Every time there is a shooting in the US there is an eruption of sanctimony from Europe about how crazy the US gun-laws are. But there are some good reasons for those laws, and many Americans feel gun-ownership to be an important part of what keeps them American.
However, the downsides are just awful. Gun-murder rates in the US are appalling, and though advocates of the US gun lobby always say ‘guns don’t kill people – people kill people’, the fact is that people with guns can kill more people than those without guns. The Colorado cinema shooter being just one recent example.
But nobody has got it right, have they? After all, it is possible that the man who shot his former colleague outside the Empire State Building in New York on Friday was so determined to do what he did that he would have obtained a gun and shot the colleague even if he had been in Britain operating under our gun laws. The shootings committed by Raoul Moat in 2010 suggest he could have done it here. You can’t completely stop bad people doing things. But you can certainly limit their actions.
Which brings me on to the arming of police. I’ve always favoured arming some police but am never sure about proportions. For instance, the atrocity which Anders Breivik was sent to prison for in Norway on Friday could certainly have been halted far earlier if armed police were not so few and far between in that country.
But then you see a case like that in New York on Friday and you wonder if there are just too many police armed there. After shooting his victim the New York gunman appears to have tried to wander off. But two policemen caught up with him, he pulled out his gun, and in the process of shooting the culprit the police appear to have been the cause of the shooting – and wounding – of nine pedestrians. That’s the problem. If you don’t arm enough police then you are in terrible trouble in a Breivik type situation. But if all the police are armed then two police officers can – as they appear to have done in New York – fire 16 rounds to shoot one gunman down and end up shooting pedestrians too.
It is a mess isn’t it? Does any reader know of a country that has got this one right?