Recent events in Cumbria have led to an entirely predictable concern among UK libertarians that even more restrictions on gun ownership and usage are on the way. But on this occasion, I don’t share their pessimism.
UK domestic gun legislation is already among the tightest in the world (which is a bit ironic for a country that is one of the world’s largest arms exporters). Furthermore, even the most dyed in the wool statists are currently resigned to having their budgets (and therefore their de facto powers, at least) cut in the short to medium term. These facts, combined with the rarity of shooting sprees in the UK by licensed gun owners using their own weapons, make any attempt to administer further restrictions uneconomic.
So, might a total ban be contemplated? I couldn’t help noticing from the outset that key elements of the Whitehaven episode didn’t play out according to the standard gun control script. Jamie Reed, the local MP for Copeland was interviewed by the national media as the story broke on 2nd June. Although a Labour MP, he didn’t go along with one reporter’s efforts to corral him into calling for tighter gun control laws. Clearly, Mr. Reed knows something of the realities of his rural constituents’ daily lives. Quite simply, the prominent role of shotguns in particular in rural pest control means that a shotgun ban is unlikely to be supported.
Since 2nd June, it’s emerged that Derrick Bird had held shotgun and/or firearms licences for 20 years with no prior incidents, so it’s unlikely his actions could have been foreseen by anything short of continuous human and/or audio-visual surveillance (and then only in the very short term). Furthermore, it’s also emerged that local police officers had sight of Derrick Bird and might have been able to prevent his last 9 killings – except that the officers were unarmed, and therefore backed off when he confronted them directly.
This last snippet of news has clearly been released in an effort to deflect criticism away from Cumbrian officers. It may have the effect of relaunching the debate over the routine arming of police officers (that would be the state-thinkful option). This is unlikely to be deemed acceptable, but combined with the recent attack on 2 baby girls in their London home by a fox, it opens up new public debate opportunities for libertarians.
What’s the point of relaxing or scrapping the “reasonable force” restriction on householders’ defence of life and property against intruders if householders aren’t allowed to own and train with the best technical means available for home and self-defence (including pepper sprays, tasers and guns)? No wonder ministers are getting jittery about changing the law. And as urban foxes get more numerous and bold, isn’t it time to stop thinking of home defence purely in terms of repelling human burglars?
But what, you may ask, if the forthcoming debate does result in the police being routinely armed? In that case, civil libertarians of all stripes will unite to get it reversed. A significant number of police officers will meanwhile complain about the potential damage to their public image, and the extra pressures routine carrying of a gun will put on them. And then we will have to wait and see how well the state’s prefabricated “one rotten apple” justification will stand up to the public outcry when an armed police officer finally goes on the rampage with a Heckler and Koch. What, then, will be the justification for using the law of the land to allow only the police and the criminal classes to carry guns in Britain?
Intellectually speaking, at least, I suggest the gun control lobby is only a few steps away from shooting itself in the foot.