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Is gun control about to be rolled back in Britain?

At my education blog late last night, I found myself putting, in connection with this (which is a story about how two French science students were brutally murdered in London yesterday), this:

It’s somewhat off topic for this blog, but I say: allow non-crims be be armed!

It may yet happen. London, full of disarmed non-crims and armed crims, is rapidly becoming like New York used to be but is now so conspicuously not, a “crime capital”. Any decade now, something might just give. Or, to use the language of this blog, the lesson might be learned.

Something about the extreme savagery of that double murder yesterday made me think that now was the exact time to be saying such a thing, not just to those few of my devoted libertarian friends so devoted that they read that education blog of mine, but also to any eco-friendly home-schoolers or weary school teachers who happen to drop by there. Suddenly, the anti-gun-control message felt very right, like an idea whose time, finally, might have come. Having blogged my fill about that and other things, I read some bloggage by others, which happened to include a piece by Bishop Hill, which I really recommend you to read all of. The Bishop offers an interesting speculation about the origins of all the authoritarianism and surveillance that now afflicts our country.

He starts by noting the dramatic superiority of the USA now compared to Britain now, when it comes to public safety and sense of public menace. In the USA there is now lots of the former. Britain is rife with the latter. In the USA, they can now defend themselves. But here in Britain, we have surrendered the means of doing that, so we must depend upon the state to defend us, and must permit it to be ever more overbearing and intrusive and ever less impeded by safeguards that date from a time when people trusted themselves more than they trusted their rulers. It’s not that Britain is now ruled by pure totalitarians, or by any obvious totalitarian urge, merely that totalitarianism seems to be our only hope to protect us against chaos. It isn’t that we really do trust our rulers, merely that we feel we have no choice. But it isn’t working, not least because woolly liberals have refused to allow the necessary prison sentences to be handed down, even to those miscreants who are still caught.

Looked at this way the root cause of the wave of authoritarian legislation which threatens to swamp us is not authoritarianism so much as “woolly liberalism”. We won’t punish criminals adequately, so we get more criminals. We won’t allow the law-abiding to uphold the law, so our streets get swamped with CCTV. Witnesses can’t defend themselves, so we have to allow anonymous evidence in court. Women can’t defend themselves from rapists, so they shouldn’t go out alone. The opinionated can’t defend themselves from retribution, so better to legislate them into silence.

We find ourselves between the horns of a dilemma. The idea of rearming the populace is greeted by most “right-thinking” members of the middle classes as evidence of a kind of madness, an idea to get you cast out from polite society. “We don’t want to end up like America”, they will say, as they check the locks on their doors and windows, and test the burglar alarm one more time.

But the alternative is to continue our increasingly precipitous slide down the slippery slope that ends up with the UK resembling North Korea.

America or North Korea. You decide.

And, as I say, he already has decided. As did I, many years ago.

In the USA there has already been a sea-change, in favour of the right of the individual US citizen to bear an arm (forgive my imperfect grasp of the language of liberation here). The Supreme Court has decreed against only criminals having guns. And it is not now just the unwild West that is more peaceful and secure than Britain. New Jersey and New York are now far more comfortable to walk about in than they used to be.

But if Bishop Hill is right, then there is another sea-change happening in Britain which is relevant to all this. Oh, we are not yet willing to accept guns in our own hands, rather than just in those of criminals. But we do now seem to be turning against the surveillance state. It is yielding nothing in the way of safety against the criminals; it is merely becoming something else to fear. We sense that we are trading our birthright – “Magna Carta, did she die in vain?” as the old but now newly relevant Tony Hancock joke goes – in exchange for … nothing. Those woolly liberals may be reluctant to send robbers and murderers to prison, certainly not for long enough for them to be old and defeated when they get out again. But at least some of the woolly liberals remain uneasy about our Ancient Liberties. And now the general public is starting seriously to share such worries. All those lost data discs are working the very magic we here hoped they would. The Database State is starting to seem seriously scary, not just for the power it is amassing, but because of its inability to control this power, let alone use it for our benefit. It does not protect us. It is but one more huge thing to fear. It hoovers up everything it knows or thinks it knows about everyone and everything, and then leaves it all on trains and in taxis. Who knows where else it is leaking? The Database State has become like one of those medieval bad kings, tyrannical and ineffectual in equal measure, like Edward II or Richard II, or like King John, the original object of Magna Carta herself.

When, in politics, the question changes, the answers can be startling, to those who didn’t see what just happened. If the Database State will not – and, actually, must not – protect us, who, or what, will? If that now becomes the new question, then rolling back gun control might just become one of the new and newly respectable answers. At the root of the idea of the rule of law is that we do not trust Them, and prefer instead to trust ourselves, fallible though we may also be. When it comes to the use of violence to resist and deter violence, that notion may just be making a British comeback.

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30 comments to Is gun control about to be rolled back in Britain?

  • The day that gun control in Britain is relaxed Is the day I go out and buy a gun, join a gun club, and enrol in some intense training in the handling of the aforementioned gun.

    It can’t come soon enough IMO.

  • Dale Amon

    Mandrill… the way you put that is precisely the way a responsible free citizen should look upon firearms and is the sort of thing that gives gun ownership a good name.

    It is a Right… but it is also a Responsibility.

  • Lascaille

    Rolling back gun control won’t do anything without drastically altering the laws regarding self defence and the ‘reasonable force’ clause – anyone in the UK who wants to can apply for a shotgun licence which is issued pretty much on a ‘shall issue’ basis and then buy a shotgun.

    What happens if you use that shotgun to defend yourself in your home pretty much explains why so few people do – even in rural areas.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Interesting point, Brian. The more this goes on, the harder it is for all but the most blinkered to avoid the idea that British crime is now totally out of control. In that context, the implicit contract between the state and citizens – we give up some powers in self defence in return for the State protecting us – breaks down. That contract is now dead.

    A few years ago, I was in Nevada, in a small town where the right to carry guns is allowed. It is one of the most peaceful and safe, places I have been in. You could not fail to see the irony of the situation.

    We need to keep pushing the message that self defence against attack is a right. The right to life is meaningless without it.

  • Lascaille

    Also: What _exactly_ were they researching? Really. In detail.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Thanks for the link to the Bishop Hill piece, a fine bit of rhetoric and thought-provoking.

    Years ago, Kipling wrote, “He shall change our gold for arms—arms we may not bear.” I’ve thought of that in connection with the United States, where our right to bear arms is already far too restricted—I personally would say that every citizen should have the right to own an antitank weapon—but of course it’s far more grimly true in the UK. I dread where my country might be going, with a Republican Party that no longer defends the Constitution but is eager to tear it up whenever it’s inconvenient, but when I see the news from Canada and the UK, I’m sure I don’t want to go to either of those English-speaking countries.

  • Brian

    Thanks for the link. The question you ask here about whether gun control is about to be reversed in this country is an interesting one, which I didn’t address in my posting. I think it is possible to construct a case that we are nearing the high water mark. I was struck by this recent thread on Centre Right where several commenters were arguing for relaxation of the gun control laws. I’ve seen more of this kind of thing around the blogs in recent weeks.

    I think there is a bit of an opportunity here. The dilemma I talked about – of more police state or more guns – is one that is not grasped by the general public. The civil liberties campaigners have nothing to counter the argument that CCTV is necessary to prevent crime. What is to go in its place? As we know, most of the public want more CCTV. You and I and readers here understand the liberal alternative, but there is a job of work to do to spread the idea that you can have security and civil liberties at the same time. You just have to do your bit to make the streets safe and not pin your hopes on the state doing it for you.

  • Brian

    Thanks for the link. The question you ask here about whether gun control is about to be reversed in this country is an interesting one, which I didn’t address in my posting. I think it is possible to construct a case that we are nearing the high water mark. I was struck by this recent thread on Centre Right where several commenters were arguing for relaxation of the gun control laws. I’ve seen more of this kind of thing around the blogs in recent weeks.

    I think there is a bit of an opportunity here. The dilemma I talked about – of more police state or more guns – is one that is not grasped by the general public. The civil liberties campaigners have nothing to counter the argument that CCTV is necessary to prevent crime. What is to go in its place? As we know, most of the public want more CCTV. You and I and readers here understand the liberal alternative, but there is a job of work to do to spread the idea that you can have security and civil liberties at the same time. You just have to do your bit to make the streets safe and not pin your hopes on the state doing it for you.

  • Spectre765

    “…right to carry guns is allowed.”

    I assume you mean respected. Rights are owned by every human being. The government can neither give them nor take them away. They can, however, choose to respect or violate them.

  • Of course it fucking isn’t, Brian.

    This very morning I’m down the corner shop and the Mirror has plastered it’s front page with something about knives. The fact that my house and shed is full of pointy, stabby things which I have in 34 years never used on a living creature just doesn’t compute for these fuckers. They’re trying to take away my right to a kitchen knife or a lawn tool and you think they’ll let me have a gun?

  • Sam Duncan

    Spot on, Nick. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. But I think – for the reasons Brian stated – the tide will eventually turn.

    The trouble is that up till now we haven’t had a sensible debate in this country about gun “control”: it’s been accepted by the majority as an obvious good, with the few dissenters simply ignored or dismissed. Brian’s right in saying that this seems to be changing, largely because the policy’s utter failure to achieve what it was supposed to can no longer be ignored. It’s changing painfully slowly, though.

    This Reason piece has some useful ammuntion (excuse the pun) to use against control freaks. It doesn’t work, folks.

  • Personally, I think the Welfare State has a lot more to do with the high crime rate than gun control (although of course I would like guns and self-defence to be re-legalised).

    See Abolish the Welfare State and restore some Respect, Brian Micklethwait, Samizdata, 17 January 2006.

  • Paul Marks

    I hope you are right Brian.

  • I’m afraid you’re missing the bigger picture. The socialist state absolutely will not give up the right to the monopoly of legal violence – socialism is predicated on this as a fundamental premise. We’re in living through the process of the country being dismantled and integrated into a European superstate and certainly the last thing that is going to be allowed is recognition of rights due to British traditions. That would be exactly antithetical to the agenda of the political classes.

    Sure, a proportion of the population is beginning to wake up to the issues. But I see no evidence of this having any effect on the political process. Do you?

  • Politicians fear that if they do re-legalise then within the next year there will be a Dunblane or Hungerford-style spree killing using guns and they will be blamed.

    For this reason I see restoration of the position as it stood before the 1997 Firearms Act, let alone the restoration of the right to armed self defence which was effectively abolished well before that, as politically impossible. The only way I see this changing is if there is a gun massacre under the present system, which would act to discredit it. (It may or may not head off malicious mis-readings of what I have just written to state that this does not mean that I desire such a massacre.)

    A change of attitude concerning self defence against normal criminality almost certainly is occuring amid the public. But even if we imagine that this change becomes the new majority view, for it to translate into a change in the law a large number of MPs would have to (a) come to agree with the public (might happen, but remember MPs are more insulated from crime and have a preference for docile subjects) and (b) overcome their rational fear of bad consequences to them if their name is on any proposed law.

    While I’m here, I agree with Patrick Crozier that welfare is a bigger factor in the rise in crime over the last half century than the lack of the right to self-defence, though both are factors.

  • the other rob

    I’m afraid that Nick is correct. Consider this quote, from The Telegraph:

    A senior detective described it as “another senseless incident in which a young life has been taken away by a knife”.

    There you are then. We’re suffering from a plague of sentient knives, jumping out of cutlery drawers and flying around the streets like something from an Iain M Banks novel, looking for somebody to stick themselves into. Nothing to do with mudering little shits who ought to be locked up for a long time in a small room with a big man called Bubba. Oh no.

  • Jim

    No.

    Not just “maybe not”, not just “Hmm, we’ll think about it…” in disapproving tone of voice. No – just plain no.

    Gun control has been a darling of the Left ever since there were guns. There are hordes of Lefties in London this morning dreamily muttering over their lattes, “Well, at least it wasn’t a gun, thank HEAVEN we’ve FINALLY got rid of those horrid guns… – now all we have to do is outlaw knives, and baseball bats, and martial arts, and rope, and bridges… – and then there’ll be no more violence and EVERYTHING will be SO peacefulllllll…”

    They’re not interested in the truth. They’re not interested in obvious indications of the truth. They know the truth already – “Just OUTLAW it, and it will go away!” – don’t confuse them with reality. They know EXACTLY how the world MUST be once they’ve taken over, and their answer to EVERYTHING they dislike in their brutish beetle-browed fellows (i.e., anybody but them) is always the same – “Pass a law against it, for their OWN GOOD!”

    – And the government has brought-in the gun ban; to repeal it would be admitting to having made a Mistake – and Governments Do Not Make Mistakes. Just ask them.

    – Indeed, had this murder been perpetrated with a gun, there’d be outraged cries this morning demanding something TOUGHER than an outright ban be passed immediately!

  • I realise that the phrase “about to be” is ambiguous. Of course gun control is not about to be rolled back by this government, next Monday afternoon. I agree with all commenters who have pointed this out. But what I had/have in mind was more like “within the next ten years”, and by “rolled back” I mean more like, first, start to be seriously talked about being rolled back, and then, very carefully to start with, unpicked. I think that is possible.

    If one of the symptoms of advancing years is that a decade seems like the mere blink of an eye, then I am indeed getting old.

    I have seen changes like this in my lifetime. I can recall when it was an axiom that no government could possibly survive a high unemployment rate, but that was immediately followed by a government that did just that, comfortably, twice (it may even have been three times). Big things can change. To repeat my final point, once people decide that the question has changed, the change in the answers can be astonishing. But I agree, not instantaneously.

  • Maybe you’ve been eating too much tofu Brian. If you think public opinion matters squat about anything in an `advanced liberal democracy’ you obviously weren’t paying attention during the Lisbon Treaty debacle – or for that matter when the death penalty was abolished, decades ago.

    In any case, public opinion shouldn’t matter when it comes to human rights and I’m amazed I have to remind you of that fact.

    Until the whole sorry mess collapses in disorder from its own internal contradictions you aren’t getting any of your rights back. That is plainly obvious.

  • virgil xenophon

    The kind of society that produces an excess of the sort of “murdering little shits” that Rob so rightly inveighs against will never be made safe by CCTV on every corner and an army of flying squads to quell disturbances. Indeed the more that police are seen to be in evidence, the more that one can be sure that it is dangerous indeed. A truly safe society has little need of a surfit of police–the safer it is, the less they are in evidence. As a student in New Orleans in the early sixties one rarely saw a police car–now one comes round the corner every thirty seconds or so and crime is rampant.

    What we are really talking about here is a breakdown of the social fabric as a result of many causes–most of which have either been instigated or championed by the left–be it in the field of education, religion, welfare, health, job creation, etc. The right to bear arms and defend one’s self is necessary, but hardly sufficient, for a safe and free society. A sea-change in the over-all cultural mindset being required for permanent change–else all inevitably ends up like “Blade Runner.”

  • John K

    The historical fact is that gun control in Britain was introduced in 1920 because of a fear of socialism, specifically armed red revoltion. The aim was to disarm the working class. Sadly they had to be rearmed during the little local difficulty of 1939-45, but apart from that blip, basic policy has remained unchanged ever since.

    Where things have developed is that, whereas in 1920 the government wished to disarm the workers, now they wish to disarm everyone. No firearm certificates were issued for self-defence after 1968, by secret Home Office fiat, and those very few people who did own a handgun for self-defence would have lost it with all the others in 1997. The restriction of gun ownership to sporting use meant that bans were easy to impose. There is no good way to defend a mere sport or pastime if it is seen as endangering the public safety, whereas self-defence is in my opinion the most important reason guns should be owned. If even a small percentage of the population had owned handguns for self-defence in 1997, they would not have been banned. This must be true, because about 10,000 people in Northern Ireland do have self-defence weapons, and the province was the one part of the UK exempt from the 1997 handgun ban.

    I had hoped that the 2012 Olympics would have been a way to get some sort of target pistol shooting restored in the UK, but predicatbly this will not be the case. As it stands therefore, I can see no way in which target pistol shooting will be restored, and legal armed self-defence has been a forbidden concept for so long in Britain that I don’t think most people can even get their heads round the idea. That Orwell chap was certainly on to something in 1984 wasn’t he?

  • ResidentAlien

    Back in the early 90s, my friends and I were certain that the drug laws were going to be relaxed. Nobody we knew seriously thought that smoking a joint should be punished with a possible prison sentence. We were wrong to believe that common sense would change laws.

  • FreeStater

    I feel for you.

    Gun control is the tyranny which must be resisted, because it is the last tyranny which canbe resisted.

    It is interesting, if true, that it was not lefties but anti-communists which started the process of helpless victim creation in your country. It is similar to the “cold war” here, where the powers that be knew what they were fighting against, but not what they were fighting for.

    They had no idea that communism and socialism were doomed to fail under the weight of their own stupidity, and felt the need to “fight” them by becoming like them.

    It just goes to show …

    It’s not Left vs. Right,
    It’s the State vs You.

    If you’re willing to jump the pond, I’m sure many of you would enjoy New Hampshire!

    I should warn you, however, that the first couple times you go wandering through Wal-Mart with a .357 Magnum worn openly on your hip, it feels very strange.

    See: http://freestateproject.org/(Link)

  • Conrad

    Those woolly liberals may be reluctant to send robbers and murderers to prison, certainly not for long enough for them to be old and defeated when they get out again.

    keeping in mind that most of these prisons are merely resorts for the criminal.

  • nick g.

    Australia tends to follow trends from our northern neighbours, but we actually have one advantage- whilst boomerangs are made of wood, they can be sharpened to cut flesh. Then we can defend ourselves with ‘that’s not a knife- it’s a boomerang! As someone who supports indigenous culture, of course I always carry it around!’
    The Australian Government would have an impossible time if they tried to regulate boomerangs! Maybe you can use them also, and say you were going somewhere to practice boomerang-throwing, if questioned by the cops.

  • John K

    It is interesting, if true, that it was not lefties but anti-communists which started the process of helpless victim creation in your country.

    It is indeed true. The cabinet papers for 1920 have been public for years, and the discussion about gun control is all in the context of fears of civil disorder. At the time millions of demobilsed soldiers, trained in the use of arms, had returned home to unemployment, the police in Liverpool had gone on strike, and there was a general strike in Glasgow which led to tanks being put on the streets. The establishment really was very frightened of the spectre of revolution, and disarming the workers was a priority. Of course, in parliament they lied, and said it was about getting revolvers out of the hands of burglars. Pure bullshit, proved by their own documents.

  • Andy

    Seems to me that if the Govt and the police dont get a grip on the crime situation soon then the otherwise law abiding populace are going to arm themselves as a matter of routine regardless of what the law says,to begin with this may be with weapons such as swordsticks,asps ,CS sprays,knuckedusters etc but given the number of firearms in the UK it wont be long before pistols are carried.

  • Brendan

    Sorry,Brits. You will NEVER get your gun rights
    back in Britain.
    Why?
    Because the people who support it DO NOT CARE
    about crime rates, criminals, or crime victims.
    They care about their own power, influence, and
    their continued standing as “enlightened beings”
    who are superior to turds like yourselves.
    Got that??? And…
    Since they consider common folk to be inconsequential
    turds, do you really think they will ever allow them
    the right of lethal self defense?
    It has always been this way when you think about
    it… Britain’s elite has always considered the “common
    classes” to be little more than animals. America, however, was founded on the notion of “all men are
    created equal” with regard to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We REJECTED your system, fought a revolution against it in fact… Could this be
    why we are allowed to defend ourselves, and you are not?
    Thank God I am an American..!
    -Brendan in Missoula, MT USA

  • nick

    The only reason these rich folk have money and poweer is because of poor people,i would love there to be a revolution to remove these peoples power and make them do this shit jobs,they are the turds to me,All i can say is i wish i was a proud American,I would have blasted those English of my land too.

    AMERICA IS THE LAST PLACE IN THE WORLD FOR THE WHITE MAN AND ANY OTHER MAN TO DEFEND THEMSELVES GO AMERICA!

  • NICK

    The only reason these rich folk have money and poweer is because of poor people,i would love there to be a revolution to remove these peoples power and make them do this shit jobs,they are the turds to me,All i can say is i wish i was a proud American,I would have blasted those English of my land too.

    AMERICA IS THE LAST PLACE IN THE WORLD FOR THE WHITE MAN AND ANY OTHER MAN TO DEFEND THEMSELVES GO AMERICA!