The United Kingdom Prohibited Guns Over 20 Years Ago, why won’t the United States?
Illustration Credit: Emily Tan

Between the years of 2013 and 2014, I was fortunate enough to be able to live in Cinco Ranch in the city of Katy in Houston, Texas. I was in fifth grade, which in the UK would be year six, at Betty Sue Creech Elementary School. Attending an American school allowed me to see the reality of the grave situation of firearm abuse, from the ‘lockdown drills’ that we had to participate in, to the shooting of a school cafeteria worker at another local school. The transition from living in England, a country where schools were deemed a safe place to be, to living in an American state, that is frequently hit with gun violence was dramatically different to anything I had ever known. Upon reflection, having to teach a class full of nine year olds how to react in an active shooter situation could not have been an easy aspect of the job for my class teacher. Being of such a young age, and trying to consider the possibility of this terrifying situation actually happening to me was nothing short of harrowing, given that throughout my five years of education (prior to relocating to Texas) I had no reason to doubt that school was a safe and secure environment. 

The second amendment to the Constitution has become one of the most controversial of American history. It states that, “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Despite this idea of “security”, it is abundantly clear that the uncontrolled use of firearms to cause intentional harm in public places, like schools, has created a significant level of insecurity. So why have the American government allowed the continued abuse of weapons for over 230 years?

The ownership of firearms has been exploited in schools for over 250 years of American history, beginning with the shooting of a teacher and nine students at Enoch Brown School, Pennsylvania, in 1764. This shooting occurred 23 years before the Constitution of the United States was written, which begs the question why did the right to bear arms remain authorized? The most recent school shooting happened on February 3rd of this year in Commerce, Texas.

The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School saw two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, kill 12 children aged between 14 and 18 years old, a teacher and wounding more than 20 others, before taking their own lives. This prompted an extensive debate on gun control but it was not until 2008 that President Bush signed the National Instant Criminal Background Check Improvement Act which required complete background checks on all civilians purchasing a firearm, and screened for mental illnesses. Four years later, in 2012, a 20-year-old man killed 20 children aged between six and seven along with six staff members, at Sandy Hook Elementary. This became “one of the most brutal shootings since Columbine.” While I was not a resident in America at this time, my parents remember seeing this on the news in Britain, around seven months before we were due to fly out, which caused my mum especially, great panic.

Contrastingly, in the United Kingdom, the last school shooting occurred on March 13th, 1996 at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, killing 16 children, a teacher and injuring 15 others before the shooter, Thomas Hamilton took his own life. After this tragedy, there was a huge outcry of response against the possession of handguns by the public, leading to a petition against gun ownership gaining 750,000 signatures. This great public protest resulted in a public inquiry into gun laws and examined ways to improve public protection, set up by Prime Minister John Major. In response, Major enforced the Firearms Act, to restrict gun ownership by prohibiting handguns on December 17th ,1997. As part of this legislation, handguns, now, require special permissions, a certificate from the police before ownership and a specific criterion must be met. 

In Texas, being one of three foreign students from my year group, adapting to an environment where we must be prepared for the eventuality of an active shooter entering the building was a terrifying thought. However, we were given clear instructions on the plan and we practiced this in our classes, but there were no heavy security measures in place, as the school’s age range was between five and nine years old. Back home, we would never have been trained to respond to this kind of situation even as adults, let alone from the age of five, but as American schools are constantly hit with school shootings, education providers have no choice but to instil this preparation in even the youngest of children. At the time that I resided in Katy, the protocol was simple – lockdown the building and secure all classrooms. Although, in response to each shooting since, the protocol has, recently, changed to a new model ‘Run. Hide. Fight.’ 

It should be noted that most American classrooms have no windows (and the ones that do have tougher window panes), a feature designed for the eventuality of both an active shooter and severe weather. This is a significant factor as it means that, should a shooter enter the building, the only access points are the doors. Creech Elementary had multiple access points in all locations across the building and we were made completely aware of every possible route in and out of the school. The lockdown procedure included locking the classroom and hiding in various areas of the room, away from the door. Additionally, in the case of any emergency, whether that be severe weather warning or an active shooter alert, an alert is broadcasted – taking over all mobile phones, televisions, radios and all forms of communication platforms until the threat is over. 

During my time at Creech, Valerie Robinson, who worked in the school cafeteria of Tompkins High School, in Harris County (the same county as my elementary school) was shot by her estranged husband at the school car park. She later died, despite being given CPR on the scene by two fellow staff members. This tragedy still, however, did not have any effect on the laws surrounding firearm control. 

Since I have returned to England, there have been several online threats of shooting attempts made on the high school that I would have attended (should I have stayed in Texas), attempts that could have taken the lives of my friends. Luckily, the school does not take these threats lightly and severe action has been taken on those who made the threats, including involving the police. Having spoken to my friends during these threats, students do not take them nonchalantly either and this can cause widespread panic and fear amongst students, to the point where students are too scare to attend school.

On the other hand, my secondary school in Burnley, England, were unable to share their full lockdown details with the students, and I was informed that this was to ensure that students could not use this information to attempt any attack on the school. It is clear that since the Dunblane attack, the United Kingdom has taken the measures deemed necessary to protect the lives of the people and these measures have prevented any other mass casualty shootings in the education sector ever since. In all, it is evident that America has an issue with the abuse of firearms, that has resulted in mass fatalities, and it is clear that the reason behind this is that Americans are taught to be constantly fearful of everything. With the constant broadcasting of dreadful news and frightening alerts, is it any wonder that civilians feel the need to buy a weapon to protect themselves, if they were to find themselves in this situation? The truth is, from my experience, almost every household owns at least one gun. How do the American Government expect to decrease the likelihood of wrongful firearms abuse, when firearm ownership is encouraged by the Constitution that they abide by?