After a 19-year-old German shot and killed 16 people at his former school in April, European governments are moving to restrict the right of youth to own firearms. In May, the German government agreed to raise the minimum age of gun ownership from 18 to 21 after learning that the shooter had obtained his weapon legally.
Days later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered a crackdown on air-cartridge pistols, which can be converted to fire bullets and have been used in a number of killings. Officials in France and Switzerland – other sites of school shootings – have called for similar restrictions.
Those moves stand in stark contrast to the United States, where shootings by youths have prompted lawmakers to try more juveniles as adults and put more cops in schools, while proposals to restrict gun sales struggle to pass. After the discovery that the two teens who carried out the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 got their weapons through a gun show, Colorado and Oregon passed referenda requiring gun show dealers to run background checks on customers. But a similar federal bill, the Gun Show Background Check Act (S. 767), has been stalled in Congress since it was introduced in April 2001.
Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, said there was a clear explanation for Congress’ inaction. “There is one fundamental reason why the U.S. policy-makers have not taken legislative action, and that is the iron grip the gun lobby has on the legislative bodies,” Schiraldi said. “It’s a very clear demarcation of why we have so many body bags in America.”
Pro-gun groups in the U.S. point to the failure of European gun laws to prevent violent gun crimes as evidence that more laws are not the answer. One example is the Netherlands, which has some of Europe’s most restrictive gun laws but where a 17-year-old wounded four students and a teacher at a vocational school in December 1999.