Murray’s Dunblane

Andy Murray was a survivor of the 1996 Dunblane school massacre.

DunblaneAndy Murray, victor on Sunday of the men’s singles championship at Wimbledon, was with his brother Jamie a fortunate survivor of the Dunblane school massacre on 13 March 1996.

A previous massacre in the similarly bucolic English town of Hungerford in 1987 led to a ban on personal ownership of semi-automatic rifles. The Dunblane killings were carried out with handguns. These were subsequently also effectively banned, apart from heavily regulated clubs.

There have not been any school shootings in Britain since. There was a street shooting spree in Cumbria in 2010, in which the perpetrator used a shotgun and .22 rifle, both licensed. This did not lead to any further gun control legislation. I don’t know if police checks before issuing licenses have become tougher.

Britain has a gun crime problem – among hard-core criminal gangs in a few big cities. Their armourers, facing long prison sentences if discovered, must be very prudent men. I imagine their background checks to weed out agents provocateurs rival those of the police, and a lone nutter would get nowhere near one of their expensive weapons.

IN 2011 the UK recorded 38 firearms homicides.


Please confine comments to gun issues related to the UK and similar countries. We don’t need further advertisements for the Second Amendment. The arms clauses in the 1689 Bill of Rights are not treated in Britain as part of the living constitution.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

35 thoughts on “Murray’s Dunblane”

  1. James, you are a mean man.

    No advertisements in this thread for our U.S. Second Amendment? You’re suppressing free speech, violating our First Amendment. That, of course, also constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment (for certain of our regulars), thereby violating our Eighth Amendment.

    And then you expect us to comment on gun issues in the UK? Gosh, James, I didn’t realize there ARE any gun issues in the UK.

  2. The arms clauses in the 1689 Bill of Rights are not treated in Britain as part of the living constitution.

    Probably as well, since it explicitly permits only Protestants to bear arms (I notice Wikipedia gets that wrong). Not that I’d be surprised to learn that the American religious right would like to see a similar restriction.

    One remark about gun issues in Britain: if the cops think you’re carrying a gun in public, even if you’re not threatening anybody, they have a tendency to shoot you. And since the British police call on trained marksmen when they think somebody needs shooting, they usually hit something vital.

    1. I’m pretty sure the American religious right would NOT like to see ownership of arms limited to Protestants. Many Protestants are black. 🙂

  3. My impression is that Japan (the world’s safest society; they must have a law against crime) is pretty similar to the UK. Guns are highly prized among the yakuza.

    Once James stripped us of our Second Amendment rights, the First and Eighth became automatically inoperative. The NRA constantly reminds us that Second Amendment is the guarantor of all other rights (except perhaps the right to life.)

    1. Not quite. The rural lobby ensures that shotguns and .22 rifles are still available for hunting. These were the weapons used in the 2010 spree, after which nothing changed. Japan is I believe much more restrictive.

  4. Australia also implemented strict gun control after a gun massacre (Port Arthur) and hasn’t had one since.

      1. This is a strange response.

        1) Keith has written that small sample sizes are inconclusive, not that they are useless. We don’t ignore data just because we need more. We treat it as suggestive.

        2) James’ post is not, to my reading, about the effect of a gun ban on specifically school shootings. It’s about an association between availability of guns and firearm homicides generally.

        3) I can’t tell if you’re saying that James or Keith are soldiers in a culture war. Either way, that’s preposterous.

  5. I wasn’t in this post trying to do any real analysis, just remind readers of some interesting data points and the extreme contrast between the USA and other advanced countries on gun regulation and gun deaths.

    The British rate of gun sprees (more or less one a decade) looks actually quite high given the low annual rate of gun homicides. It’s harder to prevent sprees than to reduce gun deaths generally. Since that was Mark’s more informed argument after Sandy Hook, I offer the data as corroboration.

    1. It’s so cute how you lump the USA in with “advanced” countries. Citizens of advanced countries are decreasingly likely to make that mistake.

  6. I continue to maintain that “gun _ ” is a useless and misleading metric. Mass killings are a phenomenon; whether a gun or a bomb is the weapon seems barely relevant. Suicide is a phenomenon; whether guns or poisons are the method seems barely relevant. Domestic killings are a phenomenon; whether a gun or a knife is the method seems barely relevant.

    1. Mass killings are a phenomenon; whether a gun or a bomb is the weapon seems barely relevant.

      Yes, one wonders why the US national security apparatus seems so concerned about terrorists getting nuclear weapons. The method of killing people seems barely relevant.

    2. The bomber’s motives are usually very different from the shooter’s: political calculation and/or (for suicide bombers) self-immolation, instead of direct venting of rage. Japan has had massacres with swords and knives, very similar to shooting sprees in character (perps, targets); a peculiarity due no doubt in part to the cultural prestige of swords, in part to the great difficulty of obtaining guns.
      Guns are a relevant category because they make all killing easier, both mechanically and psychologically. Edged weapons are messy, risky and time-consuming; bombs, poisons and arson take careful planning.

  7. The homicide rate for the UK is about 1.2 per 100k people per year. This is excellent; my congratulations. The US figure is 4.8; both from Any wise American would aspire to approach UK results. However, by my BOTE figures, that represents less than a month of difference in life expectancy, a margin of course washed out by any of dozens of other factors. I for one take that into account in how much sleep I lose over this. I have to wonder if the slenderness of that margin would not surprise a great many people on both sides of the pond. Also, there is much variation in this very large country. The figure for my state of Wisconsin, for example, is 2.4, representing a week or so of reduced relative life expectancy. Just a bit of perspective. (BTW, if I ran the US, we would have UK-like gun laws, and I do not believe the weirdly cryptic Second Amendment was ever intended to prevent that.)

    1. I haven’t seen this analytical approach before, of calculating differences in life expectancy. Can I assume you’re multiplying the homicide rate by the number of years the average person lives, and subtracting that from 100,000*(that same average age)? So, for the US, with a homicide rate of 4.8 per 100K, you’re calculating the following: (4.8*[avg])-(100,000*[avg])? That would give the average number of person-years, from which you can recover the number of person-weeks and get those cool numbers you’ve provided?

      Irrespective of how you’re doing it, the ingenuity of the method glosses over one of the most important facts about homicide: the problem doesn’t distribute itself evenly across the population. It’s disproportionately concentrated among certain slices of the population (and when we’re talking about firearm homicide specifically, the slice of the population we’re mainly talking about is young, uneducated, black and male).

      So differences in the firearm homicide rate aren’t represented by average reductions in life expectancy across the board, as you’ve done. They’re represented by how many young black males without a high school education one thinks are expendable. Higher firearm homicide rates mercilessly affect those people specifically, and leave other people largely unharmed.

      Ultimately, my point is that one isn’t dealing with greater life expectancy in Wisconsin vs. life expectancy in [insert other state here]. One is dealing with life expectancy for young, uneducated, black males in Wisconsin vs. life expectancy for young, uneducated, black males in [insert other state here]. The distinction is essential.

      1. A recent study of 689 young people who were treated at an emergency room for assault injuries found that 23 percent of the youths, ages 14 to 24 years, had been in possession of a firearm in the last 6 months
        “Those who had firearms were more likely to have been in a recent serious fight, and to endorse aggressive attitudes that increase their risk for retaliatory violence,” the study’s authors said.

        The study found that the majority of participants in possession of guns agreed with the statements that “revenge is a good thing” and it is “OK to hurt people if they hurt you first.”

        Study finds more than 1/5 of young assault victims have firearms

      2. No statistician am I; I calculated as follows using guesstimates, but I am confident it is a decent first approximation (and nothing else). Estimate 75 years as life expectancy; multiply the annual homicide rate by that many years; estimate the deaths occurring per year at that age in what was originally a 100,000 person birth year cohort (guessing 3,000/yr); and calculate how many days those cumulated homicide deaths would move up the date of 50 percent of the cohort dead — which is what life expectancy means.

        1. If you are going down the life expectancy route, you need I think to include all gun deaths, including accidents, not just homicides. Using the overall homicide rate conceals the differential impact of guns, since it’s likely that domestic killings with knives and fists differ less internationally. Thirdly, non-fatal gun injuries also lower healthy life expectancy (the QALY metric).

          1. Fair enough, but then why not other accidents? Why not environmental factors that an individual cannot control, such as air pollution? With each “why not” we get closer to just going with life expectancy. There too of course the US does not do spectacularly well, but individual and regional analysis is for most purposes more important that national statistics. Either an American or a Briton (does that include a Channel Islander?) possessed of a a middle class or better life style and a peaceful community is among the privileged of the earth. Each version has its uses and its limits. My point is that the added risk of being murdered that arises from living in the violent US as compared to the pacific UK is slight, and I suspect widely overestimated.

  8. The US state with the most liberal gun laws also has one of the nation’s lowest murder rates. (Lower than the UK, incidentally.)

    Correlation isn’t correlation, I know, I know. But it’s, ahem, suggestive.

    While Ken Doran “do[es] not believe the weirdly cryptic Second Amendment was ever intended to prevent [UK-like gun laws],” better constitutional scholars than him have ruled that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right.

    J. Wimberly thinks that the US can lower its gun homicide rates by relieving citizens of our individual rights. Sure, that’s one way to do it. However, the late Nobel-laureate economist Milton Friedman said that we could get rid of 10,000 excess homicides per year if we were willing to end our criminogenic War on Drugs. Call me paranoid; I’m loath to surrender my rights. Other Americans agree with me.

    There are at least 270 million privately owned firearms in the United States. Trying to confiscate or even register all of them could get…hairy.

    1. There are at least 270 million privately owned firearms in the United States. Trying to confiscate or even register all of them could get…hairy.

      And when we’re done with that, we’ll find we need to ban knives as well.

      1. The UK has tough laws on knives as well. “It is illegal to … carry a knife in public without good reason – unless it’s a knife with a folding blade 3 inches long (7.62 cm) or less, eg a Swiss Army knife”

    2. But it’s, ahem, suggestive.

      In other words, “I know this isn’t actually evidence for my beliefs but I’m going to take it as such anyway.”

      1. Oh, man. I was hoping that reference would be obvious enough.

        Look, I wasn’t the first person in this thread to use the word “suggestive.” CNTRL+F is your friend.

        Also: What kind of geometric transformation would I have to do to compare Vermont (pop. 60,000,000)?

        Here are the US murder rates by U.S. state, ranked highest to lowest:

        And here’s the homicide rate, by nation:

        (U.S. is between Thailand and Belarus – we have exactly 4x as many murders as UK. But, as any American or Briton knows, your chance of being homicided is heavily dependent upon where you are in the country. To live in Manchester is different than living in Ely; living in Detroit is different than Burlington.)

        We can do lots of stuff to lower our murder rate; getting rid of guns is far from the only option.

        1. OK, that’s the weirdest thing i’ve ever seen. My comment was mangled.

          the first question has me asking how I could compare Vermont (population under 700,000) to UK (population over 60 Million).

        2. Results of studies with small samples are suggestive. I didn’t pass comment on the validity of correlative associations.

  9. On the one hand, I think it’s a good thing that the UK has few guns – in particular,
    so few guns that the police, in most situations, also don’t usually carry guns.
    Which surely leads to fewer gun injuries and deaths all round.

    On the other hand, the way the UK’s system of government, with its lack of checks and
    balances, its unwritten and decidedly fluid constitution, and its lack of guarantees
    for individual rights, can lead to some pretty rapid and drastic changes, of which
    the imposition of extremely stringent gun regulation after Dunblane is just one example.
    Some other examples, with less positive results: the poll tax; the abolition of the GLC;
    the widespread use of surveillance cameras.

    I can be happy about the outcome on guns, while feeling rather queasy about the other
    possible consequences of the system of government which made it happen.

    1. Those are pretty odd examples, since to the best of my knowledge the US constitution doesn’t prohibit poll taxes or surveillance cameras.

    2. And yet one can find examples in the US parallel to the Poll Tax, the abolition of the Greater London Council, and the widespread use of surveillance cameras.

      ‘protecting’ the Second Amendment is not a particularly good example of the system of checks and balances at work.

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