Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Cumbria massacre: should UK gun law be tightened?

Just a week ago, Derrick Bird was an inconspicuous cabbie from Cumbria; now his smiling face stares out from the front pages of newspapers across the globe. His infamy stems from a crime shocking people the world over; a horrific shooting spree in several sleepy Cumbrian villages which saw 12 innocent people murdered and 25 injured.

Armed with a shotgun and a .22 rifle, Bird's reign of terror lasted over 5 hours and saw him cover 45 miles before turning the gun on himself. Alarmingly, he was fully licensed to keep both the firearms he used to gun down his victims; predominantly shooting them in the face at close range.

To friends and family he was a quiet but sociable and seemingly 'normal' man whose only frivolity was a taste for foreign holidays with friends. But deeper digging has uncovered his fondness for Thai prostitutes, a theft conviction, a £100,000 unpaid tax bill, a secret bank account and strong evidence of self-harm on his body. A few months before the shootings he allegedly walked into the A&E department of his local hospital claiming he wanted to commit suicide.

As police peel back the layers of his life it becomes all the more apparent there was more to Derrick Bird than met the eye. Understandably even those closest to him weren't aware of much of the above. He has been described as a private man who clearly kept much of his inner feelings to himself. But it was widely known he was a registered gun keeper, inheriting his weapons from his late father who left them to him in good faith as a family heirloom.

Yet no one questioned the need for an ordinary man, a taxi driver with a modest home and no surrounding land to keep two powerful guns. Even more worrying is that, despite meeting the rigorous criteria needed to legally own a gun in the UK, Bird was clearly not in his right mind. He may have appeared a sociable and contented man on the surface, but scratch slightly below and things become decidedly more ugly. This brings a strong argument to light: can anyone really be trusted to keep a gun?

In the days following the shootings, several calls have been made for the Government to review the laws surrounding gun ownership. Surely this kind of tragedy highlights the flaws in legislation; in the last 25 years three madmen have been allowed to murder a total of 44 innocent people in rampages years apart from each other. All of whom were ordinary men; gun enthusiasts registered to keep the lethal weapons in their homes.

To me, allowing a person to take a gun out of a controlled environment seems both completely pointless and incredibly dangerous. In a society such as ours where the violent crime rate is relatively low in comparison to other countries, there is no need for firearms to be kept in private houses for self-defence or any other reason. Gun enthusiasts should be able to use the weapons in the safety of the club...and leave them there at the end of each day. The same goes for fox and game hunters; there's no reason why they shouldn't drop their guns off in a secure place at the end of a day's hunt.

When David Cameron visited the villages devastated by Tuesday's shootings, he opposed what he called a "knee-jerk" reaction on the nation's gun laws saying: "You cannot legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone's head and this sort of dreadful action taking place." But you could try. Take away people's rights to keep a gun and just maybe we could help prevent such a terrible and pointless massacre from happening again.

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