LONDON – America is known for its trendsetting.
It’s the land that brought the world McDonald's, Facebook and Lady Gaga. When Americans buy into something, everyone takes notice.
But some hot items are more dangerous than others. A recent article in Marie Claire’s UK edition identified one questionable craze: “Across America, firearms are fast becoming a must-have accessory.”
It’s long been the stereotype that Brits view America as a gun-toting, violent and generally unrefined nation. The caricature could actually be closer to the truth than we think.
A shocking act of violence here recently threw the issue of gun control in Britain versus America into sharp relief.
In a quiet town in the north of England, 12 people were killed in early June when a taxi driver went on a shooting spree. In its wake, the tragedy left a shaken, paralyzed and livid nation.
One person interviewed following the shootings summed up the British point of view: “You hear of these things happening in America, but not here.”
Ouch. Yet indeed, the British reaction was exactly contrary to that one would expect from the States.
Almost immediately, UK residents and media pressured their government to consider tightening gun laws – even though those in the UK are already among the most stringent in the world.
People were enraged to a degree that would have been unimaginable in the States, and rightly so. Here in the United Kingdom, where the concepts of concealed carry or guns as self-defense are entirely foreign, people view gun control as a matter of course.
Gun crimes here are practically nonexistent. According to the 2010 British Crime Survey, an annual study carried out by the British government, a mere 39 people were victims of fatal gun shootings in England and Wales during the past year (not including the recent and highly uncharacteristic shooting rampage).
Annual statistics compiled by the FBI, however, paint a much different picture: In 2008, a startling 9,484 people were killed in shootings in the US.
Do the math and, accounting for population, a U.S. citizen is nearly 50 times more likely to be shot and killed than someone living in the UK.
Why? It’s because Brits are serious about gun control.
In 1997, a piece of legislation made it nearly impossible to legally own a handgun in the UK. Not even Britain’s Olympic shooters are exempt from the ban, and the team is required to train outside of the country. Special permission was needed to allow any shooting events at the London 2012 Olympics.
Here, even most police officers are not allowed to carry firearms, including Tasers. Between 2007 and 2008, only 21,181 law enforcement officers were licensed to carry firearms in England and Wales, according to the Home Office.
Owning a gun legally in the UK can be enough to do a person’s head in, as they say here. You need to complete extensive paperwork, exhibit proper competence to the police, and provide a “good reason” for wanting a gun. Oh, and you’ll need independent references to prove you’re sane, too.
Compare this to owning a gun in the U.S. The laws vary slightly by state, but a number of firearms do not even require a permit for purchase.
And a national handgun ban in the States? Not anytime soon.
It appears the United States is moving in the opposite direction. In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a Chicago handgun ban in a decision that will dramatically hinder states’ efforts to limit gun ownership.
Some people argue that America wouldn’t be free without the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and that gun ownership should not be limited in any way. But have we forgotten what inspired that amendment – or, rather, whom?
Ah, yes. It was the British.
Since the 18th century, Britain has moved on from problems like taxation without representation, oppressive monarchy and overreaching empire. It has accepted its place in modern society as a progressive, First World nation.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on our anti-British, nonconformist, trendsetting nature – but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a good idea and make it our own.
We don’t need 100 percent gun control, but some increased limits would be a positive step. Allow handgun bans for the urban areas that need them the most, while allowing states more power to dictate specific regulations. After all, isn’t the right to bear arms only acceptable when it does not infringe on the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Unchecked violence is so last season. Could gun control be the new black?
Rebecca Berg is interning at CBS News and studying in London this summer through a Missouri School of Journalism study abroad program. She will return to the Missourian as an assistant city editor in the fall.