerful that an air rifle, which I was taught to use responsibly by my father. However, I am fed up at the number of laws and legislation which are removing the freedom of the individual in an effort to combat actions (binge drinking for instance) that can only be effectively dealt with by education and society as a whole.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment, David. On the whole I would agree with you about the number of "nanny state" laws. But most of those are just rules that try to dictate how you should behave. I can't see any justification for allowing taxi drivers, computer programmers, web designers and other people with no professional need for one to possess something that makes it so easy to kill large numbers of people. This is not the Wild West, nor is it Afghanistan. There is just no need for it.

If Derrick Bird had been forced to use a hammer, a kitchen knife or whatever to do what he did he might still have had some victims, but there would have been fewer of them and more of them might have survived. Guns are just *too* dangerous, they make killing too easy to be allowed in the hands of anyone who can fill out a form correctly. So I stand by my argument I'm afraid.

Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...

Julian, first my thoughts are with you and your fellow citizens in West Cumbria.

I'm not sure that the "gun lobby" has reacted with disrespectful haste in trying to suppress calls for tighter controls. The sports biggest organisation (BASC) has fully backed the Home Secretary's approach. Tighter gun controls don't mean a safer society, the legislation after Hungerford didn't stop Dunblane, likewise the post Dunblane legislation hasn't stopped this. A sensible approach, balancing the needs of everyone needs to be looked at.

I agree with the Prime Minister when he said you can't legislate for the flick of a switch mind changing that happened to Derrick Bird. The question is do we have guns in private ownership? I too agree that the laws examining gun ownership need to be investigated.

To keep at home or not, keeping a gun at club maybe appropriate if you only shoot there. But what if you shoot on a farmers land? At some point you have to obtain your gun. To keep it at a police station is not necessarily an answer. We have an army training camp just to the South of Edinburgh and approximately 20 years ago a corporal or sergeant signed out a sub machine gun from the armoury (he was a trainer at the camp) drove to the local bank and kidnapped one of the officers who was picking up the weekly payroll. He drove him to a reservoir in the hills and shot him. The point is whatever way people have access to firearms incidents will happen.

Guns are useful for vermin control and provide pleasure for many law abiding citizens, other than that they don't benefit society.

But look at an analogy, alcohol. Alcohol provides pleasure for many people, other than that it doesn't benefit society. However a small minority get behind the wheel whilst under the influence. On average 500 people are killed in a drink related car accident every year, in addition 1700 are injured. Inner city areas on a Friday/Saturday night can be virtually no go zones due to the drink fuelled violence. How many are injured or killed every year because of this drink related violence? However I see no calls to ban alcohol? Why?

Putting it in proportion one of these massacres happens every 10 years and an average of 15 people are killed. In the same period 5000 people will have been killed in alcohol related car accidents and 17,000 will have been injured.

I think the call to ban guns is that the population is shocked (rightly so) by the events which don't happen very often, conversely drink accidents are so common we just shrug our shoulders.

I wouldn't ban, I would review the laws to see if anything can be improved.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments, Gav. Regarding the analogies of cars and alcohol, I would only say that there are two key differences: neither of these things are intended to kill people, and they are used beneficially by large numbers of people. Guns on the other hand are designed to kill, and the vast majority of people in this country have no use for them whatever. Whatever measures are adopted need to have the support of public opinion.

I agree that you can never stop a determined person from killing an individual. However, massacres like Hungerford, Dunblane and now this could not have happened without the use of firearms. I do feel that we owe it to the families of the people who died to see if it is possible to improve regulation to try to prevent at least some future similar incidents. If the number of deaths in West Cumbria on Wednesday could have been reduced by half had Bird been forced to use a different kind of weapon, surely that would still be a goal worth trying for?

Paul Stam PAØK said...

I think we can't prevent sudden madness in our society. We have a Joran van der Sloot, who probably killed two innocent women. I pity all those innocent victims.

Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...

Hi Julian, I agree with you that tighter regulation maybe looked at but I don't think anything will be able to be done about it. The reasoning is simple - you just don't know who is going to become temporarily insane.

I never stated that I wished to ban cars, that would be nonsensical! To compare this gun debate I think alcohol makes an excellent comparison. It does not benefit society one jot, it isn't beneficial! People get enjoyment from using it, just like sportsmen with the use of guns. Alcohol does, on a regular basis, cause great harm to society. You are right that alcohol isn't designed to kill people, but people who consume it do a very good job of killing themselves and others.

Your inference that guns are designed to kill people is incorrect, guns are designed to hit targets, accurately. Most shotguns will ever only hit clay targets. Over a million people in the UK enjoy shooting.

So if I understand your reasoning correctly because alcohol is used by large numbers of people it is acceptable to have around 500 deaths and 1700 injuries on our roads every year because of it but because a madman kills on average 15 people every 10 years guns should be banned? Hmm....

Steve GW7AAV said...

Hi Julian, while I sympathise we your view on firearms I think we had better agree to disagree on that one. I don't own any firearms but I have used and enjoyed using them but never against any living thing. Where I think you are way out is on the ease of getting hold of firearms illegally in the UK. I have it on good authority (exManchester PC) that not that long ago someone was selling Uzi machine guns (along with drugs) from the back of a van in Moss Side Manchester like some sick ice cream vendor. Weapons are easy to obtain in France and are regularly smuggled in by day trippers stocking up on booze and cigarettes. Then there is home engineering. I used to know a guy (call him Boris) who used to make replica guns for his own collection. He did have a firearms licence but most of his replicas were none firing. I am not sure what the authorities used to say when he showed them his homemade Colt 45 and Luger P80 as they had no serial numbers, but he used them at his local firing range and they were every bit as good (or bad) as the real thing. I once watched Boris turn a lump of metal in to a beautiful Derringer in about 40 minutes using just a file, some emery paper and a pillor drill. I don't know what happened to Boris but he was a mild mannered gentle giant who would walk away from trouble, but so it would seem was Mr Bird. If you search the Internet there are plans you can download for almost every weapon ever made. Anyone with a little enginneering experience could homebrew their own weapons. Mind you it would be nerve racking pulling the trigger the first time on such a thing.
I don't know what the answer is but evil will find a way. Think 911 on a smaller scale and drive a bus full of school kids in to a crowd. If someone wants to do it then all the laws and Police in the World are not going to stop them. If we cannot trust our leaders to stop waging war how can we expect to control a single luatic with a mission of death and no fear?

Unknown said...

This is a difficult one, it always is. One thing I would like to mention is whilst it is possible to argue a case that laws introduced after Hungerford and Dunblane did not prevent this recent case - there is no way of knowing precisely how many murderous events were prevented!

Now I'm not advocating additional laws just for guns (or additional laws at all for that matter) - I just happen to think that guns are too easy to get hold of. But then you only have to look at how cheap alcohol is to also believe that something should also be done there as well.

As an example - my 75 year old Father in law (ex-Farmer) has two shotguns and he keeps them locked away in a metal cabinet, separate from the ammunition and regularly inspected by the local constabulary. He has not used them for over 20 years that I am aware of - he has told me he can't see himself using them ever again. Will he give them up? No. Do the Police ask him about them? No. Does anyone care, NO.

Now the same father in law also likes his whisky. has a couple of large ones every night before bed. Does not get out of control or anything, but has the opportunity nevertheless.

Now which law do you want to see imposed first - gun contol or alcohol control. I ask myself this question regularly...

Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...

I don't own any firearms either. However I have some knowledge of the process for the Shotgun Certificate and Firearms Certificate.

Under the Firearms Certificate it is regularly reviewed how much ammunition you purchase, I believe it has to be logged. If you don't purchase ammunition for a long while the FEO may decide since you're not using your firearm then they have the right to remove it. Conversely if you're buying it by the truck full they may wonder what is going on.

There is no such regulation for Shotguns. Ammunition quantities are not reviewed or logged. If the regulation was changed to monitor ammunition on the Shotgun Certificate then in your Father in Laws case where he isn't using it then they could take his shotgun certificate & shotguns off him.

Of course in the Cumbrian case this wouldn't have made a difference....

Kelly Keeton said...

haha as hot a topic as ROS digital modes!

Unknown said...

Thanks for all the great comments. The only point I really want to reply to is from Gav who wrote: "I understand your reasoning correctly because alcohol is used by large numbers of people it is acceptable to have around 500 deaths and 1700 injuries on our roads every year because of it but because a madman kills on average 15 people every 10 years guns should be banned?"

The difference with drunk driving is that the people who do it kill mostly just themselves and other people who knowingly travel with them. Also we already have laws against drunk driving which are simply not enforced as strictly as they could be. So we already could do more to tackle this, just by increasing breath tests. Why don't we?

Something does need to be done about alcohol abuse but I think it is a very different issue requiring a very different solution. The abusers end up harming themselves not other people. It is probably not something you can legislate against. Instead, we need to try to understand why it is that so many people in Britain feel they need to drink to excess. Other countries, in many of which alcohol is much cheaper than it is here, don't have this problem.

I think people are more tolerant of alcohol abuse because most people drink, the majority in moderation, so they don't feel threatened by it. Few people own guns or wish to own guns and many of those who don't see no value in it. Many no doubt feel much the same way about ham radio and if our hobby killed 15 people every 10 years I'm sure it would be banned. Many of us have to live with bans on antenna masts just because other people don't want to look at them. I don't think there is any such thing as the "right to pursue a hobby" and if sportsmen have to suffer extra inconvenience in order to make it harder for people to get their hands on guns during moments of temporary insanity then so be it.

Theodore said...

One person with a car could easily murder 30 people by driving over them in busy streets.
The act would be about as emotionally detached as pulling a trigger. This has happened.
As society becomes more difficult to navigate, with stress and tensions building up, support services being shelved and populations exploding, these incidents will be inevitable.
In no time in history has increasing the regulation of something done anything except drive the activity underground.
Think apartheid, christianity under the romans, drugs ... the list goes on.
Britain has a conduit for firearms from the continent, mostly ending up in criminals hands.
The police are encountering guns all the time, whereas before it was as you say, fists.
Alcohol has no useful function except as a fuel or disinfectant, but it is legally available, taxed enormously and a cultural norm.
But as others have said, as tragic as these gun deaths are, they pale into the statistical noise compared with deaths due to alcohol.
And they are not only deaths to themselves and passengers, other innocent road users are very frequently killed and maimed as well.

The kneejerk reaction to ban or tighten controls is understandable, but only the beaurocrats would benefit.
The sick society which makes otherwise good people go insane is still with us, grinding inexorably away.

Rick said...

Here in the US, we had a fellow fly his personal airplane into a building that housed offices of our tax collection agency, the IRS. As a licensed pilot (non professional), I waited for the cry to increase airport security, why are folks flying unless there is some professional need, etc.
Same hue and cry occurs here also when some nut goes off with his guns on some killing spree. Of course, when the weapon of choice is something more common and familiar, say a gasoline bomb or car, these silly "ban it" responses don't seem to develop. Basically, I take the "ban it" comments as "I really don't understand that, I don't do it myself, so I wouldn't feel bad, since banning the item would mean nothing to me at all, if I support restricting the freedom of my fellow citizen". We could easily, I'm sure, construct some situation where say an airplane crashed because of transmitter interference, and someone, non ham, opining that only professionals should have access to radios. Legislating right after the event, and in haste, seems like the wrong response to me - again, here in the US, we seem to write many a bad law in haste!

mvandewettering said...

First and foremost, my sympathies go to the friends and family of those injured or killed in this tragic incident.

Here in the U.S. we of course have a rather serious conflict: on the one hand one of our most basic rights as defined by the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) and on the other hand a culture where gun violence is all too common. Frankly, I can't think of a more useless item to own than a gun, although I have enjoyed target shooting, and come from a long line of hunters who literally lived off the game they shot. On the whole, I think they have far more dangers than benefits, but I doubt that I'll be able to convince anyone who doesn't agree with me. I'll just say that a couple of people have mentioned that without guns, people would just use different means to commit violence. I think that while that might be true, the odds of someone with a knife managing to kill 12 people before being subdued is probably very low.

Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...

Julian, I think random breath tests would be a great idea. Drink Driving should be a mandatory prison sentence. Somehow the public don't seem too bothered by it though. You may well be right that the majority of the 500 killed each year are the drunks or their friends. I have no figures to say otherwise. But I feel fairly safe saying that a good number of those will be totally innocent who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Abusers of alcohol don't just harm themselves. The domestic violence, the violence on our streets, the drink driving etc, it's a huge problem. The cost to the NHS is phenominal. It's the same as shooting - the vast majority are law abiding but the small minority are the abusers. Drinking is ingrained into our culture and nothing is going to change it.

So I don't see much difference between guns and alcohol. Both are used for pleasure, both kill people, both probably wouldn't be missed by the society.

You've hit the nail on the head. People are hypocritical. Most people (thankfully) don't own guns, don't understand them, don't want to and most likely want a ban. Yet they are happy to accept all the problem that come with their bottle of Pinot Noir......

Unknown said...

As someone who gets through a bottle or two of Pinot Noir (or similar) a week I can say that it doesn't cause any problems at all. Nor does it cause any problems to all the people in France and Italy who drink wine every day. It enhances meals and gives a feeling of well being and relaxation that surely is a benefit to society. So I still don't think there is much of a comparison.

I am sure you and Rick are right in saying that calls for a ban on guns come from people who have no wish to own one, just as calls for greater controls on alcohol come from teetotallers. I would simply say that responsible alcohol consumption benefits more people than gun ownership, and when considering control of anything you have to consider the downside as well as the upside. The last government was only able to get away with a ban on fox hunting (which caused no harm to anyone except foxes) because the majority of people live in towns and don't participate in it. It would be easier to ban guns than control alcohol for similar reasons.

What shocks and scares people about this event is the indiscriminate and random killings. If Derrick Bird had only killed those he apparently had a grudge against then I don't think anyone would be calling for tighter controls. But it seems he got a bloodlust, started to enjoy the power the weapon gave him. That's what scares people. I admit that I will always feel a bit suspicious and nervous about anyone who has an interest in guns for other than professional reasons.

Theodore said...

Yes Julian, I can see where you are coming from. The fact that a well respected and ordinary guy suddenly becomes a homicidal maniac would be disturbing to anyone.
But the history of humanity shows this is more common than we care to admit.
Look at the balkans where neighbours turned on each other over ethnic differences, after having lived together peaceably for decades. World war two was another example.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that the beast within has been tamed, in reality it is only caged.
Given the right circumstances, it will re-assert itself and begin its rampage.
For some people it may be alcohol, for others stresses built up over time which are triggered by some seemingly small event, for others road rage.
But in the end, one has to look at statistics, and they indicate you are much more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a crazed gun wielding killer.
But I understand that the source of horror is the everyday man turned beast without mercy.
Mercifully, these incidents are few, lets hope they stay that way.

recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Julian and all,

What a nice and civil discussion of one of the great hot button issues facing our societies. -Reflects the high quality of the people who follow your blog.

Jspiker said...

Hello Julian,

I agree with you 100% and applaud your comments on this senseless tragedy.

I don't own a firearm and consider them like "matches" near a can of gasoline. They cause much more pain and anguish than any benefit to mankind.

I hope your community makes progress in reducing this kind of slaughter in future years. I don't know the answers, but with the "billions" of guns in the world today, it's only a matter of time when a "nut" get's their hands on one. I think we'd all be better off with less guns and tighter controls.

Unknown said...

The BBC's Mark Easton has been doing some homework and produced a table showing the incidence of mass killings related to the level of legal gun ownership. Clearly countries with a higher level of gun ownership like the USA (90 guns per 100 people!!) have a higher incidence of killings, but it is nowhere near proportional. So one could conclude that reducing the number of legally held guns would result in an equally disproportionate reduction in the number of killing sprees. The question is whether even a small reduction in the chance of something like this happening again is still worth trying to achieve.

Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...

Thanks Julian for making my point for me :-) The vast majority of alcohol users see no problem with alcohol, some even alledge benefits to society from its use ;-)

Ask a policeman on a Friday or Saturday night whether it's a benefit to society and you'll get a completely different answer. My local A&E now has a police presence on a Friday & Saturday night due to the problems with alcohol.

However society sees no problem with this and allows the road deaths and violence from alcohol whilst hypocritically wanting to ban firearms which proportionally kill far fewer people.

Anyhow last post from me as a run of five early shifts await and I won't have the time or energy to respond! Enjoyed the discussion.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your participation, Gavin. This problem of excessive drinking causing violent antisocial behaviour is pretty much exclusive to Brits. So why blame alcohol itself?

There is something wrong with our society. You don't only have to ask the police here. Ask the police in Spanish holiday resorts. I even heard it from the Russian owners of flats in Prague that my wife and I rented: "Why are the British such drunks?"

The only connection with this issue is that perhaps the same pressures that make people here feel the need to get bladdered once a week cause some people to go apeshit with a weapon if they have one.

Thanks again.

NormfromAZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.