Sensible response to the Cumbria tragedy

The government was right yesterday to say it would await the findings of the police investigation before discussing our gun laws. The Prime Minister was right to say we cannot legislate to prevent a madman going on a murderous rampage, much as we would like to. Of course we need to do everything in our power to make it less likely.


  1. Ken Adams
    June 4, 2010

    Perhaps a requirement for short term 2 / 3 years medical test for gun owners, this guy had owned a license for 15 years.

  2. Andy
    June 4, 2010

    It was good to see a rejection of knee-jerk legislation from a government. I have become so used to Labour legislating whenever the media told them to, that I fully expected the same again.

    On the subject of gun control: as uncomfortable as it is to admit, we as a society must put a finite value on a life. We already do: there are lives being lost because we "allow" cars on the road. There are lives being lost because we spend money on antibiotics for non-life-threatening diseases, when we know that that same money could buy another dialysis machine, or would reduce the waiting time for a cancer patient. There are lives that have been lost because we have a rail system that hasn't had billions and billions spent on to create a 21st century failsafe points and signalling system. Lives have a finite value; every pound spent and every law made must be weighed so that it does the maximum good.

    What is often forgotten is the value of liberty. Every law — and I mean every law, reduces the liberty of every member of society, present and future — something which was allowed is then not allowed. Our lawmakers should always weigh the loss of liberty against the harm prevented. Labour, I believe, did not do that — only ever counting the harm prevented in their legislation. Example number one: we all agree that a law against murder is acceptable, since the freedom to kill takes away the opposite freedom not to be killed — overall liberty is increased by having no murders. Example number 2: banning hammers would undoubtedly save lives (if the number of people killed with a hammer is non-zero, it is a guarantee), but it also punishes the vast majority (i.e. the 99.999%) who would never have committed a crime, and are hence denied the utility of a hammer — overall liberty would be decreased, given that vast majority who are damaged, regardless of the lives that would be saved.

    I have persuaded myself that every law should have an estimate of the number of people damaged by that legislation; and an estimate of the number of people advantaged by that legislation.

    Banning Murder: small number of murderers equals few people damaged. Many advantaged. Legislation good.
    Banning hammers: small number of people advantaged. Large number of people damaged. Legislation bad.

    I'm afraid that I can only see gun control in the second category. There are very few murderous rampages; and there are a great many people who own guns (safely). I might even argue that gun control is actually damaging to every single person — regardless of their ownership or not of guns — since it takes away a choice.

    (As I know facts like this colour people's views: I am not a gun owner, nor do I intend to ever be a gun owner, but I do appreciate living in a free society).

    1. Stuart Fairney
      June 4, 2010

      Well reasoned if I may say so. I used to shoot handguns, quite lawfully at a regulated club until Dunblane. Now only criminals do so.

      Also with shotguns, the cat is well and truly out of the bag, there are too many in circulation to make a ban meaningful.

      I might also note that a former British PM seems to have decided he needs guns to protect himself (one wonders what misdeeds he may believe himself to be guilty of to need such protection?), yet there is legislation which prevents me from froming a similar judgement. Either the law applies to all of us, or it becomes de facto rule by fiat.

    2. Colin
      June 4, 2010

      I have to disagree that gun control is firmly in the second category there. Guns are useful for a limited number of activities, which most people do not do, a hammer is useful to lots of people.
      On the other hand I don't believe we have a need for more gun control laws. We have far stricter regulations than most other countries already and I doubt any changes in the law would have been able to prevent what happened this week.

      1. Andy
        June 4, 2010

        I am under no illusion that people who use guns are as numerate as the people who use hammers. It's not an insignificant number though, and it is certainly significantly higher than the number of people who go on killing sprees, and it is certainly higher than the number of people who are killed in killing sprees.

        As I said: loss of life is tragic, and almost goes without saying. The state and society have a duty to consider the value of liberty against the value of life (and already does so). One man's gun is not worth one life; but by comparison with the hammer example I have demonstrated that millions of hammers are. Therefore there is a number between one and millions at which we would say: the liberty to own is more important than the life that would be saved. We can debate the number, but the principle is (I believe) indisputable.

        There is the wider issue of control of a minority by a majority. Too often we get arguments that say "well banning X doesn't affect me, and you shouldn't be doing X anyway". The problem is that the huge variation in interests and activities of a nation means that this is true for most values of X. One day they will get to an 'X' that you do care for. Each of us is unique, and each of us has a set of 'X's that are relevant to us. To justify respect for your own 'X's, you must respect other's 'X's. We certainly shouldn't be using "useful for a limited number of activites" as a justification — most people spend their hobby time doing things that have no inherent value, or have only limited use. It is not for any man to judge the utility of another's possessions.

      2. Mike Stallard
        June 5, 2010

        My house is full of really dangerous knives. I also have a baseball bat right next to my bed.
        So far, I haven't killed anyone……..

  3. Matt T
    June 4, 2010

    Possibly the most sensible response would be a renewed focus on mental health, work stress? Depending on the results of the investigation into the motives.

    1. John
      June 4, 2010

      As we have seen from the events that have just happenened in Cumbria the man turned from a 'normal' sane human being to an unbalanced murderer in a short period of time. The current system relies on, in my case as a target rifle shooter, the word of a committee member of my club and a friend or neighbour as to my sanity once every 5 years, to increase this surveillance in a way that would cover this sort of case would take resources the police just dont have.
      My club takes their responsibilities seriously by not allowing anyone to join we have doubts about. Maybe the police should take their responsibilities seriously as all three tragedies were in effect caused by them not applying the regulations effectively. They are just concerned that an aggrieved shooter or prospective shooter would take them to court if they didnt agree with their decisions.

  4. Michele
    June 4, 2010

    Totally believe there should be renewed focus on mental health.

    Work stress though, Matt, really …..

  5. JohnRS
    June 4, 2010

    In response to media hysteria in the last 30 years or so we have legislated repeatedly to control gun ownership until now we have (probably) the toughest gun control laws in the world. However the problem with all laws is that only the law abiding abide by them (the clue is in the name).

    So what we really have in the UK is a situation where only the crims and the crazies now have weapons. The rest of us (i.e. the law abiding citizens) are now only able to be targets or witnesses. The police cannot help as, at best, they can only start to respond after the first killing when someone calls them in. By the time they are able to do anything constructive they are already well behind events. Most of them are unarmed anyway and will just provide more targets for the gunman.

    The tragedy in Cumbria showed the awful truth that when someone "decides" (not sure if this is the correct word) to go on a rampage, they are free to do so. The police cannot stop them. Note that in all recent mass killings in the UK the killer decided when to stop….by killing himself. The police were only able to clear up afterwards and added nothing to prevention of the actual killings.

    I'm afraid the "ban it" brigade have had their day and have been found wanting. The only measure that has any chance of success is to allow/encourage citizens to be armed. Weapons for home defense – plus mandatory training – should be available (assume sensible health, medical, criminal record checks are carried out). Carry permits – with additional training – should also be available to those that desire them.

    If Bird had encountered an armed citizen somewhere on his rampage I suspect there would be fewer dead people in Cumbria today.

    Before responding, check out the stats for states in the US that have tight gun control vs those that have freer laws. The fatality figures for where the worst cases of rampages, armed robbery, domestic violence, burglary etc will surprise you.

    Funnily enough, an armed citizenry is a safe citizenry.

  6. Dr Bernard Juby
    June 4, 2010

    I agree with the first two contributors. Legitimate jobs and businesses were lost as a result of the Dunblane knee-jerk reaction by the government. I used to shoot hand-guns and target rifles as well as a sporting rifle and a twelve-bore shotgun. I've moved to France, where, I believe, the English Olympc shooting team have to go to practice. Many huntsmen do the same!

  7. ManicBeancounter
    June 5, 2010

    The Prime Minister's response is the correct one. Government should act where there is an expected net benefit to society.

    There are two sides to the argument.

    Prevention – To argue how not only how any future occurrence could be prevented by the new measures.
    Resource Diversion – To demonstrate that the implementation of any measures would be a worthwhile diversion of resources. That is both the police time in enforcement and the public’s time in complying with the regulations.

    The rampage of a madman through Cumbria should mean a complete rethink on gun control. Paradoxically, it could mean less onerous regulations. The new laws introduced after Hungerford and Dunblane have not prevented a reoccurrence, but do involve a lot of police time and inconvenience to a section of the law-abiding public. There has been a net loss to society. The key to effective gun control is to concentrate on the substance and not on the political appearances.

  8. Bazman
    June 5, 2010

    .22 calibre and a shotgun. Every would be assassins choice. Less personal than an axe.

  9. Bob
    June 6, 2010

    I agree with the government, we should wait for the results of the inquiry in case it turns out to be less about guns and more to do with HMR&C bullying tactics and anti-depressants.

  10. rose
    June 7, 2010

    Swiss armed neutrality requires every Swiss male over 18 to have a gun. How often do they go on the rampage?

  11. Peter Reynolds
    June 7, 2010

    Well done to the Cumbria Police.

    We need more policemen like DCC Hyde

  12. christina sarginson
    June 15, 2010

    The comment on the Cumbria tragedy was a brave one. It would have been easy to have a knee jerk reaction and commission a review of gun laws because of this incident. However, I would like to see a review of some kind relating to gun laws in the future. I work in Birmingham and know of many areas where guns are available if necessary albeit not lawful.

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