Opinion: I’ve lived in a country with gun control. It works.

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Ten days after the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, Americans are reeling from yet another preventable tragedy.

The lives of 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school did not have to end in such hateful bloodshed. As devastated as this country is, we cannot allow our grief to stall our action. There is an answer to ending this cycle of brutality.

I’ve lived in a country with gun control. I know it works.

The United Kingdom, which encompasses England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has some of the strictest gun laws of any developed country. During my time living there, the thought of being in a mass shooting event never crossed my mind. Because it didn’t happen.

From 2012 to 2016, when I lived in a suburb outside London, there were zero mass shootings in the U.K. Data from the Gun Violence Archive, which began in 2013, shows there were 990 mass shootings in the U.S. between 2013 and 2016.

GVA defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot and/or killed in a single event at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.

Those numbers don’t include the infamous Aurora theater shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, events I heard about while living near London.

As I saw the news of those tragedies, I felt so incredibly grateful that I was living in a country where gun restrictions were keeping me safe.

As a teenager at the time, I didn’t worry about being killed while sitting inside my classroom or when going to a movie theater with friends. I wasn’t planning my escape every time I entered a public space, fervently scanning for the closest door or window.

But now, living in the U.S, I always am. It’s a fear that is palpable across our country, felt every time a parent drops their child off for school or when a person just needs to run to the grocery store before dinner.

In the U.K., it took just one mass shooting to prompt a major gun control law. After a shooter killed 16 people in a rural town 60 miles outside London in 1987, the government outlawed semi-automatic weapons the following year.

Other U.K. laws have created extensive universal background checks, require private gun licenses to be renewed every five years and allow for that license to be revoked should a gun owner be deemed a public safety threat. In the U.S., we have none of that, at least not federally.

I’m not naive to think these laws will eradicate gun violence and mass shootings entirely. The U.K. has seen four mass shootings since the government's 1988 act banning assault weapons, with the most recent happening in Plymouth, England, in 2021. A collective 51 people died from those attacks.

But compare that to the thousands of shootings and deaths the U.S. has seen in that same span of time, the answer to the problem becomes clear: it’s the guns.

As of 2017, the rate of firearm ownership per 100 people was 4.9 in the U.K. For the U.S., it was 120.5, and there is a correlation between gun ownership and gun violence.

The U.S. is nearly off the chart when its gun violence rate is compared to other developed countries with much lower gun ownership rates. Data for 2022 shows there are 12 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. Many other developed nations, such as Canada, France, Germany and South Korea, have rates between 0 and 3 per 100,000.

There are simply too many guns in this country, many of which are semi-automatic assault weapons that are commercially illegal in other western countries.

We’ve heard other arguments for the culprit of the U.S.’s gun violence epidemic with some laying the blame on mental health or a gun-loving culture that simply can not be changed.

It’s true that we’re a country in mental distress. It’s true we have a long history, dating back to the nation's inception, of gun violence. These are certainly root causes of much of our collective suffering and will take years, generations even, to address and heal from.

But to focus so heavily on these socio-cultural factors is to distract from the immediate solutions in front of us.

We’ve seen the results of countries willing to implement bold gun restrictions from the U.K. to Canada to Australia to New Zealand. In countries like these shootings are rarer and overall suffering from gun violence is lower.

What do we have to show in the U.S. for decades of inaction? A year where we’ve had more mass shootings than days on the calendar. Enough.

We know what we need to do as a country, we have the solutions in front of us. It rests solely on the shoulders of our elected officials to act.

Robert Tann is a reporter for Colorado Community Media. He was born in the United Kingdom and lived there from 1999 to 2004 and from 2012 to 2016. 

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