Banning gun ownership would not make America safe
It would see growth in the criminal market comparable to that which took place during the Prohibition era
In condemning the murder of 11 Jewish worshippers in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, US President Donald Trump has stirred further anger. He says that if the synagogue had been watched by an armed guard, the gunman would have had much less chance.
In his view, this is a more practical answer than banning private gun ownership.
As so often with President Trump, the remark struck the wrong note and contained an element of truth. The almost universal reaction in Europe and Britain is that private gun ownership should be banned, or at least very severely restricted. But you only have to think about the reality of American life to see why this is all but impossible.
There are nearly 400 million guns legally held in private hands in the US – 120 guns per 100 people, whereas the British figure is roughly four guns per 100. If a federal order to ban them went out, it would be unenforceable.
Broadly speaking, the most respectable people would hand them in and the worst types would keep them. The growth in the criminal market would be comparable to that which happened in the Prohibition era in relation to alcohol.
How would that make America safer?
Besides, Trump was raising an issue which must feel germane to Jews in many countries just now. There are few places in the world where Jews feel absolutely secure from attack, either from hard-right anti-Semites or, more commonly, from Islamist fanatics.
What is their best way to defend themselves?
In Britain, an organisation called the Community Security Trust protects Jewish buildings and gatherings. They are, of course, unarmed. It might be good to try to keep it that way, but it is sadly not unthinkable that change might be necessary.
In Israel, a nation trained to fight for survival, I am told it is common for soldiers and police officers to attend services in synagogues and lean their weapons against chairs while participating. That must be a strong deterrent for opportunist anti-Semitic fanatics.
The core idea behind the “right to bear arms”, which many Americans cherish, is that the defence of a people is not a matter solely for the state, but for everyone. In their minds, it is an essential aspect of a free society. This is not a contemptible view, and unfortunately it seems to become more relevant by the day.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited