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Posted on 06/24/2002 11:01:20 AM PDT by white trash redneck
For the best part of a century, public safety in England and Wales has been based on the theory that fewer guns would mean less crime, that weapons in the hands of men and women, however law-abiding, posed a danger; disarming them would lessen the chance of arming criminals.
The Police Review, an independent magazine for Britain's police, summed up the matter 20 years ago: "There is an easily identifiable police attitude towards the possession of guns by members of the public. Every possible difficulty should be put in their way. No documentation can be too rigid, no security requirement too arbitrary, which prevents guns coming into the hands of criminals."
Advocates of gun control worldwide have praised the resultant model, in which some of the toughest firearms regulations of any democracy have been credited with producing a low rate of violent crime.
But there are two problems with this claim. When guns were easily available, England and Wales had an astonishingly low level of armed crime. A government study for the years 1890-92, for example, found only three handgun homicides, an average of one a year, in a population of 30m. The study noted that the murderer and the victim in the 1890 homicide were foreigners. In 1904 there were only four armed robberies in London, then the largest city in the world.
A hundred years and many gun laws later, the BBC reported online in January that England's firearms restrictions, including its 1997 ban on handguns, "seem to have had little impact in the criminal underworld". Guns are virtually outlawed, and, as the old US slogan predicted, only outlaws have guns. And what is worse, they are increasingly ready to use them.
|'More than half of English burglaries occur while occupants are at home, compared with 13 per cent in the US, where burglars admit to fearing armed homeowners more than the police'
Five centuries of growing civility ended in 1954. Violent crime has been climbing ever since, and armed crime - with banned handguns the weapon of choice - is now described as "rocketing". In the two years following the ban, the use of handguns in crime rose by 40 per cent. From April to November 2001 the number of people robbed at gunpoint in London rose 53 per cent.
In the course of a few days last summer, gun-toting men burst into a court and freed two defendants; a shooting outside a London nightclub left five women and three men wounded; and two men were machine-gunned to death in a residential neighbourhood of north London. On New Year's Day, 2002, a 19-year-old girl walking on a main street in east London was shot in the head by a thief after her mobile phone.
Gun crime is just part of an increasingly lawless environment. From 1991 to 1995, crimes against people in inner cities increased 91 per cent. And from 1997 to 2001 the rate of violent crime more than doubled. Your chances of being mugged in London are now six times greater than in New York. England's rates of assault, robbery and burglary are far higher than America's, and 53 per cent of English burglaries occur while occupants are at home, compared with 13 per cent in the US, where burglars admit to fearing armed homeowners more than the police.
This sea change in English crime is indicative of government policies that have gone badly wrong. Gun regulations have been part of a more general disarmament based on the premise that people don't need to protect themselves because society will protect them. It will also protect their neighbours. Those who witness a crime are advised to "walk on by" and let the professionals handle it. First, government clamped down on private possession of guns; then it forbade people carrying any article that might be used for self-defence; finally, the vigour of that self-defence was to be judged by what, in hindsight, seemed "reasonable in the circumstances" according to the 1967 Criminal Justice Act.
****** The 1920 Firearms Act, the first serious British restriction on guns, required a local chief of police to certify that the potential gun owner had a good reason for owning a weapon and was a fit person to have it. All very sensible. Parliament was assured the intention was to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous persons. Yet, from the start, it was far more restrictive, and Home Office instructions to police - classified until 1989 - periodically narrowed the criteria.
At first, police were instructed there would be a good reason for someone to have a revolver if a person "lives in a solitary house, where protection against thieves and burglars is essential, or has been exposed to definite threats to life on account of his performance of some public duty". By 1937 they were to discourage applications to possess firearms for house or personal protection; and in 1969 were informed that "it should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person".
These changes were made without public knowledge or debate. Their enforcement has consumed hundreds of thousands of police hours. Since 1997, handguns have been banned. Proposed exemptions for handicapped shooters and the Olympic team were rejected.
Even more sweeping was the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act that made it illegal to carry in a public place any article "made, adapted, or intended" for an offensive purpose "without lawful authority or excuse". Carrying something to protect yourself was branded antisocial. Any item carried for possible defence automatically became an offensive weapon. Individuals stopped by the police and found with such items were guilty until proven innocent.
During the debate in the Commons, an MP from Northern Ireland told his colleagues of a woman employed by parliament who had to cross a lonely heath on her route home and had armed herself with a knitting needle. A month earlier, she had driven off a youth who tried to snatch her handbag by jabbing him "on a tender part of his body". Was it to be an offence to carry a knitting needle? The attorney-general assured him that she might be found to have a reasonable excuse, but that the public should be discouraged "from going about with offensive weapons in their pockets; it is the duty of society to protect them".
Another MP pointed out that while "society ought to undertake the defence of its members, nevertheless one has to remember that there are many places where society cannot get, or cannot get there in time. On those occasions a man has to defend himself and those whom he is escorting. It is not much consolation that society will come forward a great deal later, pick up the bits, and punish the violent offender."
In the House of Lords, Lord Saltoun argued: "The object of a weapon was to assist weakness to cope with strength and it is this ability that the bill was framed to destroy.
"I do not think any government has the right, though they may very well have the power, to deprive people for whom they are responsible of the right to defend themselves."
However, he added: "Unless there is not only a right but also a fundamental willingness amongst the people to defend themselves, no police force, however large, can do it."
At government insistence the law passed and became permanent.
A broad revision of criminal law in 1967 altered the common law standard for self-defence. Everything now turns on what appears "reasonable" force against an assailant, considered after the fact. As the author of a legal textbook said, that requirement is "now stated in such mitigated terms as to cast doubt on whether it [self-defence] still forms part of the law".
Although rising crime has left the public increasingly vulnerable, the courts have interpreted the 1953 Act strictly and zealously. In case histories, among the articles found illegally carried with offensive intentions are a sandbag, a pickaxe handle, a stone and a drum of pepper. One legal text conceded: "Any article is capable of being an offensive weapon", but added that if it was unlikely to cause an injury, the onus of proving intent to do so would be "very heavy". Insisting that police stop and search ever greater numbers of people might catch a few would-be muggers, but at a cost of ensuring everyone else remains a hapless and attractive target.
The 1967 Act has not been helpful to those obliged to defend themselves with force either. A legal expert said: "For some reason that is not clear, the courts occasionally seem to regard the scandal of the killing of a robber as of greater moment than the safety of the robber's victim in respect of his person and property."
Four cases illustrate the impact of these measures: In 1973 a young man running on a road at night was stopped by the police and found to be carrying a length of steel, a cycle chain and a metal clock weight. He explained that a gang of youths had been after him. At his hearing it was found he had been threatened and had notified the police. The justices agreed he had a valid reason to carry the weapons. Indeed, 16 days later he was attacked and beaten so badly he was hospitalised. But the prosecutor appealed against the ruling and the appellate judges insisted that carrying a weapon must be related to an imminent and immediate threat. They sent the case back to the lower court with directions to convict. In 1987, two men assaulted Eric Butler, a 56-year-old British Petroleum executive, in a London Underground train carriage by trying to strangle him and smashing his head against the door. No one came to his aid. He later testified: "My air supply was being cut off, my eyes became blurred, and I feared for my life." In desperation he unsheathed an ornamental sword blade in his walking stick and slashed at one of his attackers, stabbing the man in the stomach. The assailants were charged with wounding. Butler was tried and convicted of carrying an offensive weapon. In 1994, an English homeowner, armed with a toy gun, managed to detain two burglars who had broken into his house, while he called the police. When the officers arrived they arrested the homeowner for using an imitation gun to threaten or intimidate. Now the police are pressing parliament to make imitation guns illegal. Most familiar is the 1999 case of Tony Martin, a 55-year-old Norfolk farmer, victim of six robberies, who shot two professional thieves when they broke into his home at night to rob him yet again. Like 70 per cent of rural villages his had no police presence. He received a life sentence for killing one burglar, 10 years for wounding the second, and 12 months for having an illegal shotgun. The wounded burglar is already free.
Self-defence, William Blackstone, the 18th century English jurist, wrote, is a natural right that no government can deprive people of, since no government can protect the individual in his moment of need. The English Bill of Rights of 1689 affirmed the right of individuals "to have arms for their defence". It is a dangerous right. But leaving personal protection to the police is also dangerous, and ineffective. Government is perilously close to denying people the ability to protect themselves at all, and the result is a more, not less, dangerous society.
"It is implicit in a genuine right," said Judge Brown-Wilkinson (Wheeler v Leicester City Council 1985) "that its exercise may work against [some facet of] the public interest: a right to speak only where its exercise advanced the public welfare or public policy would be a hollow guarantee against repression."
History shows that public safety is not enhanced by depriving individuals of their right to personal safety.
And that's precisely what so infuriated gun owners during the Clinton administration - the "I'm going to stretch this just as far as I can" attitude (his words) that resulted in "sensible" legislation being turned into oppressive regulation in the complete absence of judicial or legislative review. I, for one, can do with lots less of the "we need to be more like Europe" mantra the antigun people are so fond of - we don't, and this is the reason why not. The British public did not, after all, suddenly wake up one morning and decide it didn't need firearms any more - that decision was never in their hands.
England hates her subjects and wishes they would all die.
Well, society is certainly protecting 'Tony' now! This article is seriously unbelievable which is a problem. We just refuse to believe that anything like that will happen here. The lesson I take from this farmer story is that after you shoot the bad-guys, bury them on your farm and tell no one. I'm OK with that.
Image courtesy Hodgdon.com.
I have had this discussion with more than one lefty including with a fellow I have known since we were teenagers. He is very smart, a university professor, and doesn't rant or shout slogans, but he tut tuts and deplores every time he sees on the news that someone has preserved his life or property by fending off or wounding/killing an attacker. He has much sympathy for the poor criminal and contempt for the oppressor victim.
My wife wants a vacation there. I told her to forget about it until some sanity returns to those people. Probably not in our lifetime.
Just curious, are the former Droogs now sporting checkered caps?
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