I have no doubt that we are all shocked and horrified by the tragic shootings which occurred in Cumbria this week. As facts are still coming in, with each detail more chilling and disturbing than the last, it is hard for one to gain a sense of perspective.
All that seems truly clear is that what has been described by the local MP as being the “blackest day in our community’s history”, that the perpetrator Derrick Bird was a man who stepped outside the norms and conventions of society. An individual who committed acts fundamentally beyond comprehension and understanding.
What seems already to be occurring is the natural reaction from a democracy in the aftermath of an unexplainable event. Which is to question what might have been done differently to prevent it. Monitoring an individual to such an extent as to recognise the psychological tendencies to carry out such an act is not only beyond the ability of the state but should remain so to ensure we continue to live in free society.
Questions no doubt need to be asked why in this event and in the previous ‘massacre’ which occurred in this nation, in Dunblane Scotland, that the acts could be carried out by middle aged men with no military experience in a rural and isolated environment and take so many lives with a cold demeanour. However, what seems more relevant to the public at present is the desire to review and strengthen the gun control legislation.
The fact is that we in the UK have some of the strongest gun control laws in the world. For this reason we have thankfully seen precious few shootings over the last two decades. At present guns are only accessible in restricted and monitored gun clubs, shooting ranges and for those in rural communities who require their use for ‘keeping their land’.
Personally I find it hard to comprehend the environment and way of life in remote rural communities being a staunch urbanite. However I have throughout my life had an interest in rifle shooting and marksmanship. Both types of weapons utilised by Derrick Bird, a .22 rifle and a shotgun I have used in the past. From first encountering them at school what is always apparent are the restrictive laws which ensure that such activity is not only kept safe but the individual engaging in it is surrounded by a sense of the enormity of wielding a weapon. It is not merely a combination of wood, steel and mechanism but rather a device with a potential to kill and to maim others.
Clearly Mr Bird either failed to comprehend this potential or else was so driven that he overcame it to carry out acts which now leave 12 victims dead before ending his own life.
It is tragically ironic that the ‘Dunblane Massacre’ occurred close to the 1997 election where, like now, a new government was just gaining a handle on the issues of our nation. Then the immediate reaction of the new Labour government was to hurriedly rush through the strict gun control laws we have today. Government should always react to events but should do so in clearly comprehended and measured manner.
Perhaps before following populist sentiment, which is understandably jarred by these shootings, we should start examining how in this specific instance Mr Bird required these weapons and why he was given a gun certificate, while Britain’s top pistol shooters must travel to Switzerland to trains for events and the Olympics.
I dare say we need what rarely happens in this country anymore, a measured ‘review’ rather than ‘increase’ in legislation, where key issues are addressed with stronger legislation but previously irrelevant and unnecessary legislation is removed or loosened.
Regardless of all this, for the time being our prayers and wishes go to the family and friends of the victims and hope that this tight knit community can recover from these horrendous events.
Vice President Internal
(Image taken from the Daily Telegraph)