90 minutes. It’s enough time for a football match or a Wimbledon ladies’ Final. It’s also the time it took the Norwegian SWAT team to arrive on Utoeya Island in Norway, in their vain attempt to apprehend Anders Behring Breivik. In the meanwhile, he killed almost 100 people.
Sadly, no-one on that island took charge of the welfare of those Norwegian teens. Likewise, were a maniac to emulate Breivik, this time in some rural Mayo or Kerry or Donegal town, how long do you think it would take an armed response to materialise?Ah, you say, but that was an extreme example – especially with their being on a remote island. Well than, forget 90 minutes. How about nine? How many families would still have become bereaved?
Let me put this as clearly as possible: in societies with stringent gun allocation policies, like Norway’s and Ireland’s, those paid to protect the unarmed populace cannot do such a job. It is a logistical impossibility. You can argue all you like about the time it should take for police in any situation to be dispatched; Norway is hardly home to incompetent governance, and they still failed miserably.
I remember the 1980s well. It felt like every evening, another death in Northern Ireland would be reported on the evening news. No – mostly not from public killing sprees or car bombs. It was so simple: an armed terrorist coolly walks up to someone’s front door, knocks on the door, bursts in and executes those within with ease. “Why,” I wondered, “don’t the people in the houses have guns, too?” How naïve I was: it’s the state’s job to protect us!
What do these incidents teach us? From Belfast to Norway and beyond – criminals and psychopaths exist; guns exist; bombs exist; genocidal intent exists; improvised tools of mass murder exist. So, what can we do?
Sadly, Hollywood drip-feeds us solely with emotionally-laden depictions of the negative consequences of guns – or have I been missing the movies depicting vulnerable innocents being protected from crimes by guns? Such thinking led to this BBC headline some years ago: “Handgun crime ‘up’ despite ban.” The reasoning behind this headline would be hilarious, had it not such serious consequences. Criminals use guns, but legal gun-owners are disarmed. And the BBC wonder why crime goes up?
For an example of the foolish claim that the illegal gun trade can be defeated, look no further than the equally foolish War on Drugs across the Western World. With the exception of some farmers and hunters, these policies maintain almost a de facto monopoly of guns in the hands of the criminal classes.
Aside from the occasion trophy-haul, governments are embarrassingly impotent to staunch this flow of guns. (And occasionally we even elect to office gun-runners.) The brutal, violent nature of the drugs industry ensures that only the worst within society enter it. In doing so, they become a state within a state: armed and ready to fight.
So, from psychopaths like Breivik, to the brutal savages who rule so many of our housing estates, guns exist. They will always exist. Despite this, those who think with the heart, rather than the mind, will never accept this reality. Such deluded souls live in the world of should, rather than is.
But no amount of Orwellian “sensitivity training” or “self-esteem training” will ever erase these flaws in Man. This is the Aristotelian reality of a human nature rife with weaknesses. Add the lucrative profits from illegal drugs, or the behaviours derived from a mind like Breivik’s, and the unarmed are vulnerable to society’s gunmen.
As ever, after events in Norway, the gun-control lobby completely miss the point. Whatever brought Breivik to this point, we still end up at the same place each time a maniac targets innocents. Every last sociological mumbo-jumbo explanation fails to explain what we do when these albeit rare events occur.
And even were the Utopia of a gun-free world possible, knives, hammers, axes and the like are already commonly used tools of violence. What’s next: a 24-hour waiting period for that luxury kitchen knife set at IKEA, or for garden shears at Homebase?
James Froude said “We enter the world alone, we leave the world alone.” Along the way, you might be lucky enough to be a farmer or hunter with a legally-held gun. But you might also be 90 minutes from help in a rural destination. Better still, you might be allowed to simply protect yourself
This article first appeared on the Irish Independent Blog