FORMER Craven resident, Graham Jagger worked in local government and was a magistrate for 22 years. A few years ago, he decided to move to the US, here, he describes the country's very different attitude to gun ownership.


ONE noticeable thing that divides the UK from the US is guns and gun ownership. I would guess that most of you reading this article do not know anyone who owns a gun in the UK and those who do, know that they are used for “sporting purposes” such as clay pigeon shooting and nothing else. Unfortunately, it not the same here in the US. The statistics are staggering.

The population of the US is 332 million and it is estimated that there are 466 million firearms circulating in the country. Around 80 million people in 46 per cent of households own at least one gun with the average per person being five, up from four 20 years ago.

The highest gun ownership rates are in Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska where gun ownership is widely embraced and deeply ingrained in resident's lifestyle.

The US ranks first in the world in terms of both individual ownership and the number per capita but only 1.07 million are registered meaning the vast majority are owned by civilians and left unregistered and unaccounted for.

Sales soared during the pandemic. So far this year, over 400 “mass shootings” have taken place which are events where four or more people are killed or injured in a single incident. On average, 118 lives are lost per day due to gun violence. As you will realise, the situation is hugely different in the UK, thankfully. So, having heard the grim statistics, how does that play out daily for me here?

I do not have a gun, will never have a gun, will not have someone in my house that might have a gun on them other than if they have one as part of their job such as a Police Officer and most importantly, I do not engage in conversation here about them.

It is a very emotive topic with people here being both for and against equally strongly. Here in Georgia, the Governor recently amended the gun laws of the State to allow people to openly carry a gun in public without needing a permit to do so as you did previously.

While owners of guns are required to have a federal license to own one, it is obvious from the statistics that many are “unlicensed” and are out there somewhere. If you buy from a gun shop and there are many of them and they are huge, then you must go through a federal background check before you can purchase and get a license. However, many guns are sold person to person and at gun shows where you do not have to do any of those things.Hence the difference in registration and estimated numbers in circulation.

For instance, in 2020, 21,593,355 guns were registered as being sold. Unfortunately, a lot of guns are in the hands of the criminal element of society and are frequently associated with crimes committed. This is despite if you are convicted of a felony offence, that is one with a penalty of over a year in jail, then you cannot by law ever again own or have a gun in your possession or vote in any future election.

A day does not go by when there is not a report on the morning Atlanta local news of an incident involving a gun having taken place in the previous 24 hours.

This is replicated in every part of this country every day. Initially, it worried me considerably and not surprisingly having never experienced that type of violence ever in the UK in my whole life there.

Even as a magistrate for 22 years, I had hardly come across an incident where a gun had been involved. But to the average American, it is just a normal part of daily life and an unremarkable happening until it happens to you or your family.

Despite still being semi-shocked when I hear of yet another shooting overnight, I have reluctantly started to accept that it is what it is here, and it will never change. People often refer to their “Constitutional right” to own a gun and that is set out in the Second Amendment which allows “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

But that was written in 1789 when things were hugely different, and its purpose was for an entirely different reason than the interpretation it is given today. Back then, there was a need to have a gun for self-defence and it was also to prevent the US having a professional Army.

We are talking back in the days of the wild west and cowboys and Indians. I am sure you will have all watched the John Wayne and Clint Eastwood cowboy movies that seemed to glorify and justify the use of guns. Well, maybe back in those days but surely not now?

The theft of guns from homes and in particular cars is prevalent as is the shooting of kids by kids in the home. Frequently do you hear about a very young child having found a parent’s gun left unsecured and unintentionally having shot or killed a sibling in the home.

Much publicity is given to keeping your guns safe and away from others by using lock-boxes but far too often it would seem that people ignore this advice with serious consequences. The number taken from cars is staggering and that’s the way most criminals come by the guns they have. Irresponsible gun ownership is a major contributing factor to criminal activities involving guns.

So, from knowing absolutely nothing meaningful about guns before or after arriving here, I know a lot more now. I have also become numb to the impact that guns have on life in this country.

I’m not complacent, just accepting of the fact it’s a part of life and occasionally death here. The one thing to really avoid is road rage and challenging anyone over their driving skills or lack of them. The advice is, stay in your car and keep calm, that’s it.