British gangs use flare guns now because they can’t find real ones

February 1, 2013

(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

After the U.K. endured a series of mass shootings, including one that targeted children, it passed some very tough gun control legislation in 1997. The effect, reported on today by The Washington Post's Anthony Faiola, has been staggering. Here are eight of the big takeaways, possible learning opportunities as the U.S. considers its own gun law changes:

1) Bad guys have a hard time getting guns: Criminals have resorted to using "archaic flintlock pistols" and "retrofitted flare guns." There's been one mass shooting in 15 years. This despite the adage, "When guns are illegal, only criminals will possess them."

2) Fewer illegal guns: Faiola reports that, according to ballistics studies, "Most gun crime in Britain can be traced back to less than 1,000 illegal weapons still in circulation."

3) Fewer gun deaths: Someone in England or Wales is about 3 percent as likely to be killed by a gun as an American. There were 59 gun deaths there last year. The U.S. annual gun death rate has hovered around 10,000 for years.

4) Sweeping gun buy-backs: In 15 years, 200,000 guns and 700 tons of ammunition have been bought back. No tyrannical monarchies have yet emerged as a result, although the queen was recently spotted with some special forces.

5) Sport guns allowed, with tight restrictions: Faiola reports, "Legal guns — including some types of rifles and shotguns largely suitable for farms and sport — must be kept in locked boxes bolted to floors or walls and are subject to random police inspection."

6) Police check up on your mental health: Legal guns are also subject to "vigorous inquires about the mental health and family life of owners." Police "routinely contact the physicians of new applicants to inquire whether they are being treated for mental illnesses,  including depression."

7) Handguns and semiautomatics are largely banned: The sweeping 1997 gun law "virtually barred [U.K. citizens] from owning most types of handguns." An earlier 1988 law had banned semiautomatic guns.

8) The law took a few years to reduce deaths: This is perhaps in part because it takes a while for the ban to ripple out to secondary markets and for police to clear out illegal guns. Faiola writes, "Statistics show that gun violence in Britain increased for the next several years" after the 1997 ban. Then, starting in 2005, "gun violence began to ebb."

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Max Fisher · February 1, 2013