In my previous post on this matter, I made a hopefully convincing case against the barrage of calls from the American left for further gun-restriction legislation. My argument was based very much on the position that limiting the access to firearms that criminals possess will not stop their crimes, and by disarming their law-abiding citizens, the US government risks making them that much more vulnerable to gun-crime in the first place.
In this post, I want to examine the impact that allowing Britons, just like you and me, to purchase handguns would have. I will say straight up that despite being a libertarian, I am not convinced the British population would be any safer armed that it is currently. However, I do want shattered the illusion that as a society we are somehow a shrine to gun-control, that we don’t witness mass-murders in schools, and that it’s very difficult to get your hands on guns. For one thing, anyone who knows me personally will probably appreciate that I could use a British Army light support weapon when I was seventeen, and a modified SA80 two years before that. It’s really not that difficult to get your hands on an assault rifle or worse in the UK…
You may be wondering what I mean when I say ‘illusion’. It’s fact, surely? The USA has a homicide rate of about 4.2 persons per 100,000 of the population; the UK just 1.2. The UK has a gun-murder rate of just 0.04 (suicide by firearm is actually higher, at 0.17). The USA: 3.7. I could carry on quoting UK-US gun and crime stats for this entire post.
I won’t, but it serves as an important tenant or our illusion. Often when we consider the liberalisation of gun laws, we only compare ourselves to the USA. We don’t tend to look at other countries and societies, some closer to home than others, which still grant the same relative access to guns as the US allows, but has crime figures far more close to our own.
New Zealand, for example, is not too dissimilar culturally to the UK. Except for its gun laws, where it’s possible to gain a licence from the police to own and use a category of firearm specifically named ‘Military-Style-Semi-Automatic’, although this is usually only granted to sportsmen. Providing you’re a member of a sports club and attend regularly, pistols can also be obtained easily enough. Logically, with this easy of access to firearms, you’d expect a high murder rate. In reality, New Zealand’s murder rate is only 0.9, to our 1.2. Firearm related murders are admittedly higher than own, at 0.17, but nowhere in the region of the US.
In Norway, there are some limitations on the number of guns of a certain calibre you may own, and how you must store them, but it’s still relatively easy to purchase semi-automatic rifles and pistols (you must join a hunting or sports club and pass a test, but that’s it). The weapons Anders Behring Breivik used in his attacks last year were all obtained perfectly legally. But if we compare homicide rates, the UK is again 1.2, but Norway is just 0.6. Gun-murder rates? The UK: 0.04. Norway: 0.04.
These figures demonstrate a point I made in my first post; that the US has a number of serious social issues which impact their gun and crime stats. This makes it a bad example for us to compare ourselves against, because they are anomalous. Furthermore, Norway and New Zealand alone demonstrate how easy it is to purchase firearms, which then could conceivably be used in a murder, or even a shooting spree. Yet, remarkably, these kinds of event tend to happen rarely. It’s therefore wrong for us to draw such a strong correlation between relatively relaxed gun laws and high murder rates. It just too simplistic; there are a far wider range of factors which should be considered (such as the diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill, for one thing).
Fine, so the US isn’t a great example to base our presumptions on. But what about massacres in the UK? Raoul Moat didn’t kill that many people, did he?
Well, in 1987, a Michael Ryan took a pistol, an M1 Carbine and a Chinese copy of the AK47 to 32 people in Hungerford, killing 17 of them, including his own mother. In response, the government tightened gun legislation, limiting the ownership of semi-automatic weapons. But then in 1996, a Thomas Hamilton took four pistols into Dunblane Primary School shot 33 people, killing 18 of them. Again, the government tightened gun legislation. Then in 2010, as I expect many of you will recall, Derrick Bird hit at total of 24 people with shotgun and hunting rifle rounds in Cumbria, killing 13.
The reason I raise these instances is to demonstrate that despite having some of the toughest gun laws in the world, we as country are not immune to such massacres to the degree we’d like to believe. This demonstrates that strict gun laws do not necessarily mean school children aren’t killed by guns in their own classrooms, and that if you are determined to carry out a mass murder, you’ll use what tools are available to you. Legislating against guns doesn’t stop the desire to kill in potential mass murderers; proper treatment in a psychiatric hospital does that.
So what of gun ownership in the UK? Firstly, I don’t believe anyone needs a weapon in the UK simply for the purpose of self-defence. If our murder rate was considerably higher, possibly, but definitely not today.
But I see nothing wrong in relaxing gun controls for sports and hunting. If you’re a member of a club, and have gone through a proper criminal and psychiatric evaluation by the police (and continue to do so, say, once every three years), I see no reason why the state should limit your access to firearms. Ultimately, the state limits our ability to wield weapons because we may use them to commit murder, and thus remove the natural right to life another citizen possesses, being philosophical about it. But if we can adequately demonstrate that that is not our intention, I see no problem. Many of my friends already have shotgun licences as it is, and no psychiatric assessment is required for those, I believe. And when I was trained on weapons as a cadet, nobody sat me or anyone else in front of a doctor. Yet if I wanted to commit mass murder, I had access to live ammunition when I shot on ranges, and the kinds of bullet the Army are using to kill Talibs right now. The reality is that thousands of teenagers, not just in cadet forces, shoot on ranges in the UK each year, and don’t start gunning down dozens of people the moment they get the chance. The same applies to adults.
Which demonstrates that the vast majority of people who use firearms in the UK fully appreciate their destructive power, and act responsibly with them. We don’t need the state to limit what we can use; we need the state to treat those that are mentally ill (especially seeing as the state provides nationalised healthcare), and lock up those who want to attempt murder.
In conclusion, legalising guns doesn’t cause murder; people commit murder. And criminalising guns, doesn’t stop people wanting to commit murder. They’ll just find a different way of doing it.