Friday, February 23, 2007

The Right to Self Defence

I have always had a loathing for guns. My mother's family used to shoot pheasant and grouse in the Fens, a 'sport' i found abhorrent. I have never understood how Americans fail to make the connection between widespread gun ownership and a high murder rate. I have also never bought the Second Amendment nonsense that it is an American's right to bear arms.

However when the facts change, one must also revise one's opinions.

Britain is facing a gun epidemic.

But has violent crime really worsened or are the media to blame for scare-mongering. Well, it really depends on your time perspective.

In 1899, there was just one handgun murder in London and four armed robberies.
In 1986, Britain witnessed 423 murders.
In 2005 Home Office statistics recorded 5,001 injuries from firearm crimes and 833 murders in England and Wales.

Following the Dunblane massacre in 1996, the government passed the Firearms Bill, prohibiting the use of handguns. So did the ban reduce gun crime?

In the five years after the ban (from 98 to 03), handgun crime doubled. British surgeons are now receiving training in bullet wounds. The handgun ban has been an abject failure.

The US is always hailed as the capital of gun crime because of it allows its citizens to carry firearms. In 2005, there were 6,500 gun related murders in the US. Adjusting for population size however, reveals this is now only 20% higher than in the UK. The differential used to be enormous but now the two countries boast almost identical gun crime rates.

Also, gun crime is actually higher in those US States that have banned guns. Washington is one of the few US States to have banned handguns. The result? Marion Barry, a local Democrat politician says, "we are in the midst of a gun-violence epidemic. We need to see gun violence as an emergency in the District of Columbia."

Clayton Cramer of the Foundation for Economic Affairs argues that a handgun ban in the US would not reduce the murder rate. Legislation in Oklahoma which allowed the home-owner to use force no matter how slight the threat has reduced burglary by nearly half since it was passed 15 years ago. What British police condemn as "vigilante" behaviour has produced an American burglary rate less than half the English rate. And, while 53% of English burglaries occur when someone is at home, only 13% do in America, where burglars admit to fearing armed home-owners more than the police. Violent crime in the US is at a 30-year low; in the UK it is at a 30 year high.

The UK's response to rising crime has been fourfold;

i) Increasing restrictions have been placed on the use of handguns.

In 1920, the Firearms Act limited private indivduals from carrying a gun. This was tightened further in 1969 with the Home Office deciding that "it should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person"

In 1953, The Prevention of Crime Act made carrying a weapon in a public place illegal.
In 1967 the concept of reasonable force in self-defence was amended and lowered.
In 2003, the Criminal Justice Act mandated a five-year minimum sentence for the offence of carrying a gun for those over the age of 18 and three years for those under 18.

ii) A softer approach to offenders
From the 1970s, sentence times have been reduced (made particularly acute by Britain's prisons now working at maximum capacity) and incarcerating fewer criminals.

iii) Reducing the number of bobbies on the beat.

iv) Making it harder to carry out a Citizen's Arrest
In 1994 an English home-owner, 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 home-owner for using an imitation gun to threaten or intimidate.

The police have published guidelines as to the acceptable use of force during a break-in.

"Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime."

But what is 'reasonable force'?

Want to take the law into your own hands and make a Citizen's Arrest? Be careful. A father and son were charged with kidnap after making a "citizen's arrest" on a boy they alleged smashed a window and spat at a customer at their chip shop.

With the combination of these four factors, it's hardly surprising that crime is escalating, is it?

I have never ever been in favour of allowing gun ownership, but now i'm not so sure. If the police and the courts are unable and unwilling to prosecute violent criminals, then it is imperative that law-abiding folk are given the right to defend themselves and their families from violence.

Note to prospective carjackers - i suggest you think twice before robbing drivers in Tennessee