Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ten Years Later, It's True: After Guns Have Been Outlawed, Only Outlaws Have Guns

In the largest, best controlled and least watched social experiment of our time, it's been ten years since this densely populated island nation, fearful of increasing crime, banned private ownership of guns.

The result ten years later? Just as the bumper sticker warned, "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

England, which once bragged a violent crime rate substantially below that of the U. S., has seen violent crimes skyrocket and finds itself now leading both the U. S. and Europe in nearly all categories. In fact, according to Dave Kopel, criminal violence is now 50 times as prevalent as it was a century ago, when England had no laws restricting guns.

Has a century of increasingly strict laws and a decade-long outright ban removed guns from English society? Yes and no. While more than 160,000 legally registered guns were turned in during a voluntary amnesty following enactment of the law (remember, these guns were all registered, so "voluntary" may not precisely apply), police estimated 300,000 illegal guns were still on the street, dwarfing the number of American guns used criminally.

Four years after passage of the law, English researchers estimated that 3 million illegal firearms were in circulation, this in a country with a total population of 60 million. While police estimate that fewer than 200 legal firearms remain on the island, criminals' access has not been impeded. Sawed-off shotguns sell for as little as £50, or about $100, while used handguns can be had for less than £200, or $400.

That is a very serious imbalance in available forces: honest citizens, 200; murderers, rapists, thugs and thieves, not to mention terrorists, 3 million.

It wasn't always so.

England's initial gun registration scheme was put in place not for crime control but as a political bulwark, to prevent early communists and labor firebrands from taking up arms against the government in the social unrest of the time. Only those responsible citizens who could "prove" both their character and their need were allowed to own a handgun. Generally, the right was restricted to homeowners. Prior to the 1920 Firearms Act, English laws on guns matched those of the U. S. There were none. London, the largest city in the world at the time, had no crime, in an average year there were fewer than four robberies in all the city. England, with a population of more than 30 million, typically experienced one homicide a year.

Over the next 60 years the law remained the same but the rules governing ownership and possession, which were classified "Secret" by the Home Office, were tightened repeatedly without the knowledge of the English people. As early as 1937, ownership by even qualified individuals was being discouraged under a revised rule. In 1964, applications by security personnel and even guards for banks were being denied. Five years later, by secret order of the Home Office no form of personal protection qualified as a reason for ownership.

Finally, in 1997, in response to the massacre of 16 students and a teacher by a pedophile with a license, the law was revised to match the rule. Private ownership of a handgun became illegal.

The rule is so strict that even its Olympic shooting team is required to travel to a foreign training camp in order to reclaim their guns and practice for competition. Rules are so tight that the team receives no funding or other support from their home government because what they do is illegal in their home country.

Within two years nearly every legal handgun on the island had been turned in or confiscated.

And crime skyrocketed.

The decline of self-protection

While many scholars look at criminal usage of illegal guns as a primary issue, the larger story lies with the gun that isn't there, the gun that isn't available for use by a potential victim. When criminals know with absolute certainty that the risks of criminal behavior have declined, the amounts of criminal activity are certain to increase. England's experience proves the point.

By 2000, just four years after passage of the 1996 Prevention of Crime Act, CBS News was describing Great Britain as "one of the most violent urban societies in the Western world." In the ten years since guns were banned, violent crime has doubled. Early on in the decade, London passed New York City in terms of personal risk, which has continued to grow without relief so that the chances of a mugging or robbery are now four times as great in London as in New York.

Home robbery, theft by use of force in the victim's home, is nine times as frequent in England as in the U. S. The reason? American criminals cite the possibility of an armed citizen as their foremost concern in planning a theft. They most often avoid that crime for fear of being shot.

England is the textbook example of a laboratory environment for enlightened and effective gun control. It is a largely homogenous island, a pillar of western civilization, with a generally obedient population. 70 years of firearms registration followed by confiscation should have worked.

It didn't. As a consequence, innocent citizens have been robbed, beaten and raped with no possibility of an adequate defense.

The same lesson, that "gun control" increases the risks facing society is taught elsewhere. Australia is caught in a decade-long crime spiral that began with its decision to confiscate civilian firearms. Canada's crime problem has only increased with its strengthened emphasis on guns rather than criminals. Even the U. S. proves the point. While crime has generally declined across the country—even as the number of guns in circulation has doubled—the leading areas have been those states that have most aggressively encouraged their responsible citizens to arm, train and protect themselves. It's worked.

Perhaps a new slogan is appropriate, "More guns, less crime"?

The great philosophers seem to agree that one truly unalienable right is that of self-defense. In fact, nearly all describe self--defense as a duty that cannot be delegated to others.

RELATED LINKS: The Most Important Gun Rights Court Decision... Ever!
Terrorists in America Switching to "Plan B"?
Disarm America: Two Easy Steps, 90 Days to 'No Guns'!


S said...

Why is anyone surprised? Only an idiot would have thought otherwise.

Bob Leibowitz said...

Unfortunately, a lot of intelligent and powerful people did an do think "fewer guns, less crime."

It'll be interesting to see and hear their arguments going forward.