Letters: Limit access to guns – but it won't end massacres

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It would be naive to assume that even if strict gun controls could be enforced, US schools would become safe overnight. After the Dunblane massacre of 17 schoolchildren and teachers in Scotland in 1996, legislation was introduced which effectively made private ownership of handguns illegal in the UK. Yet we had another massacre in 2010 by a licensed firearms holder, who managed to kill 12 people and injure 11 with a shotgun and a bolt-action .22 rifle.

Where there are guns of any description available to the public (and I can't see us ever getting rid of sporting guns), the opportunity for mass shootings by mentally ill people remains. Even if they can't get guns, they can still mow people down with their vehicle, as happened here earlier this year.

Restricting access to guns is probably a good thing, but it won't stop massacres. A much tougher challenge is for our social systems to reliably identify and contain potential homicidal maniacs before they can do catastrophic harm by any means at their disposal.

Andy Knott

Bath

A ban on assault weapons is not an answer to this unbearable violence. The problem is not semi-automatic weapons, but the size and capacity of clips used for those weapons. We should limit capacity to no more than five-round clips and many, many lives will be saved. The shape and form of a military-style rifle is not going to save lives. The banning of clips containing more than five rounds is.

Norm Stewart

Aventura, Florida

The Second Amendment reads: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

The precise meaning is disputed but such militias plainly no longer exist and the duty America has to protect its citizenry conflicts with the ownership of assault weapons.

Yet despite last week's histrionics, it is unlikely the law will be amended and the routine slaughter of innocents appears to be a price America is willing to pay.

The NRA remains one of the richest lobby groups and "owns" the Republican party, and the Supreme Court's good-ol'-boys stand ready to strike down gun-control laws.

The mantra, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" is a self-serving absurdity to a European but the alternative, "People with guns kill people" is clearly un-American.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

For this recreational-shooting-loving Aussie, American mothers (even single, living without a grown man in the house), loving semi-automatic pistols and military-type rapid-firing rifles is sheer and utter madness! I can understand a shotgun and/or, bolt-action rifle; but, pistols and military-type rifles… why on earth in this modern age does the average American household need enough weapons to arm a Swat team?

Easily hidden semi-automatic pistols, along with the rapid-fire (and large magazine) military-assault type rifle, as used to gun down 26 innocents, should never be sold to civilians. Such weapons will always end up in the hands of the mad/bad, or bad/mad; and society's innocents have no protection from such people, no matter how well the innocents themselves are armed.

Howard Hutchins

Wonga Park, Victoria, Australia

In the late 1700s when the Second Amendment to the American constitution – the right to bear arms was written – the rate of fire of a (highly inaccurate) musket was about four rounds per minute. Surely the fact that that same legislation is used to defend the ownership of weapons that can fire (very accurately) over one thousand rounds per minute is a complete nonsense and self-evidently a case for reviewing the amendment.

Vaughan Thomas

Usk, Gwent

Television programmes such as American Guns and Sons of Guns (both on the Discovery Channel) expose an infatuation with instruments of death. Isn't it time the plug was pulled on these shows in the light of the recent tragedies?

Barry Dence

Ashford, Kent

Woeful lack of clarity over fracking

The graphic accompanying your 13 December report on fracking "explains" that "a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped down…" and "gas is released back…". Given that the majority of your audience will realise that water and sand are also chemicals, the disingenuous use of "chemicals" hides a myriad of possibilities, as does "gas". No one would complain if, for example, the chemical was acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) that was pumped down and the gas that was released was argon. The objections to the process relate to the nature of the chemicals and the gasses involved.

The caption to the graphic gives an apparent attribute to the "Department of Energy and Climate Change" – if this is true then is it any wonder that our nation is so woefully lacking in scientific knowledge and expertise when a Government department exhibits such a disdain for anything approaching clarity?

Roy Hicks

Bristol

The pro-fracking campaign claims that in order to keep energy in the UK affordable we must extract the gas trapped in substrata rocks, and that this will stop people from dying every winter because they can't afford to keep warm.

The historic evidence shows that energy prices do not come down when wholesale gas prices fall. What actually happens is that shareholders in utility companies get larger dividends and the CEOs get yet another bonus. The shareholders in utility companies who have the power to change this trend and make a real difference to people's lives are increasingly the directors of the same companies and banks with whom the companies do business. So to those people who think fracking will lower energy prices and save lives, I would say, it could and perhaps it should – but don't hold your breath.

Shahriyar Saeb-Noori

Torquay

Since Mr Osborne is so keen to exploit the hidden treasure of gas hidden in shale, he should lead the way by inviting companies to extract that promised wealth from under his pretty Cheshire constituency. That would certainly give some reassurance about the safety and desirability of such enterprises to those who would otherwise not want it in their backyards.

Keith Lodge

Ruthin, Denbighshire

When Islam and science clash

It may be difficult for some to believe that a debate on "Islam and Evolution" at Imperial College had to be called off due to protests (report, 15 December), but surrender by authorities in such cases is not new.

Several years ago, I set my MSc students a task which required the identification and correction of an error in a published paper. A group protested that their Muslim religion did not allow them to question the printed word. Asked to provide them with an alternative project, I refused on the ground that no student could become a scientist who did not expect to question the published evidence – that's what makes the difference.

Professor Tony Pointon

Portsmouth

Vandal's sentence is far too long

Have we lost all sense of proportion in the country over sentencing? Wlodzimierz Umaniec commits the crime of damaging a painting, a crime involving neither violence nor personal gain and is sentenced to a very heavy two-year imprisonment (report, 13 December). Surely a fine would have been an adequate deterrent and punishment?

Rothko's painting was valuable only because the very wealthy buy and sell art works like Monopoly pieces to make themselves even more wealthy. It has no more intrinsic public value than the countless other less known paintings in our galleries. One is led to the depressing conclusion that the judge was more concerned with protecting the millionaires than passing a fair and proportionate sentence.

Colin Lomas

London W7

Why we need real shops

Philip Hensher (14 December) says he can't see the point of HMV. But shopping for CDs online is an entirely different experience from real shopping. Online shopping is for people who broadly know in advance what they want. But within HMV I can quickly skim the whole of its jazz section, with its displayed card index of performers from Cannonball Adderley to Axel Zwingenberger, and some artist may recommend him or herself to me that I would not otherwise have thought of. That, Philip, is the point. Long may HMV survive.

Ian Craine

London N15

Decriminalising drugs won't work

Your leading article of 11 December is thoughtful; but decriminalisation is not the answer. Decriminalisation is what we in the United States had during alcohol prohibition (punishing the producers and suppliers but not the users). The only answer is full legalisation. Only fully legal products can be regulated, controlled and taxed by the government.

Kirk Muse

Mesa, Arizona

Debatable point

Matthew Norman suggests (12 December) that the Prime Minister may need an inducement to take part in future pre-election debates. Perhaps the threat to invite Ukip to fill his place would change his mind? The prospect of a barrage from Farage would hardly appeal to the Tories.

David Hindmarsh

Cambridge

Finucane truth

Without a full, independent, unconditional, transparent and comprehensive public enquiry into the assassination of Pat Finucane, we shall never know the whole truth behind this crime. Neither shall some of us be convinced that this was just an isolated incident.

John McLorinan

Weston super Mare, Somerset

Hugh's what?

On 15 December you reported Jon Stewart as saying of Hugh Grant: "He's a big pain in the a***." I suspect that, being American, what he actually said was: "He's a big pain in the a**".

Roger Calvert

Ulverston, Cumbria

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