Insights into Uvalde from an activist who worked to make the UK safer: NPR

NPR’s Ari Shapiro speaks with Mick North, founding member of the Gun Control Network and father of one of the children killed at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland.


A common refrain since the Uvalde school shooting is that the United States is the only country where this is happening. Well, almost 30 years ago it happened in Scotland. A man killed 16 pupils and a teacher at Dunblane Primary School. Dunblane’s parents became vocal campaigners and soon after the UK passed strict gun control laws. There has not been a school shooting in the UK since. Mick North was one such parent. His 5-year-old daughter Sophie was killed in the massacre and he helped start the group now known as the Gun Control Network. Mick North, thank you for being with us today.

MICK NORTH: It’s a pleasure.

SHAPIRO: What goes through your mind when you hear the news of a school shooting in the United States like the one in Uvalde, Texas?

NORTH: I think the immediate reaction is, oh, no, not yet. I’m still shocked. But this is no longer a surprise because it happens too often. I thought as soon as people found out what happened in Britain and what changes were made as a result of the deaths of our children there would be a rush not necessarily to enact the same kind of legislation , but at least to try to fight for gun laws . But that never happened.

SHAPIRO: Your effort was met with strong opposition, including from the royal family. I mean, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, told the BBC that if a cricketer decides to go into a school and beat a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, are you going to ban the cricket bats? He said that you have to distinguish between what guns do and what people do. This sounds a lot like the talking points we hear from the gun lobby. How did you overcome these arguments?

NORTH: We just convinced people they were wrong. But in Prince Philip’s case, it was absurd because a cricket bat couldn’t have caused the kind of devastation we saw in the gymnasium at Dunblane Primary School. Other people’s criticism that these people might choose other ways to cause harm doesn’t really recognize how very dangerous guns are compared to other weapons. It’s all too easy for someone to pick up something like a gun and wreak havoc in seconds and certainly minutes.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like you had a factual debate based on evidence and a shared understanding of truth, which seems really difficult in the United States right now. I mean, do you think it’s possible?

NORTH: I think I’ve come to believe that’s probably not possible in America unless there are some dramatic changes. Those of us who have been in contact with gun control groups and other Americans have put statistics on paper for them to examine. And comparisons between the United States and Britain should now be shocking to anyone in America. This year there have been four gun homicides in Britain. It’s England, Scotland and Wales – four.

SHAPIRO: It’s not four mass shootings. These are four homicides.

NORTH: That’s four individual deaths. Even setting aside the difference in size of the country, it’s an appalling difference.

SHAPIRO: As you know, the right to bear arms is enshrined in the US Constitution. It’s not in the UK. The United States has a very powerful gun lobby and a pervasive gun culture, which is not true in the UK. So is this just an apples to oranges comparison, or are there any lessons you think the United States can learn from your experience?

NORTH: Well, I think to some extent it’s an apples and oranges comparison. Yes, the whole culture around guns is different in the United States. But there are other countries in the world where there is a border mentality, shall we say – Canada, Australia – that have adopted stricter gun controls. So I think America should perhaps compare itself not necessarily to Britain alone, but to a whole range of countries that have unfortunately experienced mass shootings, but only a small number of them.

SHAPIRO: Mick North is a founding member of the Gun Control Network and father of Sophie, one of the children killed at Dunblane Primary School in 1996. Thank you so much for speaking to us.

NORTH: Thank you.

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