Safer In the UK – One American Mother’s Perspective On Gun Control

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Few things were certain for me in my early years, but some things were absolute.

School was my safe place, home was not.

Watching the news yesterday as the reports came in of the murdered children and adults in a Connecticut school, I could not help but flash back to the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, where my daughter was a student at the time.

I wonder how the recent mass shootings affect her, but I don’t know because she doesn’t talk about it.

My husband, John and I spend a fair amount of time talking about gun laws in the US and the UK. Having lived in the UK since 2008, our conversations are different from when I first moved to Cornwall. While it’s based more on how I feel here than the statistics John has quoted, it’s difficult to argue with the facts.

John frequently cites the numbers of gun deaths in the US. It used to annoy me, but having lived in a place now where I feel safer because guns are so restricted, I wish I could have the same relaxed attitude when I’m in the US.

I kept a .22 revolver for years in my home in the US. It was an old family pistol that my dad gave me and it made me feel safer. Unlike some of my handgun owning friends, I had weapons training in the military firing M16 semi-automatic rifles, and a M60 machine gun. Additionally, I’d had some experience with handguns as well.

I always recognized how deadly guns could be, but felt the risk necessary to ensure my daughter and I were safe if someone tried to break into our home and cause us harm. My gun was meant for protection at home which is the argument most Americans make when people talk about new laws intent on restricting their ability to own handguns.

Statistics still show that most gun deaths occur in the home with family members killing those they once wished to protect, a reality that makes the protection at home reason more difficult to justify. While the right to bear arms may be protected by the constitution, it has long been one with frequently deadly effects.

Here’s something for gun enthusiasts in the US to consider. The most recent figures I’ve been able to find show 87 people die each day in the US from gun related injuries while in the UK, only 58 die each year. It’s difficult to argue with those kind of numbers.

87 Deaths A Day versus 58 Per YearI feel safer living in the UK. I never ever worry about being held up at gunpoint or shot while shopping at the mall. Church is still a place of sanctuary and while I might get a rude gesture by someone with road rage, I know I won’t get shot. I could go on listing … public transport, movie theaters, and University campuses, but I think you know where I’m going with this.

Britain didn’t wait for as many reasons to push for change … after the Dunblane massacre of sixteen elementary school children, they did what was needed to keep it from happening again.

The Brits I meet are always talking about the US and our need to have so many guns. They tend to make ‘Wild West’ jokes about it, but they’re not really trying to be funny. I think they’re shocked by how much Americans will sacrifice to carry guns, a question I’m beginning to consider now myself.

I’ve chosen to focus on change in this post because I can’t bear to think about any more sadness and loss. This year alone has had more mass shootings than I want to consider and the grief of the families who’ve lost those who were precious to them, breaks my heart.

18 thoughts on “Safer In the UK – One American Mother’s Perspective On Gun Control

  1. I agree. I can’t imagine the mindset where the right to bear arms (… I’m sorry, I just see that as someone with the arms of a bear instead of a human… ignore me) is worth more to people than their children.

    • As a mom who would do anything to protect my adult/child, I understand the fear from both sides. If as a nation we could collectively refocus that fear, we might one day let go off our need to think guns and gun ownership can keep us safe.

      Thanks for commenting Miriam.

  2. A friend of mine, with two boys, had an NRA certified instructor give the whole family several lessons on how to safely (?) handle guns and shoot. Her reasoning being that her sons could come across a firearm at any of their friends’ houses and thus be less tempted to make a fatal mistake. This, in one of the countries wealthiest communities, not in the middle of gangland.

    • Thanks, English Rider for sharing this. I really struggled with what to do when I had a gun and a small child in my house. I made sure she knew what a gun looked like and why it was deadly and I role-played with her more than a few times what to do if a friend pulled a gun out when she was in their home. I taught her to run away or alert an adult.

  3. Thank you Elizabeth, a thoughtfully written piece. I will never foget a case making the news when we lived in the states, some years ago. A boy of 5 had found a hand gun belonging to his parents (bought for protection). He shot his sister (of 2 or 3 years old) in the face & killed her.

    We are by no means perfect & I have no doubt that there are areas of this country where gun crime is a real issue. That said, I feel as safe as I can & when you have children, that really is all you can ask for.

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I have some thoughts of my own on this and will likely write one down the road. I agree that the statistics on gun violence in the US versus other countries are extremely hard to ignore. Where did the 87 vs 58 stat come from? One thing that comes to mind is that of course the UK will have fewer gun deaths, their population is much lower than the US’s. I wonder what those numbers are, as a percentage of the population?

  5. Well-said, my friend. The U.K. blessedly does not have the powerful gun lobby that we have here in the States. They own the politicians and anyone who tries to go up against them is not long for office. We need a million-mom march on Washington to at least reinstate the Clinton assault weapons ban that expired under Bush in ’04 and ban the Internet sell of all gun ammunition. It would at least be a start.

    • I’d fly back to join you on a million-mom march, Jayne and I’m totally with you on the ban of assault weapons and selling ammunition on the internet.

      I’m afraid we will not see a change in our lifetime because of the power of the gun lobby and a fear many Americans seem to have of the people who live around them, especially those who are different.

      Despite what some Americans think, evil can’t be wiped out permanently with a bullet. Perhaps raising children in a culture where all have at least their basic needs met and health issues, (especially mental) are dealt with without stigma or the threat of bankruptcy, might be a good place to start.

  6. Elizabeth,
    I too live now in the UK since 2009, both my children still live in Colorado. My daughter is in her senior year at University of Colorado Boulder. She attends classes with other students who are allowed to carry concealed weapons. Insane but true that they are within their rights in a University classroom!! We remember Columbine as we lived in the next school district. I feel like you and worry every day for my children now both young adults.
    I could only wish for change but fear it is too late!

    • Ahhh, Kelly … a kindred spirit. Mothering from a distance is scary even when we raise children who can do fine on their own as my daughter now 25 kindly reminds me from time to time.

      It’s shocking to consider students (or anyone) being allowed to carry a concealed weapon into a classroom especially when you consider that the part of the brain involved in judgement doesn’t fully mature until 25.

      ” The parts of the adolescent brain which develop first are those which control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the part of the brain which controls reasoning and impulses – known as the Prefrontal Cortex – is near the front of the brain and, therefore, develops last. This part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25.”

      As for Columbine, I too know how it feels each time you see another never to be understood massacre of innocents. My daughter was a student at VT in 2007, a day none of us will ever forget. My heart aches for her knowing that a time of education, exploration and fun, will be forever linked to mass murder. As difficult as it is for her, I don’t want to imagine what the recent mass killings do to the hearts of the parents who live everyday with the loss of their children. It’s too painful to contemplate.

      Concealed weapons in university classrooms … we need to be smarter than that! If older Americans don’t show good judgement, how will the next generation lead?

  7. It´s very interesting to hear about this from someone with an inside perspective. Having grown up and living in Sweden, I have never seen a gun in my life (I am 46). I know hunters, but they must keep their weapons locked up in special metal boxes, and their licences are constantly under review. This does not prevent the occasional accident to happen, and people are still killed by guns, but as far as I can tell, it´s mostly in criminal circles. Though we have had the occasional crazy gun killer even here. Domestic violence happens for sure, but without guns, it takes more than a moment of rage to do deeds that can not be undone, and on a magnitude that goes beyond arm´s reach.

    It´s perhaps too easy for us on the outside to judge, but in the face of such unspeakable violence such as this recent event, it´s very hard to understand those voices who mean that the solution is to arm kindergarten teachers.

    • Sweden’s way sounds much more sensible, Viktoria and I agree with what you said here, ” it takes more than a moment of rage to do deeds that can not be undone, and on a magnitude that goes beyond arm´s reach.”

      So much life changing ugliness can happen in a moment of rage and guns within reach make it too easy. As for the talk about arming teachers, I don’t even know what to say to people who spout that kind of crazy talk.

  8. I read a fantastic essay, entitled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” written by the mother of a son very similar to the shooter in CT. It sheds a better light on the core problem of mental instability.

    At one point in my life I felt like I really needed some mental help. However, my insurance, Medicaid at the time, did not cover behavioral health unless you were having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting others. That whole concept was completely ridiculous to me. If I were to the point of having serious suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting others, I highly doubt that I would take the time to navigate the system to talk to someone. By then it is too late, in my opinion.

    Then there is the issue of people who are mentally ill at or over the age of 18. It isn’t uncommon for the illness to go unnoticed until adulthood and, unless there is a serious event where someone has been hurt, the sick person is the only one who can commit themselves. Let’s be honest, most won’t do that.

    There needs to be preventive measures taken on both levels– behavioral/mental healthcare, gun control. Nothing will change until that does.

    • I read the same essay, Audrey and it opened my eyes to what it might be like for the parent of a child with severe issues. I agree with you about needing better access to care. Taking care of our mental and emotional health affects everything we do, from how we parent, to our success at work … all of which make us an asset to our families and communities. I’m also with you on rethinking our gun control policies … starting with access to assault weapons.

  9. There is no accounting for maniacal behaviour. Frighttful happenings for the dear children and their folks but the perpetrator has many folks too, who must wonder whatever happened during those minutes when their loved one went berserk. My son, who was in his teens at the time of Dunblane, told me he could not understand the mentallity of someone who could keep firing for three or four minutes. Can any of us?

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