Four days after the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, sparked a fresh debate about gun control in the United States, a fatal attack on a politician in Britain is now bringing attention to that country's gun control policies.

Jo Cox, a member of the British Parliament for the center-left Labour Party, was shot and stabbed while meeting with constituents near the northern city of Leeds on Thursday.

According to police, the 41-year-old has since died of her injuries.

Any physical attack on a British politician would be extremely unusual, but that the attack on Cox involved a firearm will likely cause even more surprise within Britain. The United Kingdom has strict gun laws that make getting a firearm remarkably difficult. Gun crime is relatively low in the country as a result.


The British government pursued legislative bans on assault rifles and handguns and dramatically tightened background checks for other types of firearms after a horrific mass shooting at a school that left 15 children and their teacher dead in 1997. As The Washington Post reported in 2013, in the the 15 years since that shooting a total of 200,000 guns and 700 tons of ammunition were taken off the streets. Military-style weapons and most handguns were banned, including Olympics-style starting pistols.

According to the most recent statistics, there were 1,338,399 shotguns licensed in England and Wales last year, with more than 500,000 firearms of other types also licensed. There were around 582,494 licensed shotgun owners and 153,603 licensed for other firearms, almost all of whom lived in rural areas and who used their guns for sport or to protect their farmland.

That means that last year there were around 1,863,524 legally held guns in England and Wales, two nations which have a total population of over 58 million. To put it another way, this means that around 3,200 shotguns and other firearms for every 100,000 people in Britain. Meanwhile, some estimates suggest that there are thought to be around 357 million guns in the United States for 317 million people.

But legally owned guns are just one aspect of gun ownership, of course. France has strict gun laws that are comparable to Britain, but authorities have estimated that there may be around 30,000 illegally obtained in the country. Of these, around 4,000 were thought to be "war weapons," including Uzis and the Kalashnikov AK-variant rifles. These are the sorts of weapons that were used in a series of terror attacks in Paris last year that left huge numbers of innocent people dead.

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Britain has not yet suffered a shooting attack on the similar scale to that seen in France last year. Perhaps part of this may come down to geography, rather than policy. As an island country that is not part of the Europe's border control-less Schengen Area, importing a bulky AK-47 into the country without arising official suspicion is a difficult task. In France, driving halfway across the continent with such a gun in the trunk of your car is a real possibility.

Without the widespread availability of such guns, anyone seeking a firearm for criminal purposes in Britain is often forced to get creative. In 2014, the Birmingham Mail reported that criminals in the city had been forced to use "plundered war trophies and collectible weapons, sometimes more than 100 years old." In fact, during the 2011 riots in the city, experts later discovered a late 19th-century St. Etienne revolver had been fired. In other instances, flare guns and replica weapons had been retrofitted in an attempt to make them more deadly.

More sophisticated guns were often in drastically short supply, often leading to elaborate arrangements with gun dealers. The Economist has reported that two rival gangs in the city had used the same gun to shoot each other's members and affiliates. They had both rented the gun from a third party at separate times.

Despite all this, gun violence is far from eradicated in Britain. Last year, officials recorded a rise in both homicides and gun-related crime in country. Numbers compiled by, a global project of the Sydney School of Public Health, found that 146 people died across Britain in 2012, the most recent year for which the group has numbers. There have also been a small number of mass shootings since stricter gun control legislation was put in place: In 2010, a man shot 12 people and injured 11 more before killing himself in a shooting rampage in Cumbria, England.

The shooter in that instance, Derrick Bird, had been using a double-barrelled shotgun and a .22-calibre rifle. He had been a licensed firearms holder. Right now, it remains unclear if the man who shot Cox was the same. According to witnesses, the gun he was using appeared to be either antique or modified. "It looked like a gun from, I don't know, the First World War or a makeshift, handmade gun," eyewitness Hichem Ben Abdallah told Sky News.

"It's not sort of like the kind of gun you see normally."