A discussion on gun control can be seldom had anywhere without reference by someone to the United Kingdom. Gun Free South Africa likes to particularly reference it, and this article is planned to precede a later one dealing with South Africa specifically in this regard.
The UK banned various categories of firearms following a massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, in which 18 people were killed and 15 wounded, most of them children in 1996. This ban has been heralded as an example of a firearm ban success story. This is far from the truth, and only made possible by the cherry picking of dates and statistics to ‘prove’ a claim. When considering claims such as these, one must go beyond the sound-bite quotes of ‘gun violence’ and ‘gun deaths’ to find the truth deliberately avoided by the anti-gun agenda.
To honestly evaluate the success of firearm policy, especially bans, the first thing to investigate is the homicide rate per year over several years (or even decades), followed by analysing the trend before and after the ban. When doing so, it is intellectually dishonest and wrong to only focus on firearm deaths, as doing so excludes all variables that could (and do) undermine the sensational claim of successful firearm bans. It rigs the outcome of a lazy analysis in their favour by only referring to ‘gun violence’ as the standard by which to judge the ban. The reason this analysis is chosen is because it usually supports their argument that firearms are inherently bad and make people do bad things. When analysing the data fairly and properly, it quickly becomes apparent that a ban is not the be-all and end-all of the matter, and one can still dig further to understand these aforementioned types and trends of statistics.
The ban in the case of the UK was just that and total, and mostly ended with successful recovery of almost all legally held firearms by January 2000. Homicide ought to either immediately decrease, or start a decreasing trend (either slow or fast). Following the ban the homicide rate instead immediately increased while firearm offences remained more or less constant. To say it ‘exploded’ would not be an exaggeration since it was an increase of 71%. Granted, it does not appear so shocking when one considers the low rate of 1.2 per 100,000 people before the ban, and the still low peak of 1.8 after the ban.
Regardless, a double-digit percentage increase is still a double-digit increase and well outside the normal trends. These trends are most easily viewed on knoema.com which tracks the homicide rate of most countries in the world, but official stats also exist for England and Wales, which formed the basis of similar in-depth research of my own elsewhere.
To illustrate the scenario, consider that the UK homicide rate was 1.1 per 100,000 in 1990. It had a slight trend of increasing to 1.4 in 1994, and decreased in the year of the massacre to 1.3 per 100,000. The ban occurred in 1997, from which point the homicide rate only trended up, although within the same range as before and stayed at 1.5 per 100,000 until 2001. In 2002 there was a dramatic change in which it reached 1.8 per 100,000 and amounts to the mentioned 71% increase since the ban. At this point, it is clear that the UK only got more dangerous immediately after the ban.
From 2002 however, the homicide rate experienced a notable decline that only slightly increased intermittently, and would reach a low of 0.9 per 100,000 in 2014. It becomes very apparent that the gun ban cannot be responsible for the decrease that only started six years after the ban was instituted, and certainly cannot account for the immediate and notable increase after the ban when using the logic used by proponents of a ban.
Firearm ban proponents seldom consider these mentioned statistics and trends, and even if they do recognise them, they tend to write them off as unrelated to the ban. I consider myself intellectually honest in interrogating these things, and therefore ask the new question of whether there could be anything else to explain this trend in the case of the UK. It turns out that there may well be.
It is possible to source the police budgetary trends, and when overlaid against the homicide rate, a pattern emerges in relation to the two. My source of information on what follows in respect of police force is the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, and a report titled Police Service Strength obtainable from the House of Commons library.
The homicide rate started to decline after England and Wales hired an additional 9,000 new police force staff between 2001 and 2003. The UK would appoint a further 12,000 staff from 2003 to 2005. This amounts to about 21,000 new police force staff during the time the homicide rate declined the most notably in the decade following the ban. It is difficult to conceive of a ban in 1997 only delivering results in 2014 and only after policing strength is notably increased.
This would very reasonably raise the question as to whether the same outcome would have been achieved had the UK started hiring more staff immediately and not banning firearms. The increase in homicide post ban further rams home the point that homicide did not change for the better as expected. Rather, it took bolstering police complements. It would appear that the most effective way to reduce violent crime, is to increase police presence and visibility.
A word must be said on the issue of ‘mass shootings’, more honestly referred to as massacres (again, the emphasis on the tool obscures a meaningful discussion). In the case of the UK massacres, it is sometimes mentioned that before the 1996 ban they had mass shootings, and after the ban there were no more mass shootings. Between 1972 and 1996 there was only ever two mass shootings; one in Hungerford and one in Dunblane. There was a third mass shooting in 2010 in Cumbria, which immediately categorically disproves that the ban somehow stopped mass shootings from ever happening again after the ban, never mind that they were even somehow common before the ban.
Turning to raw numbers of massacres before the ban, 385 were killed in massacres in the UK between 1972 and 1996. Excluding terror (such as the Lockerbie Bombing) and war-related cases (think Irish Republican Army), thirty-three died in the Hungerford and Dunblane mass shootings, in which case mass shootings only accounted for 47% of such deaths, for which there was a mere seventy massacre deaths in total. This percentage decreases if you factor in terror, so do not see my excluding as an attempt at dishonesty. If one considers raw numbers after the ban in the UK, 104 were killed in massacres, of which twelve were to the Cumbria mass shooting, which is not significantly different to pre-ban if one considers massacre rates over a twenty-four year period before and after Dunblane.
Throughout this discussion, it becomes clear that the claim of the UK having low homicide rates because they banned firearms is not just over simplified, but patently wrong. The fact that their homicide rates nearly doubled immediately post ban is an example of this. When the homicide rates did finally change, it is logically explained by other variables for which there is a rational connection.
Editors Note: The author made an oversight in describing the extent of the UK firearm ban; all .22 calibre manual and semi automatic firearms were unaffected by the ban and Northern Ireland has its own laws pertaining to firearms in general, that while strict, do not amount to a ban in the commonly understood sense. Within the UK but outside of Northern Ireland, pump action and semi automatic shotguns, as well as semi automatic rifles are banned. Outside of Northern Ireland handguns are banned in near totality except for the aforementioned .22 calibre. Scotland has about 500 handgun licenses as a seeming exception, which can be contrasted with the 162,000 handguns surrendered countrywide by 2000. While firearm ownership has clear exceptions to the use of the word ‘ban’, the UK bans were specifically tasked to deal with handguns and semi automatic rifles and while the sentiment remains unaffected in this context, it was not illustrated in this article, and for that the author apologises. As an absolute term it is therefore of course false.