We are repeatedly told by politicians and mainstream media talking-heads that regulation and prohibition of civilian firearm ownership will make societies safer. Their well-groomed heads nod sagely as they point to the bastions of gun control for supporting evidence: the United Kingdom, Australia, and Western Europe. Nations that employ draconian firearm legislation, but have astronomically high murder rates, are usually ignored and not spoken about at all. El Salvador, Jamaica, South Africa, Venezuela: these countries suffer the highest intentional homicide rates on earth, yet they also have the strictest gun control policies on the planet.
People are resourceful creatures, and we tend to adapt ourselves to our circumstances (and vice-versa) with relative ease. It should therefore not be surprising that murders are still being perpetrated by the use of firearms in the UK, despite the total ban on the possession of handguns and highly restrictive gun laws in general. On 5 August a man was shot dead outside a garage in Chelmsford. In April a man was shot dead during a home-invasion in Dorset. Also in April, a man was shot dead at a tourist site in Wickford. These occurrences form part of an upward trend of violence and criminality experienced in the United Kingdom over the past few years.
In Australia the situation is similar. In July a Wyong man was shot and killed in his car during an alleged drug dispute. Still in July, a Sydney man was shot multiple times in his driveway, in front of his 8-year-old daughter, and died on the scene. A report in The Age elaborates on the escalation of violence and shooting in Melbourne, which is described by them as a “gun city”. It must be noted that Australia has highly restrictive firearm legislation, and their own government proudly admits to it.
We can continue the discussion along the lines of the ineffectiveness of gun control laws to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, and talk about the highly efficient transitions of weapon substitution that have occurred in countries like Australia in response to such legislation, but recent events have overshadowed the dominant tenets of that particular debate.
The past fortnight has seen no less than three high-profile mass attacks carried out not by perpetrators armed with guns, but through the use of vehicles.
On 12 August a man, allegedly connected with a white supremacist movement, rammed his vehicle through a group of protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia. The result was one dead, and 19 injured. This event was followed by two attacks in Spain involving vehicles on 17 and 18 August. The first took place in Barcelona, where a van driven by terrorists affiliated with ISIS ran people down in the popular tourist walkway, Las Ramblas, on Thursday 17 August. 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured. According to Reuters, “witnesses to the van attack said the white vehicle had zigzagged at high speed down Las Ramblas, ramming pedestrians and cyclists, sending some hurtling through the air and leaving bodies strewn in its wake.”
On 18 August a second attack took place in the Spanish town of Cambrils when a car plowed into a group of people, including police officers, killing one and injuring 8 others. The car’s occupants consisted of 5 male terrorists armed with explosive belts, but they were all shot and killed by police before they could cause further harm.
On the 9 August six French soldiers were injured, some of them seriously, when a car slammed into them in Paris during a terrorist attack.
On 3 June the London Bridge attack was carried out by ISIS terrorist who ran pedestrians over before exiting the vehicle and attacking them with knives. 3 people died as a result of being run over, and 5 were stabbed to death. Another 48 were injured. The UK, and London specifically, have severely restrictive knife laws.
On 7 April an ISIS-connected terrorist rammed a stolen beer truck into a crowd in a busy shopping street in Stockholm, Sweden. 5 people were killed, including an 11-year-old girl, and 14 were injured.
On 22 March a knife-wielding terrorist plowed his car into a pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and then stabbed a police officer to death inside the gates of parliament. A total of 5 people were killed and 49 were injured.
On 20 January a Melbourne man went on a rampage with his car by running people over next to the street. He killed 6 people, including a 10-year-old girl and a 3-month-old baby boy, and injured 36 others, many of them critically.
On 19 December 2016 ISIS terrorists plowed a truck into a busy Christmas market in Berlin. 12 people were killed and 56 were injured.
On 14 July an ISIS terrorist plowed a truck into a crowd in Nice as they awaited a Bastille Day firework display. 84 people were killed, many of them children, and 434 were injured.
During arguments over firearm policy I have repeatedly pointed out that almost anything can be used as a weapon, including vehicles: a 1,1 ton VW Polo being driven at 60km per hour imparts approximately 152 778 Joules of kinetic energy into whatever it hits. Comparatively a 150 grain .308 Winchester rifle bullet traveling at 860 m/s transfers but 3 590 Joules of energy. Clearly the car has the advantage when it comes to stopping power.
The expected counter-argument is usually that guns are “designed to kill” (an expression of ignorance which I contest), whereas cars are not. I believe a brief look at the aforementioned body count should suffice as proof that it doesn’t really matter: it is very effective to murder people by using vehicles. Under such circumstances a car becomes a weapon. So does a knife, or a screw driver, or a baseball bat: most inanimate objects are suited to being converted into weapons.
At some point we have to confront the reality that the regulation of inanimate objects has been a highly unsuccessful method to regulate human behaviour.
Not only has the United Kingdom’s drastic firearm laws failed to stop people from getting shot dead in their houses, but their equally tyrannical knife laws have been completely helpless at curbing so-called knife crime. The pattern is repeated across Europe and Australia, yet in the wake of every terrorist attack, crime wave, or mass shooting the ruling class of politicians clamour for more gun control. As if it will suddenly, against all previous evidence and experience, have some sort of effect.
The unexpected outbreak of vehicular-perpetrated mass murder throws the entire gun control argument into complete disarray: horrendous casualties were inflicted upon innocent people by using equipment that is readily available and easily accessible. Developing a policy response that seeks to keep cars out of the hands of criminals and terrorists is frankly fantastical, but I do not deny that some misguided governments will actually attempt it. Will people whose cars are stolen and then used in the perpetration of criminal acts be shamed with the phrase “if your stolen car was there, so were you?” Are we going to see the implementation of criminal record checks before the purchase of a vehicle is allowed? Are we going to regulate the sale of second-hand cars via some bureaucratic office of state? Will there be some sort of odious safe storage requirement when leaving your car unattended, noncompliance of which will be punishable by a criminal charge of negligence in the event of your car being stolen?
These are after all exactly the prohibitive requirements that law-abiding gun owners are compelled by law to comply with. The fact that they have not worked, and that criminals do not obey laws, and that the entire idea is a misguided morass of cheap politicking is completely irrelevant.
Guns don’t kill people. Nor do cars. Or lorries. Or vans. Or knives.
People kill people. Regulating inanimate objects will never stop people from killing people. Investigating the reasons why people are killing people, and then addressing the fundamental problems underlying the homicides through rational action may, if all goes well, have a far greater impact.
Perhaps it is time we begin asking the right questions.