February 1997


Outcry because the Duke of Edinburgh suggested that guns should not be banned on account of their lethal potential. Using cricket bats as an example of something else that could be used to kill people, I think he was making a valid point. It is true that you can kill people faster with guns, but the fact is that there are quite a lot of ways of killing people, even of killing a number of people quite fast, and you can't prevent people from having access to any of these potential murder weapons without keeping them (I mean the people) locked up. But in modern society any suggestion that a mishap should not be responded to by prohibitive measures is greeted as callous disregard for the feelings of the victims' families. Actually the laws making firearms less accessible will probably make them little less available to those most likely to use them for wilful destruction; there will soon be a flourishing black market. Only the law-abiding citizens who might have used them in extremity to defend themselves will be deprived of them. Parents might consider whether they are not exposing their children to an unacceptable level of risk by sending them to school, rather than demanding that going to school should be made risk-free by the incarceration in advance of all possible child murderers and the banning of all weapons that frenzied persons might use if they felt like breaking into a school. It is quite true that going to school involves the risk of walking through streets in which child murderers might lurk and that of being in school buildings which people may enter with guns from which bullets spray, not to mention the risk of being stabbed by a fellow-pupil who has a right to be forced to attend school however badly he behaves. Shouldn't councils provide all schoolchildren with armour or at least bullet-proof vests at the ratepayers' expense? Is it not right and proper that those who own houses should pay for essential protection for everyone else's children as well as their own? Indeed, one might well consider whether children are not too young to be exposed to the risky business of going to school; children under sixteen are now considered too young to travel unaccompanied by coach, at least so far as the National Express coach company is concerned. There was a mishap in which a boy of eight, travelling alone, was dropped off at the wrong stop. Oh dear! A thing like that can not be allowed to happen. We can't have parents deciding for themselves whether their children are sensible and bright enough to go on coach journeys on their own. So Mandy Johnson, aged fourteen, of Cornwall, was not allowed to travel alone to Bournemouth to see her grandfather at Christmas. She had made this journey by bus eighteen times since she was 11. A spokesman for National Express defended their position by pointing out that children could get into danger within seconds of leaving a bus. This is undeniably true. You can get into danger within seconds of walking out of your front door. But, of course, National Express has its social reputation to consider as a caring, compassionate bus company. You can imagine the public opprobrium there might be if a second eight year old got off at the wrong stop. Especially if he was grabbed by a child murderer or sprayed with bullets by a madman.