The horror in Newtown has pushed lawmakers to action. A new bill in the House backed by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) would ban magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition and prohibit the transfer, possession or importation of those magazines that are manufactured after the date of the law being signed. But the discussion is still open as far as banning semi-automatic weapons themselves, not just the ammunition. And as politicians from both sides of the aisle discuss ways to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again, they may want to look across the Atlantic for a model.
A little more than fifteen years ago, the United Kingdom faced an eerily similar school shooting. Sixteen children ages of five and six were shot to death when a 43-year-old gunman entered their Scotland school on March 13, 1996. One teacher was also killed in the rampage before the shooter turned one of his four handguns on himself. All the weapons used in the attack were legally purchased.
What became known as the Dunblane school massacre sparked massive public outcry and resulted in multiple petitions calling for a ban on the private ownership of handguns. In response, a Conservative government introduced a ban on all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 caliber single-shot weapons. In 1997, the Labour government under Prime Minister Tony Blair took the ban one step further, eliminating the .22 cartridge handguns and allowing only muzzle-loading handguns, historic handguns and certain sporting handguns for legal purchase. Anybody found with an illegal firearm faced heavy fines and up to ten years in prison.
Did the restrictive new laws work?
According to the U.K. Home Office, the number of injuries resulting from guns has decreased by more than half since 2004. Recorded crimes involving firearms has also shown a steady decrease. There has not been a school shooting since Dunblane in 1996.
For the U.S., the question of what to do with assault weapons still remains. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 prohibited civilian use of semi-automatic weapons. It also limited high-capacity magazines to only 10 rounds. The ammunition used in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, for example, included mostly 30-round magazines. But the Federal Assault Weapons ban wasn’t renewed when it expired in 2004, and despite several attempts to revive the ban, it hasn’t returned.
Perhaps the carnage in Newtown will push the American public and politicians to move ahead on gun control. Firearms are more accepted (and ubiquitous) here than they were in the U.K. Still, the lessons of Dunblane could help make America safer.