Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What's Needed - A Snowdrop Petition For America

By Cernig

Tim Nafziger, writing for Ekklesia, the online Christian magazine, has an idea. He has been thinking about the consequences of the massacre at VA Tech and has come to the conclusion that the US pro-gun lobby are unassailable right now because of a perception - deliberately fostered by the gun activists, the NRA and manufacturers - that lax gun laws are part of the "frontier values" which in turn are part of the narrative about what made America great.

Tim recalls that smoking cigarettes used to be seen as an integral part of those "frontier values" too - but how many political leaders would chance their political futures on backing the pro-smoking lobby nowadays? A campaign of lawsuits, advertising and exposures of the real costs of smoking changed public perceptions in the face of a powerfully-connected and well-funded lobby. It could happen again.

Tim points to the UK for a way.

But there is hope. In the United Kingdom after the Dunblane Massacre, more than 700,000 people signed the Snowdrop petition calling for a total ban on the private ownership and use of handguns in the United Kingdom. The petition led to the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 which completely banned handguns in the UK (this was the final in a long series of hand gun control laws).

According to a report from the Home Office, from mid-2005 to mid-2006, only 49 people were killed by handguns (Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2005/2006, page 36). This is a rate of roughly 1 per million compared to 55 per million in the US (FBI 2004 Crime report). It turns out that a mandatory five-year jail term for carrying a hand gun does have an effect. Of course there have been some terrible shootings impacting the black community recently, tied in with gang and drug culture it seems. But the growth of such incidences is still lower and they can can be handled in the context of a wider culture against guns.

I lived in the UK from 2004 through 2006 and noticed that fatal shootings were so rare that they regularly made the national newspaper. People take the hand gun ban for granted and find the gun religion in our country to quaint and strange. On one of my first evenings in the UK I watched a documentary in which a UK reporter went deep into US gun country and interviewed gun disciples. It was like watching an exotic safari.
Wouldn't you like to live in a country where fatal shootings were so rare, so horrid, so noteworthy, that they make the national news?

Here's the thing - it really is possible.

I remember all too well the day of the Dunblane massacre, 13th March 1996, because I was visiting clients in the small Scottish town at the time. A lunatic with a grudge walked into a school with two Browning handguns and killed Sixteen children aged 5 and 6, along with their teacher. It was a turning point for the British people, who decided enough was enough.

A group of parents and friends of the bereaved began a petition to have all handguns banned. It was called the Snowdrop Campaign, after the only flower in bloom in Scotland in March. Within 6 weeks, it had collected 705,000 signatures - and a rival petition by the pro-gun lobby collected a tenth of that number in a longer period. The result was stunning. Gun control became a major campaign issue. Just 29 per cent of Conservative candidates favoured a total ban on handguns, compared with 97 per cent of would-be Labour MPs, and 86 per cent of Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives, in government for more than a decade, were resoundingly defeated at the general election and the new Labour government made legislation which banned private ownership of handguns a priority of its first months in office.

If guns are illegal, only criminals with the right kind of contacts will be able to get guns. You can't then just drive up to a gun show and buy a gun, no questions asked. That limits the field considerably. It excludes, for instance, high school and college kids. It excludes those who suddenly just flip-out or have a moment of blind rage in a domestic dispute. It excludes many dime-store robbers and other petty or opportunistic criminals. It makes things easier for police too, who don't have to approach every single situation as if it might be a shoot-out and can allocate resources to catching the criminals who do have the right kind of contacts to get guns, and their dealers. But it cannot be piecemeal, it must be a national ban done at a federal level.

If there's anyone out there with the gumption and the resources to organise a version of the Snowdrop Campaign in the US, they will have my backing.