British guns

by Russ Roberts on April 25, 2007

in Crime

The headline in the Washington Post story:

Britain’s Gun Laws Seen as Curbing Attacks

The article begins:

At 9:35 a.m. on a March day in 1996, a disgruntled former scout leader walked into a primary school gym in Dunblane, Scotland, with four guns and killed 16 children and their teacher in Britain’s worst mass shooting. The crime still causes Britons to recoil when they recall the victims, many of them only 5 years old.

That rampage, with guns purchased legally — as were those used in last week’s killings at Virginia Tech
— led to a near-total ban on handguns, and Britain’s current laws are
considered among the most restrictive in the world. Days after the
shooting, hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions demanding
tougher gun control, and weeks later more than 22,000 illegal or
unwanted guns, and nearly 700,000 rounds of ammunition, were turned in
to authorities under a special amnesty.

Although England already had tough restrictions in place, champions of
the gun control laws say the new limits have been vital in keeping
fatal shootings relatively rare. Still, guns continue to proliferate
and the law has not kept firearms out of the hands of some criminals.

The next two paragraphs are about a British gun control advocate, Rebecca Peters, a gun control advocate who says:

"Without the fix, it’s likely we would have had more deadly shooting incidents in the last 10 years."

Could be. The next two paragraphs contain the only facts in the article:

According to government statistics, the number of people killed by
guns has essentially stayed the same, with dips and spikes, as before
the 1997 gun control laws went into effect: There were 55 shooting
deaths in 1995 and 50 last year in England and Wales. By comparison, there were 137 fatal shootings in the District of Columbia last year.

number of crimes in which a handgun was used in England and Wales has
risen from 299 in 1995 to 1,024 last year. Offenses committed with all
types of firearms, including air guns, have also increased.

The rest of the article is about the differences in attitudes between Brits and Americans toward guns and the surprise among Brits that Americans don’t have more restrictive gun laws.

Of course, it’s possible that without the ban on handguns, there would be even more deaths from handguns due to other changes in England other than the ban. But the only facts that are presented in the article suggest that the ban on handguns in England has had little effect at best, or at worst, caused an increase in gun violence in Britain.

Reporters don’t write their own headlines. But based on the facts presented in the article, the headline should have read:

British Gun Laws Seen as Curbing Attacks Despite Lack of Evidence


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