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

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


A common refrain since the Uvalde school shooting is that the US is the only country where this is happening. Well, almost 30 years ago it happened in Scotland. A man killed 16 students and a teacher at Dunblane Primary School. Dunblane’s parents became vocal activists and shortly afterwards the UK passed strict gun control laws. There has been no school shooting in the UK since then. Mick North was one of those parents. His 5-year-old daughter Sophie was killed in the massacre and he helped set up the group now known as Gun Control Network. Mick North, thank you for joining us today.

MICK NORTH: It’s a pleasure.

SHAPIRO: What comes to your mind when you see the news of a school shooting in the US like the one in Uvalde, Texas?

NORTH: I think the immediate response is, oh no, not again. I am always shocked. But it doesn’t come as a surprise anymore, because it just happens too often. I thought that once people know what has happened in Britain and what changes have been made as a result of our children’s deaths there would be a rush not to enact the same kind of legislation per se, but to at least trying to fight for gun laws. But it just never happened.

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

NORTH: We just convinced people they were wrong. But in Prince Philip’s case, that was nonsense, as a cricket bat couldn’t have caused the kind of havoc we saw in the gym at Dunblane Primary School. The criticism from others that these people may choose a different means of inflicting damage doesn’t really recognize how very dangerous weapons are compared to other weapons. It’s too easy for someone to pick up something like a gun and wreak havoc in seconds and certainly minutes.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you had a fact-based debate that was based on evidence and a shared understanding of the truth, which all seems very difficult right now in the United States. I mean, do you think that’s possible?

NORTH: I think I’ve come to believe that in America it probably isn’t possible unless there are some dramatic changes. Those of us who have been in contact with gun control groups and other Americans have stats on paper for us to look at. And the comparisons between the US and Britain should be shocking reading for anyone in America. There have been four gun murders in Britain this year. That’s England, Scotland and Wales – four.

SHAPIRO: That’s not four mass shootings. That’s four murders.

NORTH: That’s four individual deaths. Even considering the difference in size of the country, that’s a terrible difference.

SHAPIRO: As you know, the right to bear arms is in the US Constitution. It’s not in the UK The US has a very powerful gun lobby and a ubiquitous gun culture, neither of which is true in the UK. So is this just an apples-to-oranges comparison, or are there lessons you think the US can learn from your experience?

NORTH: Well, to a certain extent I think it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. Yes, the whole gun culture is different in the US. But there are other countries in the world where there is a border mentality, let’s say – Canada, Australia – that have adopted stricter controls on weapons. So I think maybe America should compare itself not just to Britain alone, but to a whole host 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 to Sophie, one of the children murdered at Dunblane Primary School in 1996. Thank you for your conversation with us.

NORTH: Thank you.

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