Guns are on everybody’s minds this week following Omar Mateen’s massacre of 49 people in an Orlando nightclub. Here in the U.K. we watched events unfold with sadness and horror. Not so much disbelief. Sadly, we’ve grown accustomed to shootings across the pond. (Only a fortnight ago a gunman killed a man at UCLA before turning the weapon on himself; six months before that a terrorist attack left 14 people dead and 22 seriously injured.)
Some Brits have used it as an excuse to come over all self-righteous, suggesting the U.S. look to the U.K. for an example of how to do gun control.
Then, today, Labour Party MP Jo Cox died after being shot and stabbed in her constituency Batley and Spen, in northern England. The attack took place as Cox, 41, prepared to hold a meeting with constituents in a library in Birstall, near Leeds.
Initially, West Yorkshire Police said a 52-year-old man had been arrested by armed police and that a woman in her 40s had suffered serious injuries. The BBC reported that Cox had been taken by air ambulance to the nearest hospital, where she was said to have serious injuries and be in a “critical condition.”
One eyewitness told Sky News that Cox had intervened in a scuffle between two men before one of them pulled a gun from his bag, which was then fired twice. Another witness claimed the attacker shouted, “Britain First!” However this has been disputed by others who were at the scene.
At 5 p.m. GMT, a police spokesman confirmed that Cox had died as a result of her injuries. She left behind a husband and two young children.
Cox had backed the Remain campaign ahead of next week’s referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. The former head of policy for Oxfam, she was a vocal advocate for victims of the Syrian civil war and was chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Friends of Syria group. Before entering parliament she was also an advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and to anti-slavery campaign group The Freedom Fund.
It’s not easy to (legally) own a gun in the U.K. due to some of the toughest gun control laws in the world. But sometimes people who have fulfilled the necessary requirements to get a licence (including extensive paperwork and satisfying police officers that they pose no danger to society) go on to commit horrific crimes.
In 1987 Michael Ryan used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 16 people in Hungerford. In 1996 Thomas Hamilton killed 16 schoolchildren and their teacher at a school in Dunblane.
In response to these crimes, the U.K. Parliament has responded quickly. After Ryan’s massacre all modern semi-automatic rifles were banned. And following the Dunblane tragedy, all handguns were banned and there is now a mandatory five-year jail sentence for possession. But these steps weren’t enough to stop the tragedies: taxi driver Derrick Bird had held a firearms licence for 20 years before he shot 12 people dead in Cumbria in 2010.
America’s gun homicide rate may be 25 times higher than other high-income countries (an average of 30 people are shot dead every day in the U.S.) but the brutal killing of Jo Cox in England today proves that even a country with a firm handle on gun control can’t always protect innocent people.
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