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To consider the UK gun laws, and reflect on their purpose.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To consider the UK gun laws, and reflect on their purpose.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. In 2012, London will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The stadia and facilities are under construction, and athletes are training hard. One team that has an unusual training regime, however, is the shooting team. Guns are almost entirely prohibited in the United Kingdom, and this ban stretches even to the team. They have been training in Switzerland.
  2. Over the course of the twentieth century, nearly all guns were progressively outlawed. Those that remain require licensing and justification, and failure to provide them is a criminal offence. These laws have been pushed through by tragic incidences of violence. In 1987, a man shot and killed 16 people in Hungerford, Berkshire. In 1997, 16 primary school-age children and their teacher were killed in the Dunblane massacre. The response to the latter was to outlaw handguns, which had previously been available to licensed owners.
  3. There is no large pro-gun-rights organization in the UK. The UK has some of the world’s strictest gun-control laws, and this appears to be in keeping with the will of the people. This can be compared with the United States, in which the National Rifle Association, headed by the actor Charlton Heston, lobbies vigorously for gun rights. The US constitution guarantees a right to bear arms, a passage initially designed to enable a citizen’s militia to defend the homeland. In the present day, however, the US is a peaceful society ruled by law and defended by the most powerful armed forces in the world, so guns are normally held for purposes of self-defence or sport. Constitutional scholars debate whether the modern US needs a right to bear arms, in the wake of the damage done to society by gun crime. Of course, a right is barely a right if the government can remove it against the people’s wishes.
  4. Gun advocates argue that guns do not kill people; people kill people. There is some truth in this claim. A gun is but a tool, and to use it, except in the rare and tragic cases of accidental shooting, requires a motive and an intent. But on the other hand, guns make it all too easy to turn an argument or disagreement into something much more ugly. An illustrative case is that of Tony Martin, who in 1999 discovered a group of burglars in his home. He was a licensed gun owner and shot one burglar dead as he attempted to escape. This raises all sorts of ethical problems. It is fair enough that Martin wanted to defend his home. But it is hard to justify, in the modern world, the killing of burglars who are attempting to escape. Martin’s gun ownership put him in the position where he was both able to, and felt justified in, taking another’s life when his own life was not at risk. He went to prison for manslaughter. Although he was caught stealing, the dead burglar did not deserve to die.
  5. People are not entirely rational all the time. Rage, stress or misery can all take their toll and impede normal rational thought. A gun can kill easily in a second. Ask a gun-crime perpetrator in prison how they feel about their crime and most will say they regret it.

Time for reflection

Just a few months after the tragic shootings in Cumbria, by a man in legal possession of lethal weapons, how do you feel about gun laws?

Do you think it right that this country has such strict gun laws?

Could you justify easing the laws – or would that lead to a rise in shootings and subsequent deaths?

The world’s major religions all teach that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. Where do guns figure within that?


We remember all those who have lost loved ones through shootings.

We pray that we might be able to resolve difficulties and disputes without resorting to violence, through negotiation, dialogue and working together.

May we be peacemakers, rather than bringers of violence, throughout our lives.


Publication date: September 2010   (Vol.12 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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