The U.K. knows it’s not too soon to talk about acid attacks

Unlike their U.S. counterparts, who are bound by donations from the gun lobby, British politicians are free to push life-saving legislation.

A model who was the victim of an acid attack wears creations from fashion designers Raischma and Lucy Choi London in London. (CREDIT:  Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP Photo)
A model who was the victim of an acid attack wears creations from fashion designers Raischma and Lucy Choi London in London. (CREDIT: Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP Photo)

In the United Kingdom, where gun ownership is tightly controlled and limited to shotguns and rifles with strict licensing, communities around the country are dealing with knife and acid attacks. But unlike the United States, where the White House and lawmakers keep saying that now is not the time to talk about guns (even after 59 people were killed and roughly 527 were injured in a horrific mass shooting on Sunday night), the Brits are talking about the weapons people use to hurt each other.

Lawmakers there are taking steps to limit the sale of acid there to those under the age of 18, Reuters reported on Tuesday. They’ve had over 400 attacks in a six-month period, and are looking to limit the sale of corrosive substances — especially sulfuric acid, which has multiple industrial uses and can currently be purchased online — to minors. They also want to criminalize the possession of a large quantity of these acids (which can also be used to make explosives) “without good reason.”


The U.K. has certainly had its share of missteps — lawmakers in 2015 loosened rules on the sale of acids, which lead to an increase in the attacks, the Independent newspaper reported in July:

They are now urgently looking at tightening the laws around acids to make it more difficult to sell, buy and carry the substances.
“We are working with the police to see what more we could do”, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said last week. A Home Office spokesperson also confirmed the department is “working on it”.
In the wake of the attacks, politicians including London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on the Government to tighten regulations and re-introduce a system similar in nature to the one that was in place before the 2015 reforms.

Whether the new acid-control measures will serve to decrease the number of attacks — which are horrific, by all accounts —  remains to be seen. In 2008, they implemented similar measures against the sale of knives, with mixed results. The crackdown on the sale of knives to minors initially resulted in lower rates of knife-related attacks and deaths in the U.K., but those numbers have gone up again in recent years (as has all crime). They’re trying to figure out why this might be — maybe in part because a quarter of shops are selling knives illegally, or perhaps because funds to programs targeting at-risk teens are being cut.


The steps the U.K. is taking — noticing a crime pattern, and trying to address it — stands in stark contrast to the United States, where guns remain a large part of American culture. Perhaps it’s because unlike in the United States, where gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association spend millions in lobbying and contributions to lawmakers, lawmakers in the U.K. don’t have their pockets lined by powerful sulfuric acid and kitchen knife lobbies.

So even as it struggles with its knife regulations (which sound so quaint compared to the weapons available in the United States) and trying to gauge their efficacy, U.K. doesn’t give up — the media, lawmakers and community activists alike keep talking about it. This has also been the case with the acid attacks.

Australia is probably the most high-profile example of a country that tackled its gun violence head-on when a 1996 mass shooting there ended with 35 deaths. Less than two weeks later, they were looking at new gun laws, which resulted in about 650,000 guns being seized. There have been precisely zero mass shootings in the country since.