Terror attacks in California, London spark fierce gun law debate

POLL: Do the UK’s strict gun laws make a severe terror attack less likely?

Ben Flanagan

Published: Updated:

Heated debate over gun law is inevitable after the all-too-frequent mass shootings that have plagued the U.S., a country that now has more firearms than people.

And last week’s mass shooting in California – in which 14 people were killed in an apparent terror attack – was no different.

The suspects – Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, both of whom were killed in a fierce shootout with police – apparently used legally purchased rifles, and amassed thousands of rounds of ammunition, before the rampage.

The attack, deemed “an act of terrorism” by U.S. President Barack Obama, prompted a New York Times front-page editorial – the newspaper’s first since 1920 – entitled ‘End the Gun Epidemic in America’.

But another “terror” attack in London, just days later, further intensified the fierce debate over gun laws.

In that attack, a knife attacker slashed a man at a London Underground station, reportedly screaming “This is for Syria!”. The main victim of the attack reportedly suffered serious, but not life-threatening injuries.

Many people turned to Twitter to highlight how the London attack could have been much different, and much worse, if the UK had the same gun laws as the United States.

“Lucky for London attacker had to use knife. In US he'd have easily bought an assault rifle,” wrote Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Awful knife attack at London tube station,” tweeted Nicky Cox, editor of First News, the UK’s national newspaper for kids. “Thank goodness we're spared American gun culture or it could have been even worse.”

Television host Piers Morgan, who drew uproar (as well as some support) over his stance on gun law when working in the U.S., tweeted: “There will be gun attacks on UK. But at least we make it very hard for bad guys to get them.”

Terror experts agreed that the London attack could have been much worse if the UK had U.S.-style gun laws.

Matthew Henman, a senior analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre, told Al Arabiya News that the UK is “very vulnerable” to such apparent lone-wolf attacks.

“Such individuals are extremely difficult to identify and track prior to them acting. While there are certain indicators, such as accessing extremist material online, this is not necessary for individuals to become radicalized and decide to launch such attacks,” he said.

But he added that the relatively strict gun regulation in the UK meant that the impact of such incidents could be less severe.

“If firearms were as readily accessible in the UK then the potential death toll in such attacks would be far higher,” he said.

But in this ever emotive debate, many turned to social media to defend the existing stance on guns in the United States. “Do you think TERRORISTS won’t find ways to get guns? All [you’re] doing is disarming civilians,” wrote one.

What do you think? Have your say in the Al Arabiya News poll.