Monday, December 8, 2008

"If each of us carried a gun . . "

I have received this today from Dan Gifford, who forwards the original op-ed as submitted by British author Richard Munday and the way it appears in the London Times immediately below. As he says:

"You can make your own judgments about the Times' editing decisions. In any case, my good friend and Second Amendment rights authority Don Kates characterizes Munday's writing as "of both great importance and enormous force -- the force of common sense on a subject on which the received wisdom of orthodox American (and British) thought is garbage: The mere fact that such ideas used to be unthinkable in England highlights the importance of this piece," Kates says. At the risk of overt repetition, I would again like to thank my ancestors for leaving Britain 400 years ago.

-Dan Gifford"




Think tank: If each of us carried a gun . . .
. . . we could help to combat terrorism

By Richard Munday

Co-author and editor of Guns & Violence: The Debate Before Lord Cullen

The Sunday Times

December 7, 2008




The firearms massacres that have periodically caused shock and horror around the world have been dwarfed by the Mumbai shootings, in which a handful of gunmen left some 500 people killed or wounded.

For anybody who still believed in it, the Mumbai shootings exposed the myth of “gun control”. India had some of the strictest firearms laws in the world, going back to the Indian Arms Act of 1878, by which Britain had sought to prevent a recurrence of the Indian Mutiny.

The guns used in last week’s Bombay massacre were all “prohibited weapons” under Indian law, just as they are in Britain. In this country we have seen the irrelevance of such bans (handgun crime, for instance, doubled here within five years of the prohibition of legal pistol ownership), but the largely drug-related nature of most extreme violence here has left most of us with a sheltered awareness of the threat. We have not yet faced a determined and broad-based attack.

The Mumbai massacre also exposed the myth that arming the police force guarantees security. Sebastian D’Souza, a picture editor on the Mumbai Mirror who took some of the dramatic pictures of the assault on the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, was angered to find India’s armed police taking cover and apparently failing to engage the gunmen.


In Britain we might recall the prolonged failure of armed police to contain the Hungerford killer, whose rampage lasted more than four hours, and who in the end shot himself. In Dunblane, too, it was the killer who ended his own life: even at best, police response is almost always belated when gunmen are on the loose. One might think, too, of the McDonald’s massacre in San Ysidro, California, in 1984, where the Swat team waited for their leader (who was held up in a traffic jam)while 21 unarmed diners were murdered.

Rhetoric about standing firm against terrorists aside, in Britain we have no more legal deterrent to prevent an armed assault than did the people of Mumbai, and individually we would be just as helpless as victims. The Mumbai massacre could happen in London tomorrow; but probably it could not have happened to Londoners 100 years ago.

In January 1909 two such anarchists, lately come from an attempt to blow up the president of France, tried to commit a robbery in north London, armed with automatic pistols. Edwardian Londoners, however, shot back – and the anarchists were pursued through the streets by a spontaneous hue-and-cry. The police, who could not find the key to their own gun cupboard, borrowed at least four pistols from passers-by, while other citizens armed with revolvers and shotguns preferred to use their weapons themselves to bring the assailants down.

Today we are probably more shocked at the idea of so many ordinary Londoners carrying guns in the street than we are at the idea of an armed robbery. But the world of Conan Doyle’s Dr Watson, pocketing his revolver before he walked the London streets, was real. The arming of the populace guaranteed rather than disturbed the peace.

That armed England existed within living memory; but it is now so alien to our expectations that it has become a foreign country. Our image of an armed society is conditioned instead by America: or by what we imagine we know about America. It is a skewed image, because (despite the Second Amendment) until recently in much of the US it has been illegal to bear arms outside the home or workplace; and therefore only people willing to defy the law have carried weapons.

In the past two decades the enactment of “right to carry” legislation in the majority of states, and the issue of permits for the carrying of concealed firearms to citizens of good repute, has brought a radical change. Opponents of the right to bear arms predicted that right to carry would cause blood to flow in the streets, but the reverse has been true: violent crime in America has plummeted.

There are exceptions: Virginia Tech, the site of the 2007 massacre of 32 people, was one local “gun-free zone” that forbade the bearing of arms even to those with a licence to carry.

In Britain we are not yet ready to recall the final liberty of the subject listed by William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England as underpinning all others: “The right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.” We would still not be ready to do so were the Mumbai massacre to happen in London tomorrow.

“Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “history will look upon the act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.” The Mumbai massacre is a bitter postscript to Gandhi’s comment. D’Souza now laments his own helplessness in the face of the killers: “I only wish I had had a gun rather than a camera.”




MUNDAY'S ORIGINAL SUBMISSION:

It Could Happen Here

By Richard Munday

(Submitted to The Times for consideration - Dan)


The firearms massacres that have periodically caused shock and horror around the world have all been utterly dwarfed by the Bombay shootings, in which a handful of gunmen left some five hundred people killed or wounded. Commentators have been swift to insist that we must all "stand firm" against such outrage; but behind the rhetoric, the pundits have been visibly uncertain how an assault like that in India can be prevented or resisted. The Bombay massacre exposed the myth of a number of our security assumptions.

For anybody who still believed in it, the Bombay shootings exposed the myth of ‘gun control’. India had some of the strictest firearms laws in the world, going back to the Indian Arms Act of 1878, by which Britain had sought to prevent a recurrence of the Indian Mutiny. The guns used in last week’s Bombay massacre were all ‘prohibited weapons’ under Indian law; just as they are in Britain. In this country we have seen the irrelevance of such bans (handgun crime, for instance, doubled here within five years of the prohibition of legal pistol ownership), but the largely drug-related nature of most extreme violence here has left most of us with at best a sheltered awareness of the threat. So far, one has had to be unlucky to be caught like the girls casually machine-gunned outside a Birmingham night club; we have not yet faced a determined and broad-based attack.

The Bombay massacre also exposed the myth that arming the police force guarantees security. Sebastian D’Souza, a picture editor on the Mumbai Mirror who took some of the dramatic pictures of the assault on the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, was angered to find India’s armed police taking cover and apparently failing to engage the gunmen. In Britain, we might recall the prolonged failure of armed police to contain the Hungerford killer, whose rampage lasted over four hours, and who in the end shot himself. In Dunblane too, it was the killer who ended his own career: even at best, police response is almost always belated when gunmen are on the loose. One might think, too, of the McDonald’s massacre in San Ysidro, California, in 1984, where the SWAT team waited for their leader (who was held up in a traffic jam) while 21 unarmed diners were executed.

Rhetoric about standing firm against terrorists aside, in Britain we have no more legal deterrent to prevent an armed assault than did the people of Bombay, and individually we would be just as helpless as victims. The Bombay massacre could happen in London tomorrow; but probably it could not have happened to the Londoners of a hundred years ago.

A century ago the challenge of radical Islam to the British Empire was beyond these shores, but we also faced threats at home from Fenian terrorists and assorted ‘anarchists’. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, in January 1909, two such anarchists, lately come from an attempt to blow up the president of France, tried to commit a robbery in north London, armed with automatic pistols. Edwardian Londoners, however, shot back: and the anarchists were pursued through the streets by a spontaneous hue-and-cry. The police (who could not find the key to their own gun cupboard) borrowed at least four pistols from passers-by, whilst other citizens armed with revolvers and shotguns preferred to use their weapons themselves to bring the assailants down.

Today we are probably more shocked at the idea of so many ordinary Londoners carrying guns in the street, than we are at the idea of an armed robbery (we now see more armed robberies every week than our armed Edwardians forebears suffered in a year). But the world of Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson, pocketing his revolver before he walked the London streets, was real. This was before Britain’s first Firearms Act, and the ownership and carrying of guns was commonplace. We should recall that Britain then was neither politically nor socially more stable than it is today: aside from Irish terrorists and domestic firebombers, it was beset by violent industrial unrest that caused the army to be deployed and strikers killed by the cavalry. Social upheaval did indeed cause panic buying of guns: in Birmingham, one worried man told Austen Chamberlain that he had gone out to buy himself five revolvers, but the gunshop said that whilst they had a hundred in the previous day and fifty left that morning, they were now all sold. Yet for all this, the arming of the populace guaranteed rather than disturbed the peace.

That armed England existed within living memory; but it is now so alien to our expectations that it has become a foreign country. Our image of an armed society is conditioned instead by America: or by what we imagine we know about America. It is a skewed image, because (the vaunted Second Amendment notwithstanding) until recently in much of the US it has been illegal to bear arms outside the home or workplace; and therefore only people willing to defy the law, or social predators, have carried weapons. In the past two decades the enactment of ‘right to carry’ legislation in the majority of states, and the issue of permits for the carrying of concealed firearms to citizens of good repute, has brought a radical change. Opponents of the right to bear arms predicted that ‘right to carry’ would cause blood to flow in the streets, but the reverse has been true: violent crime in America has plummeted.

There are still, of course, exceptions: America’s ‘murder capital’, Washington DC, maintained its gun ban policy until the Supreme Court ruled against it this year. likewise Virginia Tech, site of the 2007 massacre of thirty students, was another local ‘gun free zone’ which forbade the bearing of arms even to those with a licence to carry. That circumstance was rather overlooked in reportage of the tragedy; just as the news media overlooked the contrasting experience of the Appalachian Law School in 2002, where after killing three people a gunman was halted by armed
students: a ‘massacre’ cut short.

In Britain we are not yet ready to recall the final liberty of the subject listed by William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England as underpinning all the others: "the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence". We would still not be ready to do so, were the Bombay massacre to happen in London tomorrow. Or indeed the next time it happened, for we have become so trusting in the shield of the state, and mistrustful of ourselves.

We might, however, allow ourselves to wonder what would have happened at the Taj Mahal hotel last week, had its clientele been like that of the quiet country hotel once visited by Beatrix Potter in Victorian Yorkshire. In conversation, she discovered that only one of the eight or nine guests was not carrying a revolver.

"Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India", Mahatma Gandhi once reflected, "history will look upon the Act denying a whole nation of arms, as the blackest". The Bombay massacre is a bitter postscript to Gandhi’s comment. Sebastian D’Souza, the newspaper photographer who witnessed the slaughter at the railway station, now laments his own helplessness in the face of the killers: "I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera". There may be many among the hundreds of defenceless victims killed or wounded in Bombay who could fervently have wished likkewise.



=======================================
An earlier Times piece by Richard Munday:


Wouldn’t you feel safer with a gun?

British attitudes are supercilious and misguided

By Richard Munday

Editor and co-author of Guns & Violence: the Debate Before Lord Cullen

The Times

September 8, 2007




Despite the recent spate of shootings on our streets, we pride ourselves on our strict gun laws. Every time an American gunman goes on a killing spree, we shake our heads in righteous disbelief at our poor benighted colonial cousins. Why is it, even after the Virginia Tech massacre, that Americans still resist calls for more gun controls?

The short answer is that “gun controls” do not work: they are indeed generally perverse in their effects. Virginia Tech, where 32 students were shot in April, had a strict gun ban policy and only last year successfully resisted a legal challenge that would have allowed the carrying of licensed defensive weapons on campus. It is with a measure of bitter irony that we recall Thomas Jefferson, founder of the
University of Virginia, recording the words of Cesare Beccaria: “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms . . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”

One might contrast the Virginia Tech massacre with the assault on Virginia’s Appalachian Law School in 2002, where three lives were lost before a student fetched a pistol from his car and apprehended the gunman.

Virginia Tech reinforced the lesson that gun controls are obeyed only by the law-abiding. New York has “banned” pistols since 1911, and its fellow murder capitals, Washington DC and Chicago, have similar bans. One can draw a map of the US, showing the inverse relationship of the strictness of its gun laws, and levels of violence: all the way down to Vermont, with no gun laws at all, and the lowest level of armed violence (one thirteenth that of Britain).

How worried should we be about gun crime?

Serious gun crime is concentrated in particular parts of England; internationally, the country has a low death rate from guns

Background

America’s disenchantment with “gun control” is based on experience: whereas in the 1960s and 1970s armed crime rose in the face of more restrictive gun laws (in much of the US, it was illegal to possess a firearm away from the home or workplace), over the past 20 years all violent crime has dropped dramatically, in lockstep with the spread of laws allowing the carrying of concealed weapons by law-abiding citizens.

Florida set this trend in 1987, and within five years the states that had followed its example showed an 8 per cent reduction in murders, 7 per cent reduction in aggravated assaults, and 5 per cent reduction in rapes. Today 40 states have such laws, and by 2004 the US Bureau of Justice reported that “firearms-related crime has plummeted”.

In Britain, however, the image of violent America remains unassailably entrenched. Never mind the findings of the International Crime Victims Survey (published by the Home Office in 2003), indicating that we now suffer three times the level of violent crime committed in the United States; never mind the doubling of handgun crime in Britain over the past decade, since we banned pistols outright and confiscated all the legal ones.

We are so self-congratulatory about our officially disarmed society, and so dismissive of colonial rednecks, that we have forgotten that within living memory British citizens could buy any gun – rifle, pistol, or machinegun – without any licence. When Dr Watson walked the streets of London with a revolver in his pocket, he was a perfectly ordinary Victorian or Edwardian. Charlotte Brontë recalled that her curate father fastened his watch and pocketed his pistol every morning when he got dressed; Beatrix Potter remarked on a Yorkshire country hotel where only one of the eight or nine guests was not carrying a revolver; in 1909, policemen in Tottenham borrowed at least four pistols from passers-by (and were joined by other armed citizens) when they set off in pursuit of two anarchists unwise enough to attempt an armed robbery. We now are shocked that so many ordinary people should have been carrying guns in the street; the Edwardians were shocked rather by the idea of an armed robbery.

If armed crime in London in the years before the First World War amounted to less than 2 per cent of that we suffer today, it was not simply because society then was more stable. Edwardian Britain was rocked by a series of massive strikes in which lives were lost and troops deployed, and suffragette incendiaries, anarchist bombers,
Fenians, and the spectre of a revolutionary general strike made Britain then arguably a much more turbulent place than it is today. In that unstable society the impact of the widespread carrying of arms was not inflammatory, it was deterrent of violence.

As late as 1951, self-defence was the justification of three quarters of all applications for pistol licences. And in the years 1946-51 armed robbery, the most significant measure of gun crime, ran at less than two dozen incidents a year in London; today, in our disarmed society, we suffer as many every week.

Gun controls disarm only the law-abiding, and leave predators with a freer hand. Nearly two and a half million people now fall victim to crimes of violence in Britain every year, more than four every minute: crimes that may devastate lives. It is perhaps a privilege of those who have never had to confront violence to disparage the power to resist.

3 comments:

j said...

Outstanding writing!! Thank you for sharing this! I found it rather telling that the national sense of dhimmitude pervasive to the UK press, allows the public derision of the Fenians whilst censoring any mention of the murdering muzzies. And as has been mentioned, not ONE of the international press 'muslim mouthpieces' has mentioned the fact that the Mumbai terrs were muslims who specifically sought out, tortured and killed Jews first.

Anonymous said...

Great article. It exposes many of the myths propagated about the private ownership of weapons. One thing that caught my attention was the use of the term "anarchist". The sections preceding and after its use describe "armed assault", "blow up the president" and "commit a robbery". A relationship between those actions and anarchism is implied by how it was written. As each action is a direct violation of the "ZAP" principle (a Libertarian principle) and requires coercion, no anarchist would perpetrate such acts without violating the underpinnings of anarchism, thus disqualifying him/herself from being an anarchist. I would not rely on your readers to clarify this for themselves (though i would hope that they would), and would assume you did not intend to misrepresent anarchists to your readers.
Thanks and keep writing!

Anonymous said...

Great article. It exposes many of the myths propagated about the private ownership of weapons. One thing that caught my attention was the use of the term "anarchist". The sections preceding and after its use describe "armed assault", "blow up the president" and "commit a robbery". A relationship between those actions and anarchism is implied by how it was written. As each action is a direct violation of the "ZAP" principle (a Libertarian principle) and requires coercion, no anarchist would perpetrate such acts without violating the underpinnings of anarchism, thus disqualifying him/herself from being an anarchist. I would not rely on your readers to clarify this for themselves (though i would hope that they would), and would assume you did not intend to misrepresent anarchists to your readers.
Thanks and keep writing!