New Evidence on Gun Control II: The British Experience

Second of a two part series

[Click here for part I Important New Book Refutes Gun Control Myths]

Did you know that a person's chances of being mugged in London are six times higher than in New York City?

Did you know that assault, robbery and burglary rates are far higher in England than in the U.S.?

Did you know that in England self-defense of person or property is regarded as an anti-social act, and that a victim who injures or kills an assailant is likely to be treated with more severity than the assailant?

Joyce Lee Malcolm blames the rocketing rates of violent and armed crimes in England on "government policies that have gone badly wrong." Her careful research in Guns and Violence The English Experience, just released by  Harvard University Press leads to this conclusion:

"Government created a hapless, passive citizenry, then took upon itself the impossible task of protecting it. Its failure could not be more flagrant."

Professor Malcolm begins her study of English crime rates, weapons ownership, and attitudes toward self-defense in the Middle Ages. She continues the story through the Tudor-Stuart centuries, the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. She finds that five centuries of growing civility, low crime rates and declining firearm homicide rates ended in the 20th century.

Professor Malcolm shows that an unprotected public at the mercy of criminals is the result of (1) the 1967 revision of criminal law, which altered the common law standard for self-defense and began the process of criminalizing self-defense, and (2) increasing restrictions on handguns and other firearms, culminating in the 1997 ban of handgun ownership (and most other firearms).

In England the penalty for possessing a handgun is ten years in prison. The result is the one predicted by the National Rifle Association: "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns." During the two years following the 1997 handgun ban, the use of handguns in crime rose by 40 percent. During seven months of 2001, armed robberies in London rose by 53 percent.

These shocking crime rates are understatements, because "the English police still grossly underreport crimes. . . . The 1998 British Crime Survey found four times as many crimes occurred as police records indicated."

A disarmed public now faces outlaws armed with machine-guns. People in London residential neighborhoods have been machine-gunned to death. Gunmen have even burst into court and freed defendants.

The British government forbids citizens to carry any article that might be used for self-defense. Even knitting needles and walking sticks have been judged to be "offensive weapons." In 1994 an English homeowner used a toy gun to detain two burglars who had broken into his home. The police arrested the homeowner for using an imitation gun to threaten and intimidate.

A British Petroleum executive was wounded in an assault on his life in a London Underground train carriage. In desperation, he fought off his attackers by using an ornamental sword blade in his walking stick. He was tried and convicted of carrying an offensive weapon.

A youth fearful of being attacked by a gang was arrested for carrying a cycle chain. After police disarmed him, he was set upon and hospitalized as a result of a brutal beating. The prosecutor nevertheless insisted on prosecuting the victim for "carrying a weapon."

Seventy percent of rural villages in Britain entirely lack police presence. But self-defense must be "reasonable," as determined after the fact by a prosecutor. What is reasonable to a victim being attacked or confronted with home intruders at night can be quite different from how a prosecutor sees it. A woman who uses a weapon to fight off an unarmed rapist could be convicted of using unreasonable force.

In 1999 Tony Martin, a farmer, turned his shotgun on two professional thieves when they broke into his home at night to rob him a seventh time. Mr. Martin received a life sentence for killing one criminal, 10 years for wounding the second, and 12 months for having an illegal shotgun. The wounded burglar is already released from prison.

American prosecutors now follow British ones in restricting self-defense to reasonable force as defined by prosecutors. Be forewarned that Americans can no longer use deadly force against home intruders unless the intruder is also armed and the homeowner can establish that he could not hide from the intruder and had reason to believe his life was in danger.

The assault on England's version of the Second Amendment was conducted by unsavory characters in the British Home Office. Long before guns were banned, the Home Office secretly instructed the police not to issue licenses for weapons intended to protect home and property.

In the British welfare state, crimes against property are not taken seriously. Professor Malcolm reports that criminals face minimal chances of arrest and punishment, but a person who uses force to defend himself or his property is in serious trouble with the law. A recent British law textbook says that the right to self-defense is so mitigated "as to cast doubt on whether it still forms part of the law."

An Englishman's home is no longer his castle. Thanks to gun control zealots, England has become the land of choice for criminals.

Paul Craig Roberts is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.

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