It has always been a small source of pride to me that regular police officers in the UK – those patrolling the streets – don’t carry guns.
It is almost unthinkable to imagine a similar scenario here in the US. Yet it seems highly likely – at the very least – that the lack of arms carried by law enforcement in Britain leads to less crime. Criminals don’t feel the need to escalate tense situations. Indeed, if the same were true in the US, perhaps shootings like those in Ferguson, Missouri, could have been avoided. And the same for the 12-year-old carrying an air gun who was shot dead by a police officer in Cleveland at the end of November.
Arguments for gun control versus those who defend the Second Amendment are nothing new: the issue continues to be one of the country’s most divisive. But it’s when looking at children’s involvement in gun crime – both as perpetrators and victims – that a universal right to bear arms seems like a callous argument.
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, more than one in five US teenagers aged 14 to 17 report having witnessed a shooting. More preschool-age children – some 80 per year – are killed by guns than police officers are. The latter number is around 50 a year according to sources quoted in a recent New York Times article. Americans have been gripped and appalled in equal measure at the horror stories plastered across network TV channels in recent months, from the nine-year-old who accidentally killed her firing-range instructor to a toddler who killed his mother with her own gun in an Idaho supermarket.
Why a nine-year-old was firing an automatic weapon on a firing range should be the subject of a fierce national debate. Likewise, the fact that few US gun manufacturers seem interested in making a child-proof gun (the best known market-ready device is German-made) seems worth talking about.
It seems highly ironic then that it has taken a US teenager to pioneer a smart gun: one that requires a recognised fingerprint to be fired. The 17-year-old from Colorado is called Kai Kloepfer. Kloepfer is clearly talented but he’s still at school; hardly the ideal advocate to exert pressure for a change of approach.
The National Rifle Association is ambiguous at best over smart guns and what it sees as potential government mandates in the future. The group will no doubt continue to exert pressure at its annual meeting in Nashville in April.
The technology is out there and using it doesn’t even need to mean a change in gun laws. And this is a crucial point: you don’t even have to be anti-guns – you can be anti-easily-avoidable-tragic-deaths. Even that, though, seems to be one step too far here.
Ed Stocker is Monocle's New York bureau chief.