Durham Police boss Mike Barton, who was in the US when 58 people were killed in a mass shooting in Las Vegas, argues for changes to gun laws

ONE of the benefits of being long in the tooth and having worked for almost 38 years as a police officer is you get to know lots of people.

One of the most inspirational thinkers in policing that I have ever met is a chap called Herman Goldstein. He is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin.

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He first described how police forces might adopt a problem-solving approach to issues and coined the phrase Problem Oriented Policing in 1979.

I joined policing in 1980, but I was not aware of his work for the first 15 years of my service. However, since then it has been my guiding mantra, not only of how we improve the way we do our internal business, but also how we tackle anti-social behaviour, crime and criminals.

This month I was invited to Houston to speak at the International Problem Oriented Policing Conference and Herman was there.

I had been invited because news of the good work that Durham Constabulary has been doing has reached the USA.

This speaking engagement has been in my diary for 12 months and so for the last three months-or-so the conference itself has hung in the balance.

On August 25 Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. More than 50 inches of rain fell over five days and flood waters were recorded at more 15 feet.

Our conference hotel always remained above the waterline and so the event went ahead.

Driving from the airport to the hotel allowed us to witness at first hand the impact of the flood.

You could see entire blocks where treasured possessions were piled high by the side of the road for collection, ruined beyond use.

The Theatre District, which is the size of a city itself, was hardest hit by the flood waters and many of the theatres still had gargantuan pumps and fans drying them out.

The rest of the city seemed to be carrying on as normal.

The Texans talked of their self-reliance and the need to get on with life without Federal assistance.

They were proud of the way that the city had pulled together and neighbours had helped neighbours, but they differentiated that assistance from any money that had arrived from Washington DC.

While we were there, we learned of the dreadful shooting in Las Vegas on the local Houston news channel.

The emotional part of my brain could not escape the shock and horror of the unfolding events. However, the analytical part of my brain kicked in. I watched and considered how Americans were treating the tragedy differently to the way commentators and the media in the UK would cover the story.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, at how quickly people agreed that a tightening of the gun laws would not happen.

The National Rifle Association and its spokespeople were campaigning for this not to be a defining moment and that it is people who are dangerous rather than guns.

I saw the line in a column by Dr Kevin Yuill in The Northern Echo on Friday, October 13, headlined ‘Don’t blame the guns’ where he says the real problem is not guns, but murderous impulses.

Of 166 mass shootings in the developed world over the last ten years, 133 have been in the USA.

What is critical is removing guns from those who might have murderous impulses.

The strangling of the supply of guns may not prevent all crimes and it will certainly take a very long time to reduce the number of 320 million guns that are currently in circulation.

However, delaying the time between someone wanting to buy a gun and them being able to acquire one will filter out those who have developed a murderous impulse and now want to acquire the means to put it into effect.

Rules about the total number of weapons would prevent those with murderous impulses acquiring the means to murder and maim hundreds of victims.

There can be no place for assault rifles or automatic weapons. They are military weapons for the military arena designed to kill.

I see it in all walks of life whether the debate is about firearms, internet, or drugs safety, everyone wants a simplistic answer. They rarely, if ever, exist.

A tweak or minor change to firearms legislation in the US will send a signal that the tide has turned and there will no longer be a further proliferation of firearms circulating in families where children often acquire the means to kill themselves and others.

The ‘nudge unit’ or behavioural insights team was created in the UK based on the work of Thaler and Sunstein.

The science of behavioural economics allows the state to have a material impact with a tweak or minor amendment to practice.

It is these insights into behavioural economics which should inform the gun debate in the US.

Richard Thaler recently won the Nobel Prize for economics based on his work.

I would urge those with a clarion call for no change to consider small change.