A sterling example

By Kevin Baker
web posted March 5, 2001

England is pointed to by the gun control forces as the exemplary case of the way gun control should be done: a sterling example. They credit British gun control with being responsible for the extremely low rates of firearm-involved homicide experienced there. They point at the licensing, registration and storage laws implemented by the British as models to use here. They praise Britain's recent bans on rifles, shotguns, and all handguns as "common sense" solutions to the large homicide problem we have here in the U.S.

I don't think so. Americans are not the British. Gun owners here have been paying attention to what has happened in England, too. We know the facts that the gun control forces don't tell you, and we don't like what we've seen. While gun owners are a minority in this country, we are a much larger minority than in England, and we have the Second Amendment to point to, where the British do not. We are vocal and very politically active, and we will not sit by and allow to happen here what British gun owners were unable to stop. Here are some facts that you just possibly were not aware of, because Handgun Control, the Violence Policy Center, and the other "gun control" proponents don't think it important enough to tell you:

"Gun Control" started in England about 1920. There were various measures before that, but after the turmoil of World War I there was fear of armed insurrection by communist controlled labor groups brought on by the overthrow of the Russian government. The Firearms Act of 1920 required registration of all handguns and rifles and restricted them only to people who could prove they had "good reason" for them. Shotguns and air guns were exempted, as they were perceived to have only "sporting" purposes. Though the legislation was written because of a fear of civil unrest, it was presented to Parliament as a crime control measure. There were a total of 313 homicides recorded in England and Wales in 1920, and only a small percentage were committed with firearms.

In 1937 the laws were further tightened. Following the example of and amplifying on our 1934 Gun Control Act, the British outlawed fully-automatic weapons and short-barreled shotguns. If you had registered your war-trophy from W.W.I., or if you had purchased a perfectly legal Tommy-gun with your firearms permit, you had to turn it in. England didn't outlaw alcohol as the U.S. had done, so they didn't have a problem with machine-gun toting gangsters. There were a total of 361 homicides in England in 1936.

The "next step" (and isn't there always a next step?) came with the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act. This made it illegal to carry an "offensive weapon" without being able to demonstrate a need for it. Offensive weapons included knives, pointed objects, and tear gas along with firearms. Ownership of a handgun for self-defense was no longer considered a reasonable need. After all, you were prohibited by law from carrying it. There were 327 reported homicides in England in 1953.

Next came "sporting" shotguns. After a heinous murder in which three police officers were killed with unregistered handguns, the Parliament took action! The Criminal Justice Act of 1967 (later consolidated into the Firearms Act of 1968) required owners to register their formerly innocuous shotguns, and gave the police the power to refuse registration if they felt that possession of a shotgun by the registrant would "endanger public safety". How this action could have possibly had any effect on the murders of three policemen with handguns was not addressed in the debate. Now all firearms were subject to licensing and registration, and two types had been banned. In 1967 the total number of reported homicides in England was 412.

There were a few other less sweeping laws passed in the interim, but in 1987 Michael Ryan, a licensed firearms owner, took a semiautomatic pistol, an AK-47 type rifle and an M1 carbine and went on a killing spree in Hungerford, England. He murdered 16 people before committing suicide. A few days later, a double murder was committed with a shotgun. The press, those stalwart defenders of the public, of course went crazy. There were a total of 159,000 firearms certificates held by English citizens at that time, and only a small percentage of the permit holders owned semi-automatic rifles. There were 861,300 shotgun certificates on file. The law shoved through Parliament and enacted in 1988 banned all semi-automatic rifles and all pump-action rifles as well. Owners of shotguns that could hold more than two shells were now required to get the more stringent Firearms certificate.

British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd reportedly told an audience that most the provisions in the 1988 Firearm Act had been (not surprisingly) prepared long before Hungerford, and the government had been waiting for the right moment to implement them. In 1987 there were 621 murders reported in England. Firearms were used to commit 78 of them. The Hungerford Massacre represented over 20% of those 78 murders.

Surely the British were safe now? No. In 1996 Thomas Hamilton, another licensed firearm owner took four handguns and several hundred rounds of ammunition and went to a school in Dunblane Scotland where he proceeded to kill sixteen children and a teacher. He was a suspected child molester. He had been refused membership at several gun clubs (membership being a requirement for holding a firearms license). He had lied on his application form. People had filed complaints with the police asking that they pull his license. Nothing was done. Hamilton, with all the restrictive laws already passed by the British government, was free to kill with impunity. He could just have easily done it with illegal firearms.

The predictable result - more banning. From a British Home Office report (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs/hosb2698.pdf ):

"Following the shooting incident in Dunblane, Scotland, in March 1996, changes to the existing firearms legislation were introduced to increase public safety (my emphasis). The resulting Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 banned all handguns over .22 calibre with effect from 1 October 1997. A hand-in exercise took place between 1 July and 30 September 1997 which resulted in 110,382 of these larger calibre handguns being surrendered in England and Wales, while 24,620 smaller calibre handguns were handed in voluntarily in anticipation of further legislation (my emphasis). The remaining large calibre handguns held on certificate include muzzle-loading guns, signaling apparatus, firearms used for the humane killing of animals, war trophies etc. All handguns were subsequently prohibited from 1 February 1998)." All handguns including the .22 caliber handguns that had not been outlawed in the earlier ban. I doubt seriously that Americans would turn in guns in anticipation of further legislation.

Alan Michael of the British Home Office announced after passage of the Act: "Britain now has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. We recognize that only the strictest control of firearms will protect the public." As of today British citizens are allowed to own only antique muzzle-loading firearms, shotguns capable of holding no more than two shells, and some rifles. Most are required to store their firearms in secure cabinets separate from the ammunition. The instructions provided by the government concerning what constitutes "safe storage" covers 15 pages. Firearms must be stored in a secure locker that is tamper proof and physically attached to the building. What constitutes "tamper proof" is up to local law-enforcement to define.

Ammunition must be stored separately in another secured safe. No one but the licensed firearms owner is allowed to have access to his firearms. (A retired lawyer lost his shotgun license because he told his mother where the key to the gun safe was stored!) The police must be provided with a map of the premises, and must be allowed to inspect the premises without advanced notice to ensure compliance. If the registrant refuses, his license is taken and he must give up his registered guns.

In 1996 there were 670 murders in England, 49 of them committed with firearms (this does not include the Scottish statistics that would reflect the Dunblane massacre.) In 1997 there were 726 murders reported in England, 59 committed with firearms. In 1998 there were 745 murders; in 1999, 679; and in 2000, 739 - 42 committed with handguns! According to news reports, crime committed with handguns (all of them are banned, remember) is higher now than it has been in the last ten years.

From http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,416546,00.html:

"Guns were once carried only to commit the most serious offences, but police now say they are increasingly used by small-time crooks such as burglars and low-level drug dealers.
"Nationally, one murder in 20 is now carried out with a firearm. The number of illegally held guns is estimated at three million, a third more than at the time of the 1996 Dunblane massacre."
(Emphasis mine)

According to other news reports, handguns are available for a mere £200 (about $300), but fully-automatic Eastern-bloc weapons are also available, and are becoming the "weapon of choice" among the gangs dealing in drugs.

The total homicide rate (deaths per 100,000 population) in England has averaged about 1/8th that of the United States every year since 1920, though with the recent U.S. homicide rate trending down and the UK rate trending up, this ratio no longer holds true. In addition, homicide with a firearm has always been comparatively rare in England - usually about 5% of the total number of homicides - regardless of the firearms laws in place.

If anything, the restrictive firearms laws in England may have made other crimes worse. Violent crime in England has been on the increase since the 1950's. There were 69 recorded violent crimes per 100,000 people in the English population in 1958. This figure rose to reach 674 in 1997. According to British newspaper reports, things have gotten worse still. Government statistics revealed that while the total level of crime fell 0.2% between October of 1999 and September of 2000, there was an increase in assaults and muggings. Violent crime went up 8% and robbery 21%. Violent crime in England has increased in nine of the last ten years, but last year's hike was only half of the previous year's increase.

In June of last year, Dan Rather (of all people) reported on the CBS Evening News: "This summer thousands of Americans will travel to Britain expecting a civilized island free from crime and ugliness. And in many ways it is that. But now, like the U.S., the UK has a crime problem. And believe it or not, except for murder, theirs is worse than ours." In that same segment CBS correspondent Tom Fenton reported: "This year there have already been hundreds of shootings in British cities, dozens in London alone, three of them in one evening." The figures Mr. Rather quoted came from a 1998 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report (available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cjusew96.pdf - take the time to download and read through it - very enlightening) that was based on figures from 1995. This data was backed up by a 1998 British Home Office report that showed England and Wales as having the second highest victimization rate for all crimes (the Netherlands leads the list, the U.S. came in seventh) and the highest rate of "contact crime" - defined as "robbery, sexual, and other assaults". The U.S. came in second.

The British have effectively disarmed their law-abiding citizens. The government has made carrying any sort of weapon for self defense punishable by up to ten years in prison. The government has promised the people that each and every additional infringement on their rights will make them safer, and they have lied to them every single time. The English don't kill each other with firearms (or with much of anything else) because, apparently, killing isn't cricket in jolly old England - not because of any gun laws that have been foisted on the public in the name of safety. Instead, the laws that have been passed have made the British public less safe, unprotected victims just waiting to be preyed on by the growing class of those willing to break the law. What is the response of Parliament? Now they want to restrict air rifles!

Since 1920 England has enacted more and more draconian gun legislation, one step at a time, with the advertised purpose of making its citizens safer. Remember the words of Alan Michael: "Britain now has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. We recognize that only the strictest control of firearms will protect the public." If that has been their true aim, they have failed. While still low, England now has a overall homicide rate nearly double what it had when it began enacting gun control legislation. They have a higher firearm-related homicide rate, even though it has "some of the toughest gun laws in the world". They have achieved a violent crime rate higher than even the United States.

What a sterling example of gun control for the U.S. to study! England proves what gun-rights activists have said all along: Disarming the law-abiding is worse than useless, it's counterproductive.

Kevin Baker is a professional electrical engineer and a recreational shooter. This is his first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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