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Why the debate over crossbows in the UK should matter in the US

Following an incident at Windsor Castle, British officials will impose new restrictions on crossbows. Imagine if we responded similarly to mass shootings.
Image: Entrance to Winsdor castle seen from Great park
The entrance to Winsdor castle seen from the Great park, wooded and hilly area covering 4800 acres, Winsdor, Berkshire, United Kingdom on Dec. 24, 2013.DEA / W. BUSS / De Agostini via Getty Images

On Monday, Americans learned of the latest deadly mass shooting in the United States. In Denver, a 47-year-old gunman shot several people, killing five, before ultimately dying during a gun fight with the police.

The tragedy did effectively nothing to change the public debate over gun violence and access to deadly weapons.

Two days earlier, and more than 4,000 miles to the east, a 19-year-old man was arrested on the grounds of Windsor Castle in the U.K, where members of the royal family had gathered for Christmas. Fortunately, no one was hurt, though police said the suspect, who's received treatment for mental health issues, was carrying a crossbow.

Almost immediately, British officials renewed a discussion about new safeguards surrounding crossbows. The New York Times reported:

"We are considering options to strengthen controls on crossbows," a spokesman for Britain's Home Office said in a statement Tuesday, as part of a continuing review of rules on lethal weapons ordered this year by Priti Patel, the home secretary.

Owning a firearm is already difficult in the U.K. — the process includes a background check and a police interview — and police departments maintain licensing records of who owns guns.

But as the Times noted, British adults can buy crossbows over the counter or online without similar restrictions.

In the interest of public safety, those regulations will probably soon change.

It's certainly possible that new safeguards will spark a massive public backlash — complete with Tory politicians posting "Come and take it" messages to Twitter alongside pictures of crossbows — but that seems unlikely. The more realistic expectation is that British consumers will simply adapt to new rules.

In the United States, meanwhile, we're left to wonder about our next mass shooting, confident in the knowledge that it will occur soon. As with Denver, it will generate very little public debate about restrictions on firearms.