My Thoughts on Gun Control, Based on a Comparative Analysis of the US and the UK


A celebrated US gun control advert - from 1981, I believe. The world has moved on (West Germany no long exists, for example, following German reunification), but the facts remain broadly the same - dozens of gun-related deaths per year in other countries, over 10,000 in the US.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.


Following the latest gun-based terrorist atrocity in US (the Las Vegas Strip Massacre, in which a 64-year old white man shot dead 59 people and wounded more than 500), here are my thoughts on gun control, based on a comparative analysis of the differences between the US and the UK.

First of all, let me explain that, in London, where I live, I can’t, off the top of my head, think of where to find a single gun shop. In contrast, I think it’s fair to say, guns are readily available in the US.

As CNN explains, “Hundreds of stores sell guns, from big chains like Walmart to family-run shops.” Background checks are conducted in store purchases,” where gun buyers have to fill out a form from the ATF (the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). However,required information only includes the buyer’s name, address, place of birth, race and citizenship. The store then runs a background check with the FBI, but this is a process that can only take a few minutes. There’s also a loophole to avoid any kind of background check — buying a gun at one of America’s many gun shows, where there are no checks.

In contrast, this is what you have to do to get a gun in the UK (the information is from the UK government):

You need a firearms certificate issued by the police to possess, buy or acquire a firearm or shotgun. You must also have a certificate to buy ammunition. You can get a firearm or shotgun certificate application form from the firearms licensing unit of your local police force.

You must: complete an application form; provide 4 passport photographs; have 2 referees for a firearm certificate and 1 referee for shotgun certificate; pay the fee for the certificate you are applying for.

You must also prove to the chief officer of police that you’re allowed to have a firearms certificate and pose no danger to public safety or to the peace.

A shotgun certificate won’t be given or renewed if the chief officer of police has a reason that you shouldn’t be allowed to have a shotgun under the Firearms Act. Or if they don’t think you have a good reason to have, buy or acquire a shotgun.

So now here are some statistics.

There was a total of 571 homicides (murder, manslaughter and infanticide) in the year ending March 2016 in England and Wales.

26 of those homicide victims (5% of the total) were killed by shooting.

In contrast, in the US, in 2015, there were 13,500 deaths by shooting.

The US has a population five times larger than the UK, so if the US had Britain’s gun laws, it is reasonable to assume that the death toll from guns would drop from 13,500 a year to around 130.

Or, to put it another way, if the UK had America’s gun culture, instead of 26 people being killed every year by guns, the number would be 2,700.

In other words, 100 times more people are killed by guns in the US than in the UK.

The US has around 300 million guns, whereas the UK has 1.8 million.

If the UK followed the US’s example, there would be 60 million guns in the UK.

If the US followed the UK’s example, there would be just nine million guns in the US.

And if there were just nine million guns in the US, instead of 300 million, I think it’s fair to suggest that there would be a phenomenal reduction in the number of gun deaths.

Defenders of America’s gun culture like to claim that “guns don’t kill people: people kill people,” but the evidence demonstrates that, in fact, while people do of course kill people, the overwhelming conclusion that has to be drawn from a dispassionate analysis of the facts is that it is predominantly people with guns who kill people.

Try gun control now, and see what happens.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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25 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Following the Las Vegas Strip Massacre, here are some thoughts on gun control from the safety of the UK, where buying a gun is really a quite complicated process – as opposed to just popping into Walmart and buying one with the groceries. I did some digging into the statistics. Bear in mind that the US has a population just five times bigger than the US, yet it has 166 times more guns. And the result is that the US has 100 times more gun deaths than the UK – in a comparative count based on 2015 figures, there were 26 gun deaths in the UK, and 13,500 in the US. If the US had the same proportion of gun ownership as the UK, there would only have been 130 gun deaths in the US. And to those who say, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” the blunt truth is actually that people with guns kill people.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    There’s an Avaaz petition here that’s got over 67,000 signatures so far – “Ban weapons of war for civilians: ban all assault weapons and high-calibre ammunition now!” Worth signing, of course, but how sad that it’s not even conceivable to suggest that gun control in the US should be much more strict that that.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Thank you, Andy. And simple logic tells me that we cannot regulate ourselves out of seeing gun deaths, because as long as people have unhindered access to guns there will be massacres. As it is, 93 people in the US are shot to death every day in the US, yet this is acceptable. On the other hand, the “Islamic threat” gets all the attention and all the taxpayers’ money yet it’s more likely you’ll get struck by lightning here than killed by a terrorist. In fact, in America you’re chances of being shot to death are 25 times higher than anywhere else on earth, yet America finds this travesty acceptable.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mary. And yet, every violent gun-related incident only encourages more Americans to loudly proclaim that they must have even more guns. Restoring sanity looks like the mother of all uphill struggles.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    ‘Gun Violence by the Numbers’:

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mary. The figures are always so shocking when you see them laid out in the cold light of day.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And how is this acceptable?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    That might as well be America’s motto today: “America – where killing one’s fellow Americans is cheaper than dirt.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    After my friend Malachy Kilbride shared this article, I wrote:

    Thanks for sharing, Malachy. The problem, of course, is that gun control is almost inconceivable as the US is these days, with its abundance of right-wing gun nuts, and libertarians desperate to protect themselves from the government (which seems primarily to be involved in creating a notional functioning state and collecting taxes, rather than hunting down libertarians, but there you go). Anything like the gun control we have here in the UK therefore looks like it would be impossible to implement, but something has to happen at some point. Even if we accept the Second Amendment as giving individuals the right to bear arms, no one back then had in mind the kinds of weapons people are claiming they have the right to own – and surely it’s possible to make a case that only certainly types of guns should be allowed, and that background checks have to be stronger. But I’m not holding my breath for change. On guns – as, sadly, on many other issues – it would be difficult not to conclude that the US is a basket case. No offence to my friends – but I’m sure you know what I mean.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Laura Lance wrote:

    Excellent piece, Andy, and I very much appreciate the point in the final paragraph — well-stated!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Laura. Very glad you liked it. So sad, however, that we’re struggling to make a case for gun control when there are horrendous incidents in the US almost every day.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Laura Lance wrote:

    I agree. I think the US is so far gone that we need a paradigm shift, beginning with a recognition that this is who we are, and that our country’s violence overseas is inseparable from the violence within our borders. We can’t address one without the other.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Laura. Very well said. The Peace Party is required.

  14. Jan Strain says...

    A few more thoughts….
    A few more facts…..
    There is a 2nd loophole. A gun can be sold by an individual to another individual without a background check.

    A gun can be carried without permit of any kind in Kansas (open or concealed) as long as one is one is 18 or older and has not been convicted of a felony. Firearm laws in Kansas do not make it necessary for individuals to register their firearms. Furthermore, Kansas firearm laws do not require the acquisition of a permit in order to purchase guns. Kansas also allows open and concealed carry in all public places to include schools, government buildings, etc.

    In fact, the only states that require a permit to buy a gun are:

    New Jersey
    New York
    North Carolina
    Puerto Rico

    Even states, like NY, who have more stringent laws, cannot control the steady flow of guns from other states. The Black Market for arms is way ahead of the states that require background checks and permits… That black market is fueled by not just criminal dealers but also licensed dealers knowingly selling to out of state customers.

    The ONLY sane way to deal with guns in the land of the fearful and naive is to pass stringent laws at the Federal level and apply them evenly around the nation….It will take a much saner and intelligent as well as educated society for that to happen….Not holding my breath here
    Look who was allowed to be president
    ’nuff said

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan,
    I knew of the 2nd loophole you mention, but didn’t refer to it in the article as I was trying to keep a tight focus on relevant points – but it’s important, so thanks for the reminder.
    Also the rest of your information is important. What a sad sate of affairs. I hadn’t really thought about how, of course, all the state borders are porous, and so, as a result, it’s basically impossible for any state that’s trying to control gun use to prevent guns getting in.
    You’re right about the need for sanity at the federal level, but will anything make the gun-crazed change their minds?
    The only hope is that maybe this massacre – its scale, its white perpetrator – might get people thinking outside their usual tiny boxes. I see there’s a proposed ban on bump stocks, which is the least that can be done:

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Keri Coull wrote:

    Those stats in that photo are from 1979. Notice that West Germany no longer exists.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, acknowledged, Keri, but it was a famous campaign, it has a striking image, and, most importantly, the thrust of its message remains the same – dozens of deaths a year elsewhere, over 10,000 in the US.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Keri Coull wrote:

    Why do you think I feel far more safer living in the UK? I’d go home, and it wasn’t even safe to walk up to the store. Just returned from Las Vegas my daughter’s wedding, spent time where that concert was held. Nope, probably never going back.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    I can understand that, Keri. It’s such a powerful indictment of what it’s like in so much of the US, and yet so many those living there wouldn’t recognize what you’re saying. It’s like the notion of US exceptionalism, I think. My overriding impression of the States is how run-down almost everything is, how there are homeless people everywhere, but Americans are encouraged to believe they’re the greatest nation on earth, and not to see it.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Laura Lance wrote:

    It’s an iconic ad that many Americans recognize from the campaign for gun control in the wake of John Lennon’s death.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that info, Laura. I didn’t know it had followed John Lennon’s murder.

  22. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy.

    Gun deaths in Japan are a fraction of those in the UK. The NY Times reported that some years they only have one or two. Canada’s levels of gun ownership are partway between that of the US and the UK, and gun deaths, also partway between US and the UK.

    One element of the gun debates in the US that would be incredibly laughable, if it weren’t so tragic to think about, is the assurance of gun enthusiasts that the most recent mass shooting would have been ended much earlier if only more ordinary citizens were packing heat. After that terrible shooting at the elementary school there were suggestions, made with all seriousness, that every teacher should have an assault rifle mounted beside their desk.

    These gun enthusiasts imagine that, if more ordinary citizens were packing heat, they would be able to shoot the mass shooters even before law enforcement officials made it to the scene.

    Woah! What a nightmare for serious law enforcement officials arriving at the scene of a mass shooting! Is that individual with a gun one of the bad guys — the mass shooters — or is he or she a vigilante?

    You can’t just yell out, “Hey! You with the gun! Are you on my side?”

    Or you might arrive, and find the site of a shootout, with lots of dead and dying, only to figure out, days later, that all those armed casualties were well-intentioned vigilantes, who mistook the other well-intention vigilantes for the shooters, and the actual shooters had got away, scot-free, during the confusion.

    Sometimes cops, the actual trained cops, end up shooting hostages, or civilian bystanders. That incident a few years ago, where a jihadist kook took the occupants of a coffee shop hostage? A beautiful talented mom died, and it turned out she was shot by a rescuer.

    If trained cops sometimes shoot hostages or innocent bystanders, I think it much more likely vigilantes, with uneven training, or no training, are likely to shoot lots of hostages and bystanders.

  23. arcticredriver says...

    Oh, gun enthusiasts make this claim their simple-minded solution to the most recent mass-shooting for EVERY mass-shooting.

    Oh, you said the USA has a mass-shooting almost every day? I actually read they had over 500 mass-shootings in the last 365 days, so more than one every day.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, arcticredriver, and for describing the chaos and death that flows from the NRA’s most fevered fantasies about how America should be.
    I did wonder recently, when there was talk of tooled-up left wing vigilantes, whether the US might not eventually descend into some sort of civil war in which US citizens end up killing each other in significant numbers. It somehow struck me as a plausible end result of their collective obsession with guns.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Such shocking statistics, arcticredriver.
    I think the numbers depend on how many people are involved, with some tallies using four as the minimum number of people killed or injured to constitute a mass shooting.
    The Gun Violence Archive has sobering statistics:
    And the Mass Shooting Tracker:
    I think I had drawn on a Guardian article stating that there had been “1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days”:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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