Stop gun violence being business as usual

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Virgin
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Published on 12 July 2022

It is impossible to come to terms with America’s growing epidemic of gun violence. Mass shootings, plus the daily wave of other crimes committed with firearms, have become a regular feature of life. I never thought I would live to see an era where adults and children are gunned down - at school, in places of worship, at their workplaces, at public events - with such frequency. It’s become business as usual, which is the greatest obstacle to a sensible solution.

Last week’s assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also a reminder that in many other countries, gun violence is extremely rare. This is largely thanks to strict gun regulations that prioritise public safety and the protection of citizens from harm.

In the US, it’s possible to buy a gun in under an hour, with minimal safety checks. In Japan, prospective gun owners must complete more than a dozen steps including rigorous background checks, police interviews, written exams and practical safety classes.

Abe’s killer used a homemade gun, precisely because weapons are so difficult to obtain. Japan’s gun violence and gun ownership rates are among the world’s lowest. Not counting suicides and accidents, Japan saw exactly one gun murder last year. In comparison, the US endured 45,034 firearm deaths in 2021. The US reported 220 gun deaths just last week alone.

Like Japan, many other countries have low rates of gun fatalities. When there have been isolated incidents of gun violence, nations from Scotland to Australia have responded with strong safety regulations that have achieved excellent long-term gun violence reductions. After Dunblane and Port Arthur, countries decided enough was enough and accepted sensible changes to protect their fellow citizens. After Columbine, Sandy Hook, Pulse nightclub, Las Vegas strip, Texas First Baptist Church, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, El Paso Walmart, and so many more, the US did nothing to change the cycle of violence.

After Uvalde, the US has managed to finally pass a very limited new federal gun safety law. But it must go much further. Proponents of gun ownership in the US point out their unique constitutional right to keep and bear arms. But I refuse to accept that there cannot be a reasonable compromise that balances the rights of gun owners with the common interest of people to live their lives in peace, free from fear and terror.