On Gun Control In Britain

UKguns

 

It’s difficult at the moment to know precisely how seriously to take Nigel Farage’s public pronouncements. In a matter of days he has managed to offend a great number of people by suggesting that once you adjust for maternity leave, women working in finance have at least a level playing field with (if not an easier time overall than) men; he appeared to prevaricate when confronted with another loony UKIP local councillor, this one publicly attributing the UK’s recent bad weather to the coalition government’s legalisation of gay marriage; and he publicly disowned the 2010 UKIP manifesto, which he personally helped to launch.

All of this is rather unfortunate, because in many ways Nigel Farage remains one of the most principled and straightforward politicians in Britain today. Aside from some heavy-handed and paternalistic conservative attitudes to social issues such as gay marriage and an excessive obsession with immigration restrictions, the policies currently espoused by UKIP are ones which would appeal to many a libertarian-minded voter grown disenchanted with the Tories under David Cameron – myself included. Therefore, I hope and trust that the PR wobbles of this week will soon be behind him.

But more importantly, I hope that the current furore does not drown out a more important debate that Farage has initiated – whether or not to relax Britain’s stringent gun control laws and relax the blanket ban on handguns. Farage is of the opinion that to do so is right in accordance with conservative principle, with individual liberty and with common sense.

The Guardian reports:

Asked about gun controls, Farage said: “I think proper gun licensing is something we’ve done in this country responsibly and well for a long time, and I think the kneejerk legislation that Blair brought in that meant that the British Olympic pistol team have to go to France to even practise was just crackers.

“If you criminalise handguns then only the criminals carry the guns. It’s really interesting that since Blair brought that piece of law in, gun crime doubled in the next five years in this country.”

“I think that we need a proper gun licensing system, which to a large extent I think we already have, and I think the ban on handguns is ludicrous.”

The initial arguments brought to bear against Farage are not terribly convincing:

Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, said the comments were an example of “how extremely dangerous Ukip are”.

“Families facing a cost-of-living crisis will find it bizarre that one of Nigel Farage’s priorities would be to relax Britain’s tough gun controls,” he added.

So we are told that the policy is “dangerous”, and then fed the old line that the British public believe that politicians can and should only ever focus on one issue at the time, and that the economy must crowd out everything else. When someone leads off with the “why aren’t we focusing on something else?” argument, they generally don’t have much else in the way of persuasive arguments.

As a libertarian-minded voter, given a blank slate and in an ideal world I would like to see the blanket bans on handguns in the UK repealed. While recognising that Britain is very different culturally to America on this issue, where the Second Amendment enshrines the right to bear arms very clearly, I believe that our country (at least the people, if not our government) do also place great value on the freedom to defend oneself with any force necessary if required. The strength of public feeling in the Tony Martin case rather proves my point, no matter how much gun control advocates might desire to wish it away.

Where we differ more substantially is the fact that in America, the Constitution makes clear that the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed not only for reasons of protection and self-defence against personal violence, but also against oppression by the government. In Britain, where our rights are granted to us by the government and it is our lot to bow and scrape and be thankful for what we are given by way of freedoms, this is clearly not the case. The government is not ours; rather, it belongs to Her Majesty. This may seem like a quibbling detail, but when looking at issues of civil rights and liberties it is an important one.

As a general principle, I don’t think it should be the government’s business to ban or to allow small arms, or to do many other things. I would be quite happy if the government could content itself with competently undertaking its core functions of defending the nation, protecting property rights, providing law and order and providing a framework for other institutions to deliver much of what currently falls under the welfare state. I have sufficient belief in the goodness of human nature to think that, if properly guided and harnessed, this might be achievable.

However, I also recognise that this is not the seventeenth century, and I am not a stockinged, bewigged colonist in the New World. We do not live in a time of attempting bold new methods of self governance – or bold new methods of doing anything at all, and there is little desire among the public to become the kind of country where such experimentation takes place. And this is where conservative pragmatism comes into play. On the topic of gun control specifically in the UK, I cannot support Nigel Farage’s belief that gun control laws should be repealed.

Guns are not plentiful in the UK as they are in the United States. Making it legal for average members of the public to own firearms again would initially empower those people, but there would be a gradual and inexorable drift of firearms from law-abiding citizens to active criminals. Like almost anything, if you are criminally minded and you want to lay your hands on a gun, you can do it if you invest time making the right connections. But it is difficult to do unless you already have those links with the criminal world, and so guns are not purchased in the UK on a whim, or by ordinary folk for use in a moment of high passion – the supply is small and in the hands of professional criminals, and therefore it simply takes too long for someone not in the know to make the purchase. Why expand the supply and start to make it exponentially easier?

In the United States, the case is very different. Guns are a dime a dozen, and any blanket ban on firearms in America, as well as being grossly unconstitutional, would leave law-abiding citizens defenceless in a country where almost every criminal has ready access to a gun. In short, banning guns in the United States would put the population at risk while the population of the United Kingdom would be more endangered by the legalisation of firearms.

I freely admit that a bulk of conservatism and libertarian opinion may differ with me on this issue. Indeed, The Commentator last year revealed something of the depth of feeling on the repeal-gun-control side:

The choices include term limits for Prime Ministers, a flat tax, a law to encourage the ‘greening’ of public spaces and the repealing of Britain’s hand gun ban. Following the Dunblane massacre in 1996, in which 16 schoolchildren were killed, Parliament passed The Firearms Act of 1997, which essentially banned handguns for the atrocity.

But Britons seem unconvinced by the law. The proposer, known as “Colliemum” asked, “…why should only criminals be ‘allowed’ to possess guns and shoot unarmed, defenceless citizens and police officers?”

While the poll continues, so far over 80 percent of the 11,000+ respondents have told the Telegraph that they want to see the handgun ban repealed.

Unscientific, yes. But also highly emphatic.

I have called often and loudly for a constitutional convention for the United Kingdom, to decide once and for all the powers we are willing to give to the government and those which we insist on keeping for ourselves, as well as to fairly and equally devolve powers to the four home nations under a federal system. Part of the output of such a convention would inevitably be a decision on whether we are happy to continue being granted our rights or having them taken away by the whim of each successive Parliament, or if we want to enshrine certain inalienable rights in a more permanent and unyielding document.

But until my call is heard and a Constitution is written and adopted, there is no document to which we British can point to say that government shall not deprive us of the right to own guns. Neither is there precedent, or a persuasive common sense argument. Ceteris parabus, just as there is no sound or legal way in which American citizens can be deprived of their right to bear arms, so there is no reason rooted in law why the British should have theirs returned.

As the American civil war drew to an end, James Russell Lowell wrote:

Among the lessons taught by the French Revolution there is none sadder or more striking than this, that you may make everything else out of the passions of men except a political system that will work, and that there is nothing so pitilessly and unconsciously cruel as sincerity formulated into dogma.

Sincerity formulated into dogma. We see this a lot today, both in Britain and America. In the United States it is manifested most obviously in the Tea Party and the demands of its more fanatical members to immediately roll back the functions of government regardless of the potential suffering of those who have come – and in many cases been encouraged – to depend on it. Pitiless yes, and often cruel too. And in Britain we see this dogmatic approach, I am sad to say, in Nigel Farage’s call to repeal the gun control laws.

When my libertarianism meets the fact of modern Britain, the conservative in me must side with the real world as I find it, and for that I do not apologise.

More Gun Violence In America

Well, it has happened again, as we all knew it would; another mass shooting in America, this time at a well-secured military facility in the nation’s capital. Twelve people killed this time, not including the gunman, at the Navy Yard in Washington DC. The New York Times reports:

At least 13 people, including one gunman, were killed, and the police were looking for other potential suspects, in a shooting Monday morning at a naval office building not far from Capitol Hill and the White House, police officials said.

One police officer was in surgery after being shot in an exchange of fire with a gunman, said Chief Cathy L. Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department. The shootings took place at the Washington Navy Yard, in the southeast part of the city.

Senior law enforcement officials identified the gunman as Aaron Alexis, 34. He was identified through his fingerprints. As of Monday night, investigators were operating on the belief that Mr. Alexis acted alone, despite earlier statements from Washington law enforcement officials that there were two other gunmen.

Twitter has once again demonstrated that there is virtually nothing of any use to be said in the immediate aftermath of one of these attacks, at least not in 140 characters. The body count was still not yet confirmed before the first accusations and counter-accusations of blame and responsibility were being made. To this we can also add false flag theories and much more ungrounded speculation besides.

One of the few people to speak eloquently on the subject was the chief medical officer of the trauma centre responsible for treating several of the gunshot victims:

 

Something has to change. The tired old response of left-wingers demanding stricter gun control laws and being thwarted by the NRA, and right-wingers rallying behind the second amendment and bemoaning the society while doing nothing to improve it is no longer sufficient. There is a massive failure of imagination and political courage at all levels on the topic of gun violence in the United States.

Fourteen months since Aurora, Colorado. Nine months since Sandy Hook. And here we are again.

“Patriot” Watch, Ctd. 3

Since the “Patriot” Watch is going to be an ongoing series on this blog, it would be negligent of me not to link to this amazing video of our intrepid hero, Alex Jones from InfoWars, as he totally owns Piers Morgan on his own CNN show, in a debate on gun control legislation.

 

I have very few positive things to say about Piers Morgan, and I am actually quite relieved that he is now polluting the airwaves of the United States rather than residing and editing newspapers in London, close to me.

And so it is with considerable glee that I watched this 14-minute “interview”, in which Piers Morgan manages to utter probably no more than 100 words, and in which Alex Jones answers precisely none of his questions, but delivers a wonderfully spirited argument in favour of his conspiracy theories and warnings about the coming New World Order.

Enjoy.

More On Gun Control

Ross Douthat, in his New York Times column, tackles the issue of gun control. Coming from a conservative perspective, he points out that if we frame the gun control debate in terms of a culturally rooted activity versus the negative externalities that it causes, we may end up back on the slippery slope to Prohibition:

The consumption of alcohol, like the ownership and use of firearms, carries all kinds of second-order risks, and it’s easy to run a Foer-style argument against the claim that the happiness people derive from beer and wine and liquor is worth the toll that alcoholic beverages take on life and limb and happiness: (How many of the thousands of Americans killed by drunk drivers every year does your desire for a cold Dogfish Head justify? How many lives ruined by alcoholism? How much spousal abuse? Etc.)

He also makes the valid point that because of the sheer ubiquity of guns in private hands in America today, reducing the numbers to anything close to a level that might make a dent in the gun crime rate would require the use of some very draconian tactics indeed:

47 percent of Americans report having a firearm in the home, and there may be as many as 270 million privately-owned guns in the United States. So if you actually wanted to put a real dent in accidental firearm deaths, you would need not just a ban on large magazines or stiffer background checks for gun purchasers, but an actual Prohibition-style campaign, complete with busts and raids and so forth, whose goal would be not only be a simple policy change but the rooting-out of a very well-entrenched aspect of American culture. And the experience of Prohibition itself suggests plenty of reasons to be dubious that such a campaign would ultimately be worth the cost.

This chimes very closely with my own views. Whether or not you think that stricter gun control laws are a good idea, the unescapable fact remains that there are so many guns in circulation in America today that anyone with sinister intent will likely not have a very difficult time in finding the weapon that they need to commit the offence that they wish to commit.

If a gun amnesty was held, in which people could return firearms that exceeded any future regulations concerning the type or caliber of weapon, only the law-abiding (and least likely to use their weapons for nefarious purposes) would do so, leaving the pool of “hot” weapons that are actually used most often in crime almost untouched.

And if the government were to really tighten gun restrictions and seek to enforce them on the population (not that this would happen in a million years given the power of the pro-gun lobby and American resistance to big government dictums), this would require the type of busts and raids that Douthat talks about in his column. Quite rightly, this would never be allowed to happen in America, or anywhere else.

As defeatist as it may sound at first glance, there really isn’t anything much that can be done to curb gun crime in America from the weapon supply side, aside from obvious measures (nonetheless opposed by the NRA) such as requiring background checks to be made by all vendors including at gun shows, and acknowledging the fact that no hunting, recreational or self-defence purpose can be filled with semi-automatic weapons or armour-piercing ammunition, and banning these.

Any political capital, legislative effort and community work should instead be directed at efforts that can reduce the rate at which people use the guns that are already out there – early intervention with troubled young people, more work to combat gangs and perhaps (shock horror) the legalisation and regulation of many of the drugs whose illegal trade forments so much violence.

Given that none of this is likely to happen, we can all be roundly ashamed that after more than a week since the horrific shootings in Aurora Colorado, after all the many words spoken and written by victims and commentators and policy makers, absolutely nothing is going to change.

I would dearly like to be proven wrong on this one.

Aurora, Colorado, And The Right To Keep And Bear Arms

I have now had the time to read and digest a lot of the immediate responses to the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Some people (President Obama, Mitt Romney) have sought to explain, unify or heal.

Some people (Louie Gohmert, Brian Ross) have sought to make political hay out of the events.

Yet others have urged everyone to reserve their words and judgments while so many details of this terrible story remain unknown, and while the wounds and bereavements are so raw.

But I have yet to hear anyone – supporters of gun rights, or the interpretation of the Second Amendment that permits them – utter a statement such as this:

“Guns are an integral part of American history and culture, and the right to bear arms freely is enshrined in our nation’s constitution. On occasions, people who legally and legitimately own weapons will tragically misuse them, either through mental illness or malicious thought, and turn those weapons on themselves or on others. The twelve people who died in Aurora, Colorado yesterday were irreplaceable and will be missed, but they also represent a part of the sad, heavy price that we pay to live in a free society that upholds the right of individuals to own and carry firearms.”

If you do support the right to bear arms, surely this is what you actually think? Massacres and individual shootings are awful, but taking away the right of 300 million Americans to defend themselves against aggressors or a potential future tyrannical government is more awful still? No?

If you support a policy that has potentially negative adverse effects (such as removing benefits or subsidies from certain groups – family farms, long-term unemployed, those on sick leave) you should have the courage to own the bad as well as the good and have the guts to explain why the human benefits outweigh the human costs. As a conservative-leaning voter living in the UK, I have to do this all the time at the moment in today’s supposed “age of austerity” and government spending cuts. Supporters of individual gun ownership should do the same. No more mealy-mouthed phrases about “guns not killing people, criminals killing people”. No. Own the consequences of your policy position. Wait until the dead from Aurora have been buried, and then prominently proclaim something to the effect of the paragraph that I wrote above.

Some people say that the aftermath of civilian massacres or other high-profile gun crimes is an inopportune time to discuss the laws controlling the ownership and use of firearms. I say that taking that view is the height of cowardly avoidance – when else to discuss gun laws, regardless of the position you hold, than when their consequences are being felt most deeply?

I’ll nail my colours to the mast right here and now: I believe that individuals should be allowed to own guns suitable for recreational hunting or self-defence. That means shotguns, handguns, pistols, revolvers, tasers and nothing much more. No grenades, no semi-automatic weapons, no armour-piercing bullets.

However, I also believe that the second amendment, properly interpreted, does not currently permit gun ownership at all – a “well regulated militia” no longer being “necessary to the security of a free state” in any sensible modern worldview. Therefore I believe that a constitutional amendment is both necessary and desirable in order to enshrine the right to own firearms for the strictly limited purposes that I have outlined above.

Yes, I recognise that this position probably puts me at odds with everyone – strict gun control advocates and gun rights supporters alike, for different reasons. But at least I have put on record what I think about gun ownership, and why (not just cheap soundbites about liberty, the constitution and so on).

Let’s see the NRA and other advocates for even looser restrictions on gun ownership do the same.