Re: Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut Elementary School
There are armed Police in the UK but, as Bad Tempered Clavier says, they are an unusual sight. In the capital, they are usually there as a response to a security alert or to protect a high-value individual such as the Queen or members of the government. Walking around the capital (and I live very close to it, I was in London today, in fact) I have never seen a beat officer wearing a firearm and I don't wish to. The last time I saw an armed officer in the UK was in Gatwick Airport - which obviously has a specific security requirement.
The armed Police in the UK are a very small subset (5%) of officers. Those 5% receive intensive training and are generally only called for in specific instances when life is in immediate danger. Unfortunately, even with this approach to armed Policing, there have been cases in the last few years of officers mistakenly killing civilians, just as there have been cases of civilians killing unarmed officers but these are incredibly rare.
Quite simply, guns are not a topic of everyday British culture. When somebody owns a gun, it is usually on the quiet. I know one civilian that owns a rifle (quite a few own shotguns and the licence is very different) and that is stored at a rifle club, which is practically the only way to own a rifle in the UK. The Section 5 licence - which is required to own anything in a 'military' calibre (e.g. 5.56, 7.62, .223 (same as 5.56 essentially), .308 (same as 7.62 essentially), .303 (old British standard), etc are incredibly stringent to the point that the vast majority of the population could not own a firearm of significant power. Handguns are outright banned. I, for instance, could not privately hold a rifle due to my medical record unless it was stored at a club and everything was logged - including the ammunition.
I find it hard to understand the American attitude towards firearms but I do know a bit about the US Constitution. Nowhere does it say that anybody has the right to own a gun. If they own a weapon, they are supposed to be members of a militia. I doubt that many people in the US that privately hold weapons are members of an organised militia, or have indeed actually studied the Constitutional Amendment. The Second Amendment is actually based on a British writ that says much the same, except with the caveat that any ownership of arms must adhere to other laws - no such caveat is applied in the US Constitution.
As a result, I find it very amusing when people speak of the 'right' to own a gun. The Constitution actually says no such thing! 'Arm' is not a synonymous term and the membership of a militia should be enforceable - but it's not enforced.
The first step in every social change is education and awareness. Of course anybody motivated enough to commit a crime will do so and this may involve a firearm - this is true in any country but in the US the ease of access to firearms is second-to-none in the Western World, with the exception of Switzerland for reasons Henri explained. Guns may not kill people but guns make it a Hell of a lot easier for an individual to commit mass murder should they be motivated. If the same individual had entered the school with a Katana or a Machete, I doubt the death toll would have been anything like as tragic as that which transpired. Trying to bury heads in the sand and deny that gun control is a problem is a deep disrespect to all of those killed in these tragic incidents, at home, work, or school.
From an outsider's perspective, the American attitude towards guns is absolutely crazy. Would I like to own a rifle for target shooting in a controlled environment? Sure. It's fun. Would I like to own a rifle at home for no reason other than my own soundness of mine against some ephemeral 'bad guys'? Hell no.