What can Britain Teach the US About Curbing Gun Violence?

After a 1996 school shooting, Britain implemented tough gun control laws. Today they have 100 times fewer gun deaths than the United States

What can Britain Teach the US About Curbing Gun Violence?

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: ‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

The popular satirical website The Onion hits close to home for many, as Americans experience gun violence and mass shootings at levels far beyond any other wealthy country, including a hundred times more than Great Britain. Studies have found mass shootings are occurring with increasing frequency. On average there’s a mass shooting every 24 hours. In November, a gunman killed a dozen people at [a bar in Thousand Oaks], California. Just days earlier, eleven were killed at the Pittsburgh-area synagogue. President Trump responded the shooting could have been prevented if there was an armed guard present.

DONALD TRUMP: If this was a case where they had an armed guard inside they might have been able to stop him immediately.

JAISAL NOOR: Of the 30,000 people killed by guns every year, the vast majority are the result of suicides. School shootings like the one at Parkland High in Florida earlier this year spark mass protests and walkouts across the nation.

EMMA GONZALEZ: Shame on you.

JAISAL NOOR: But the powerful gun lobby has rebuffed calls for real change in how arms are regulated.

Where America thus far has failed, other countries have found successful models for curbing gun violence. After a 1996 school shooting, Britain took a different approach. The government banned assault rifles and handguns, implemented stringent background checks, and bought back thousands of guns.

DR. JOHN WRIGHT: I think most people in the UK are gobsmacked by what happens in the States. And you know, we just, we get the stories … There’s a sickening regularity about the mass shootings. And we think, why isn’t there better control? The automatic weapons is a case, example. Why do you need automatic weapons? So there’s something from a social and a health perspective that is intuitive. If you have better control you will get less children, less people, murdered through these weapons.

JAISAL NOOR: Today gun ownership levels are 25 times higher in the United States [than Britain]. And while there are slightly higher levels of violent crime in Britain, there are 160 times more gun homicides in America.

DR. JOHN WRIGHT: This is really is a really fundamental public health issue internationally. We tend to think of guns as being something to do with crime and violence and justice. But actually, as doctors we’re campaigning for seatbelt legislation so that people don’t die in car accidents; we’re campaigning for tobacco legislation so people don’t die of lung cancer. And it’s fundamental to our role, is to be advocates and campaigners for a safer society.

JAISAL NOOR: Doctors and public health experts have been increasingly speaking out, to which the National Rifle Association responded, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”

DR. JOHN WRIGHT: Arrogant. That’s incredible. I think anybody who comes down to an ER department in any hospital around the world, seeing the effects of gun crime, they need to spend a bit of time with the doctors and find out why.

DR. BOB GILL: There’s a general trend for vested interest to protect their money, their income stream. And what they don’t like is for respected members of civil society like doctors and lawyers and other people with a voice to make powerful arguments based on evidence. What they want to continue doing is propagandize the public with fake arguments, like the man with a gun can protect himself. That’s complete nonsense. We know that the more guns that there are available in society, the more likely they are to be used on each other and in criminal activity.

JAISAL NOOR: Earlier this year, Donald Trump, who has opposed gun control measures, said while Britain has fewer shootings, there are much higher levels of knife attacks.

DONALD TRUMP: They don’t have guns. They have knives. And instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital. They say it’s as bad as a military warzone hospital. Knives.

DR. BOB GILL: He has a point. There is an increase in knife violence. A lot of that is related to drug and criminal gangs. But we’ve also had the defunding of police services in this country, so that may be the explanation there. But can you imagine the same people having automatic weapons? They’d be able to do a lot more harm. So the solution isn’t to start replacing knives with guns. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

JAISAL NOOR: But some argue gun regulation alone does not hold the answer.

RICHARD WILKINSON: I think the reason for the high homicide rates in the United States are principally the inequality. Homicide rates seem to be rising again because our inequality has risen. Because guns are less easily available people do tend to use knives more. Gun control is a very important part of the answer. But you also have to reduce inequality.

JAISAL NOOR: Research has found extreme inequality that exists the United States and Great Britain is correlated with higher homicide rates.

RICHARD WILKINSON: We found that the relationship between homicides and income inequality is slightly less clear when you don’t control for gun ownership. But when you control for gun ownership, the relationship with inequality is even clearer. So basically gun control make some difference, but it’s very far from making all the difference in homicide rates.

JAISAL NOOR: And some countries have lots of guns, also have low homicide rates.

RICHARD WILKINSON: Countries like Finland have very high rates of gun ownership, but very low homicide rates. And I think that’s because Finland is a remarkably egalitarian society compared to the United States.

JAISAL NOOR: We’ll continue to report on different models of gun policy from the U.S. and abroad. For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor reporting from Bradford, England.