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Gun re-legalisation may mean less crime but it does not mean no crime

In my perusal of The Times from a hundred years ago I frequently come across examples of gun crime. Here’s one from 30 September 1912 involving a spree shooting in a hotel:


And here’s another from the same edition involving the murder of a woman in a cab:


If anything this one, from the 18th inst. involving striking dockers, is even more disturbing:


This is at a time when Britons could own guns more or less without restriction. Oddly enough, to the modern mind, there are no great calls for gun control. The recently-passed Sullivan Act in New York seems to be regarded by most Britons as simply ridiculous.

In 1912, the murder rate in Britain was about half the rate it is now (see Part VI). This is particularly surprising given the subsequent advances in medicine which means that many people who, in 1912 would have ended up dead, today do not. Or, maybe, the National Health Service is even worse than we thought.

Update 14 June 2018 The report referred to in the last link can now be found here.

22 comments to Gun re-legalisation may mean less crime but it does not mean no crime

  • fascinating link to the crime stats. I dont get howthe NHS thing fit in. If, as i’m sure is the case, there were more early mortalities in 1912 there would be less “per 1000 population” so cancelling out that effect?

  • I don’t quite understand your comment but the (tongue-in-cheek) point I was making is that the NHS isn’t very good and may have succeeded in cancelling out whatever medical progress has been made in the last century.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Remember that gun control isn’t about controlling guns, it’s about controlling people.

    So are Britons more amenable to being controlled than they were 100 years ago? I’ll say yes, and that gun control (one of many steps taken to rein in the individual) has worked out well for the governing class.

  • Laird

    And certainly no one has ever said that re-legalization would lead to no crime! (Whatever the merits of the NHS.)

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    100 years ago if you said to the average Brit “Would you rather be safe or free?” while taking great care to illustrate the risks inherent in freedom, most would have still answered “free”.

    Repeat that experiment today most would reply “safe”, while arguing that a world as scary as the world you described doesn’t constitute freedom – probably using some variation of the old chestnut “What about my freedom to not be scared of your guns?”

    When Benjamin Franklin said that those who trade necessary liberty for temporary security deserve neither, he was right. The average Brit these days is so cowed and pacified, they don’t deserve the right to bear arms.

    If Britain in 1939 had had the Guardian reading, right-on metrosexual preening population of today, Hitler would have rolled over Britain like a steamroller.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    If Britain in 1939 had had the Guardian reading, right-on metrosexual preening population of today, Hitler would have rolled over Britain like a steamroller.

    Posted by Jaded Voluntaryist at November 25, 2012 12:28 AM

    Not so. Hitler didn’t want to fight Britain and it’s doubtful he’d have had to do so if dealing with a nation of Enlightened Britons (or Enlightened anyone else, for that matter).

    And I’m sure a modern British government would have done something to silence Mr. Churchill and his provocative, anti-German hate speech.

  • I think you had the wrong headline for this post – while also thinking, correction, knowing, that every point you made within it is true and ought to be more widely known.

    I suggest that a better headline would have been “Gun prohibition did not reduce crime, but there was still [gun] crime even before it.”

    My point being, that the low-crime equilibrium that had gradually evolved in the Britain of 1912 after centuries of civilians bearing arms is a very poor predictor of what would happen in the (politically almost inconceivable) case that the much higher-crime Britain of 2012, or any time within the next decade or so, were to re-legalise guns. That is one of the reasons why I am deeply pessimistic of this happening within my lifetime, unless there is some catastrophic breakdown of order, and I’m not one of those nutjobs who hopes for a thing that would kill and immiserate vast numbers in order to bring about my political aims.

    The other reason a re-legalisation is very unlikely is that, despite prohibition being fairly widely acknowledged to have done no good – it did not reduce general gun crime, nor did it stop Derrick Bird – no individual politician would dare advance the Private Members’ Bill for fear that there would be a Dunblane-like massacre within the next year, to which his name would be forever linked

    However I shall continue to advocate legalisation, since that is the policy that would save lives (particularly innocent lives) in the medium and long term. And I am glad that you have added this post to the public domain. A depressing number of people think that Britain has prohibited civilian ownership guns practically since their invention, and that ignorance is one of the reasons they think that re-legalisation would result in an immediate bloodbath.

  • RogerC

    It’s also interesting, although possibly a little obvious, to note that Switzerland, a country absolutely swimming in automatic rifles and other firearms of all types, has a murder rate comparable to Britain’s in 1912, i.e. a little over half that of modern day Britain.

  • Paul Marks

    Interesting point RogerC.

  • the other rob

    Switzerland is one of the stock examples for rebutting “more guns = more crime” assertions. Another is the decline in violent crimes in various US states in the years immediately following re-legalisation of concealed carry.

    I grew up in England when private ownership of handguns was still legal. I lived through the outlawing of handguns: by which I mean, as Sir Terry Pratchett put it, “our beneficent government has seen fit to ensure that only criminals are allowed to have guns”.

    Then I moved to Texas. These days I, like my neighbours, own many guns and I carry at least one on a daily basis. I think that it’s fair to say that I have observed much less violent crime in this gun-toting state than I did in England. Nobody here has ever knocked me unconscious either, unlike the land of my birth.

  • the other rob

    Hooray! Another opportunity to look at the smite-kittens.

  • Sceptical Antagonist

    Reading the murder statistics backwards, does that not mean that as the police force has increased in size, so has the murder rate?


  • Midwesterner


    Mass shootings always occur in “gun free” zones. Even the shooting at the shopping mall in Colorado that allowed concealed carry occurred in a movie theater that banned guns. When I read the “shooting affair in a hotel” article, my first thought was to note that he shot 5 people and nobody shot back. He probably had a five shot revolver and they rushed him when his gun was empty. I wonder what the carry laws, not the ownership laws but the carry laws, were in that place at that time. Pretty clearly he was the only armed person present and that raises questions.

    As far as general statistical trends when carrying guns is legalized, speculation is unnecessary; John Lott applied economic analysis to crime stats before and after in states that legalized carry.

    A stat that is difficult to come by is, in districts were carry is legal, what percentage of the murders involve either a victim, attacker or both who have prior criminal records. If the attacker is a convicted felon, then by law, nowhere is he allowed to possess a gun. If the victim has a criminal record, then one must wonder whether he was a victim or a “victim”. Was he in the act of committing a crime when killed.

    When victims and attackers with prior criminal records are removed from the data (because they are by definition not willing to be bound by the law), armed societies are much safer places. Immediately so. But don’t be surprised if a wave of particularly stupid criminals gets themselves killed off early on by attacking people newly capable of defending themselves. Also, expect crime to move out of areas with lax gun laws and into areas with strict gun laws. That is how it has always worked in the US.

  • jerry

    ‘… and that ignorance is one of the reasons they think that re-legalisation would result in an immediate bloodbath. ‘


    That statement is the essence of the drum beat heard in the states EVERYTIME a state proposes ( or proposed ) passing a legal carry law. ‘Oh my God, people will be shooting each other over parking spaces and grocery carts. It’ll be a bloodbath’.

    Never happened but the same old tired saw STILL gets drug out of the attic and blared far if someone says ‘let’s legalize concealed ( or open ) carry !!!
    Another term used is the ‘wild west’. An illusion created by Hollywood and perpetuated by anti-gunners, The ‘west’ was actually relatively peaceful and there were not several gunfights every day on the streets of western towns !!

    To add to what someone above stated, the most violent areas in the states ( generally large cities that have been run – surprise – for decades by
    democrats ) tend to be the ones with the most restrictive gun laws ( Washington D.C and Chicago vie for first place in both restrictive gun laws AND crime !! ). ullivan act This make perfect sense from the criminal standpoint – little to no active resistance !!!
    The proponents of the restrictive laws in those crap holes will tell you that the guns are all brought in from areas where the gun laws are more lax.
    Fine, then explain to me WHY the areas where the guns are brought from do not suffer the same or higher crime rates. At that point you can watch the mental gears grind to a halt shortly before the head explodes !!!

  • Paul Marks

    “then I moved to Texas”.

    More and more people are saying that.

    But if only Texas itself could move.

    With the endless regulations (and wild spending and printing) of Uncle Sam sitting on its back, Texas is not the place it could be.

  • the other rob

    Sadly, Paul, while Texas is much freer than England, in terms of firearms, it is not the libertarian paradise that I had hoped for (as many of the commentariat warned me, prior to my move).

    Indeed, when it comes to over-regulation of the practice of making a living, blatant corruption in government and the like, I have never seen such a place.

    It reminds me of a line from a Warren Zevon song: “You need a permit to walk around downtown. You need a license to dance.”

  • John K

    Some British people may have viewed New York’s Sullivan Act with disdain, but not our own dear Home Office, which had been trying to impose gun controls for several years from the late 19th century on, and actually liaised with New York City officials at the time the Sullivan Act was passed, hoping to impose much the same law on Britain. As in New York, the desire for gun control came from fears over large scale immigration from Eastern Europe. Britain imposed its first immigration controls in 1906, and gun controls were part of the same continuum. In the event, it took the First World War and its associated bonfire of the freedoms before the Home Office got its way, but as in New York, the system of controls devised by anti-semitic WASPs in starched colars persists to this day, a testament to the marvellous power of bureaucratic inertia.

  • Paul Marks

    The Other Rob.

    I hear that Texas varries – try going to an area of the State where the Dems are not in control at the local level (unless you have not already tried that).

    Of the big cities Fort Worth is supposed to be the least dishonestl

    Or you could head north.

    Texas is number 45 in the United States for highest taxes (Tax Foundation figures for 2010 – I do not have more up to date figures).

    That means there are five States that are better.

    And I here that at least four of those five States are more honest.

    No need to go all the way to Alaska – just straight up the road to South Dakota.

    Of course there is still the problem of the hopelessly horrible (and corrupt) Federal government.

    And that is the real problem.

  • Laird

    And the weather in South Dakota. Don’t forget about the weather. There’s a reason it’s so sparsely populated!

  • Paul Marks

    At least three of the five States that have lower taxes than Texas do indeed have terrible winters.

  • Paul Marks

    I hope so.

    After all…..

    If Texas could secede from Mexico in 1836 because the violation of the Constitution of the “United States of Mexico” of 1824 – not joining the United States of America to 1845…….

    Surely, in the name of justice and reason, Texas can secede from the “United States of America” as the Harvard Law School degenerates in Washington D.C. have long turnerd the Contitution of the United States of America to toilet paper.