Sunday, December 16, 2012

On the tragedy of Sandy Hook

Like most of the world, I'd never heard of Newtown, CT or Sandy Hook elementary school before last week; now, it has entered the unspeakable lexicon of horror, known worldwide. This happened to my hometown of Ipswich, UK in late 2006 - and it's an awful thing.

I write this as both an American and a Brit; and having lived and worked in both countries, I don't for one second believe that there is a greater proportion of the US population that is psychotic or murderous than the UK. Therefore, how can we explain the wildly different murder rates? To me, the only rationale explanation is that Brits with the requisite intent don't have the opportunity afforded by widespread firearms ownership to act on these impulses that their American counterparts have - and take, on a daily basis.

The alleged arsenal of the Sandy Hook mass-murderer: Glock and Sig Sauer automatic pistols and AR-15 rifle
I can conceive of no sensible rationale for civilians to hold semi-automatic military rifles (not required - and indeed useless - for hunting or target shooting) or hand guns of any sort at all - and certainly not in homes. The level of expert training and practice for these to be effective "protection" should involve range work of several hours a week to provide the required accuracy and target discrimination; less makes them a danger to the owner and - in the case of semi-automatic rifles - anyone within about 500m. Indeed, the 5.56mm rifle bullet can kill at 1300m - 4/5ths of a mile - though in fairness you'd have to have been very unlucky as aiming at these extreme ranges is a specialist skill.

If nothing else, the political recoil from the tragedy at Sandy Hook should lead to banning - and compulsory purchase - of the most dangerous weapons. This would include all semi-automatic rifles and their large calibre single-shot / bolt-action counterparts, along with a federal ban on the sale of their ammunition (e.g. 5.56 and 12.7mm rifle ammunition). Federal action is critical as the net is only as strong as that of the weakest state regulation. 

Keeping guns locked away is also a good idea - away from their ammunition, too
Add to this a requirement for every weapon to be licensed and ballistically tested, and kept in a locked container with ammunition held separately and securely, then we may see a reduction in some of the tragic accidents that make up a large proportion of US firearms casualties. None of these measures will impact legitimate gun-owners at all. Finally, we can impose taxes on ammunition to reflect the externalities that gunfire imposes on the rest of society. These will be very high, and over time will significantly reduce the amount of ammunition in circulation.

And no, none of this would have an impact on my rights as an American under the 2nd Amendment. But it would reduce the dangers to our friends and families in the US.

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