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It's Pretty Hard to Buy a Gun in the UK

In a country where levels of gun violence are low, the killing of Jo Cox felt like a very un-British atrocity. We asked a firearms expert how on earth it could happen.

by Nick Chester
Jun 17 2016, 4:35pm

Police at the scene of the killing in Birstall. Nigel Roddis/PA Wire/Press Association Images

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

On Thursday, MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed outside the library in Birstall. A local man named Tommy Mair has been arrested. In a country where there are not high levels of gun violence, this felt like a very un-British atrocity.

There have been various conflicting accounts of the gun that was used in the killing, with some witnesses stating that it looked like a musket or antique, and others speculating that it may have been handmade. The motive is equally unclear. Some claim Mair shouted "Britain First" immediately before the shooting, and it now seems clear he was connected to another far-right group. His brother has said that Mair had "a history of mental illness." Right now, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how and why this tragic incident took place.

In order to find out how a mentally ill person could possibly obtain a gun in the UK, I got in touch with firearms expert David Dyson. Here's what he had to say.

VICE: How easy do you think it would be for someone with mental health issues to legally get hold of a gun in the UK?
David Dyson: Virtually impossible. There are very stringent checks when you apply for firearms certificates. They can enquire about mental health problems, and if anybody flags up any causes for concern then they aren't going to get a license.

How about illegally obtaining one?
I don't think you need me to tell you that criminals can get hold guns.

What about someone who was a "loner"? That's quite different to getting hold of a gun via a criminal network.
There are lots of different ways that people can get hold of guns. People can smuggle them into the country. In the past, trophies of war have also been used in crime—for instance, Second World War and First World War souvenirs.

And with homemade guns, are guns of that nature commonly used?
No. It depends what your intentions are, though. If you're a drug dealer trying to impose a bit of rule on your turf, then you want to look the part and have an appropriate weapon. If you're just intent on murdering somebody, then all you really need is something to enable you to carry out the act.

There were some reports that the gun used in the shooting of Jo Cox was a musket or antique weapon, though these are unconfirmed. How plausible would you say that was?
People who don't know anything about guns can describe them in ways that might not be accurate. There's nothing to stop antique guns from being used, though. They worked when they were made in 1700 or 1800, and killed people. You've only got to think about the Brown Bess musket. Thousands and thousands of people would have been killed with it. It was used in the Battle of Waterloo.

How common are lone-wolf shootings like this, perpetrated by people who aren't career criminals?
With shootings involving drug dealers who might be protecting their turf and things of that nature, although obviously criminal, they clearly have a bit of rationale behind them. Things like this, that are motivated by God knows what, they certainly aren't normal.

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