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Insights on Uvalde from an activist who worked to make the U.K. safer


A common refrain since the Uvalde school shooting is, the U.S. is the only country where this happens. Well, nearly 30 years ago, it happened in Scotland. A man killed 16 students and a teacher at Dunblane Primary School. Dunblane parents became vocal activists, and soon after, the U.K. passed strict gun control laws. There has not been a school shooting in the U.K. since. Mick North was one of those parents. His 5-year-old daughter Sophie was killed in the massacre, and he helped start the group now known as Gun Control Network. Mick North, thank you for joining us today.

MICK NORTH: It's a pleasure.

SHAPIRO: What goes through your mind when you see news of a school shooting in the U.S. like the one in Uvalde, Texas?

NORTH: I think the immediate reaction is, oh, no, not again. I'm always shocked. But it doesn't come as a surprise any longer because it just happens too often. I thought as soon as people know what happened in Britain and what changes were brought about as a result of our children dying that there'd be a rush not necessarily to enact the same kind of legislation but at least to try to fight for gun laws. But it's just never happened.

SHAPIRO: Your effort faced strong opposition, including from the royal family. I mean, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, told the BBC, if a cricketer decided to go into a school and batter 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 weapons 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 persuaded people that they were wrong. But in the case of Prince Philip, that was nonsense because a cricket bat could not have caused the kind of devastation that we saw in the gym in Dunblane Primary School. The criticism of others that these people might choose some other means of causing harm doesn't really acknowledge how very dangerous guns are compared with other weapons. It is too easy for somebody to pick up something like a gun and cause havoc within seconds and certainly within minutes.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like you had a fact-based debate that was grounded in evidence and a shared understanding of truth, all of which seems really difficult in the United States right now. I mean, do you think that is possible?

NORTH: I think I've come to believe that it probably isn't 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 been putting statistics down on paper for them to look at. And the comparisons between the U.S. and Britain now should make shocking reading to anyone in America. This year there have been four gun homicides in Great Britain. That's England, Scotland and Wales - four.

SHAPIRO: Those are not four mass shootings. Those are four homicides.

NORTH: That is four individual deaths. Even setting aside the difference in the size of the country, that is a horrendous difference.

SHAPIRO: As you know, the right to bear arms is written into the U.S. Constitution. It's not in the U.K. The U.S. has a very powerful firearms lobby and a pervasive gun culture, both of which are not true in the U.K. So is this just an apples-to-oranges comparison, or are there lessons you think the U.S. can learn from your experience?

NORTH: Well, I think to some extent, it is an apples-and-oranges comparison. Yes, the whole culture around guns is different in the U.S. But there are other countries in the world where there's a frontier mentality, shall we say - Canada, Australia - who have adopted tighter controls over guns. So I think America should perhaps be comparing itself not necessarily with Britain alone but with a whole range of countries who have unfortunately experienced mass shootings but only a small number of them.

SHAPIRO: Mick North is 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 talking with us.

NORTH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Taylor Hutchison