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Down the British Path to Hell

by Dr. Paul Gallant and Dr. Joanne Eisen

Reprinted with permission from Guns & Ammo Magazine, August 2001.
(C)opyrighted 2001 by EMAP-USA, Inc.; All rights reserved.


If you ask anyone what the difference is between police officers in the U.S., and those in Great Britain, the answer is: Our cops carry guns, bobbies don't. Right?

Well, not anymore. British police, intimidated by thugs carrying quality firearms (that include Lugers, Berettas and even Mac-10 sub-machine guns) have lost control of the streets. As Punch magazine recently noted, "unarmed officers now find themselves being confronted by youngsters on mountain bikes brandishing automatic guns."

According to Ann Widdecombe, Great Britain's shadow Home Secretary (the opposition party's counterpart to the head of the Home Office, which incorporates functions similar to the U.S. Department of Justice), criminals there are so well armed today that "we have now reached a situation where police officers need to carry guns just to do their job". And their handguns are worn in open view, "a tactic intended to instill confidence in the public and act as a visible deterrent to criminals".

Some experts believe that British police may be routinely armed within 10 years.

So much for "the traditional notion of a bobby on patrol armed only with a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs", observed the Guardian Unlimited on October 23, 2000, ending a custom which dates back to 1829.

On December 31, the Guardian reported that "gun crime in Britain is soaring to record levels: executions, woundings and related incidents in the past year are set to be the highest ever...". And, it noted, "the number of armed operations by police is also at a record level."

Less than two weeks later, on January 11, 2001, the paper reported that "use of handguns in crime in England and Wales reached its highest level for seven years in 1999-2000", 37 percent higher than the year before.


"Levels of victimisation are higher than in most comparable countries for most categories of crime." --British Home Secretary, Jack Straw


Adding insult to injury, the London Telegraph reported on February 23 that 26 percent of those living in England and Wales had been crime victims in 1999. With one out of four people a crime victim, almost every Brit is acquainted with someone who has been recently victimized. Home Secretary Jack Straw admitted that "levels of victimisation are higher than in most comparable countries for most categories of crime."

It's an indisputable fact: Great Britain has a crime problem - a huge crime problem - and armed criminals are responsible. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Great Britain has long been held up to American gun-owners as the paradigm of non-violent, "civilized" society.

Britain's "new" gun-culture has drastically transformed the face of law enforcement there. On October 23, 2000, the Guardian disclosed that "routine armed foot patrols are now being operated in Nottingham - the first time this has happened on the streets of mainland Britain...a further sign of a growing gun culture...a gun culture [that] is out of control."

Lamented one senior police officer: 

"Arming officers could lead to a dangerous spiral of violence. If the police arm themselves, the criminals will stay a step ahead by obtaining bigger and better weapons. We could be heading for the sort of problems they have in America."

By his comments, the officer demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the predicament his country now faces. Britain is going down its own self-determined path, one where only criminals - and now police - have handguns.

On February 1,1998, after a century of the incremental implementation of increasingly harsh restrictive laws, private ownership of all handguns was outlawed under what was labeled by many as some of "the toughest gun control laws in the world". Despite them - and perhaps because of them - guns have been flooding into Great Britain from the international black market, driven and funded by the demands of Britain's rapidly developing criminal gun-culture.

It had been estimated that the number of illegally possessed firearms doubled over the past four years, and has now reached a figure of 3 million or more. But on January 15, 2001, the Independent noted that "...the National Criminal Intelligence Service has...concluded that the scale of Britain's black market in firearms is 'far higher than anybody had previously thought' ". To put this in perspective, in 1997, according to figures from the Home Office, the total number of lawfully possessed firearms in England and Wales was 1.65 million.

Now that private handgun ownership is outlawed in Great Britain, and lawful possession of long guns is severely restricted and their ownership dropping, many fundamental assumptions of the anti-self-defense lobby have been torn to shreds. For example, how about the claim that the law-abiding civilian gun-stock serves as the source of firearms for career criminals? And how about the presumption that a mechanism such as our own National Instant Check System will have the slightest effect on keeping guns away from criminals?

What's a British politician to do?



With the Labour Party double-digits ahead in the polls as of this writing, Prime Minister Tony Blair only needs to appear to be doing something about crime.

So for starters, he announced another no-questions-asked, keep-the-voters-happy gun turn-in amnesty as part of his new 10-year anti-crime package. But since the law-abiding citizenry has already turned in their legally owned firearms, it's quite unlikely that any owners of Britain's illegally possessed guns will do the same.

Well then, how about reducing the global stockpile of firearms with an international gun buy-back program? That's exactly what British Foreign Secretary (the equivalent of our Secretary of State) Robin Cook announced in the Independent on March 20, 2001.

An "International Arms Surrender Fund" may sound impressive, but it's still just a gun "buy-back" program, destined to meet with the same level of "success" buy-backs have achieved in the past - here or there.

Prime Minister Blair even proposed - with great fanfare - the establishment of yet another gun database containing the names and addresses of all licensed rifle and shotgun holders. The government's package of new firearm measures, which included the gun registry, was unveiled on October 4, 2000. Declared Home Office Minister Charles Clarke: 

"Our firearms controls are already among the strongest in the world, and these new proposals will increase their effectiveness."

That's assuming Britain's criminals decide to obey the law by surrendering their handguns and registering their long guns.

Why not also get rid of a few pesky civil liberties in the name of "public safety", and, in the process, strengthen government control over the citizenry? For example, how about expanding police powers to include the issuance of "on-the-spot" fines for offenses such as "drunk and disorderly behaviour", or "using threatening, abusive or insulting words".

Proposed fines in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, announced on January 19, 2001, would range between 100 and 2,500. Offenders would have the option of paying the fine or going to court. If the fine is paid, there is no admission of guilt, and no criminal record. The state benefits, the police officer benefits (by not being bothered with court proceedings and lengthy paperwork), and the perpetrator benefits. But the rule of law becomes the victim: the certainty of widespread corruption and bribery, and the shakedown of both criminals and non-criminals, alike, cannot be easily dismissed.

Why not also dispense with a right the British - and Americans - have taken for granted for centuries, like the right to remain silent during police interrogation (protected by our own Fifth Amendment)? New laws "compelling motorists to provide potentially incriminating information" are only the beginning of an incredible devaluation of civil rights. Stated Lord Hope, "Public safety is at the heart of the matter". Indeed.

Ditto for the protection against double jeopardy, incorporated in our Fifth Amendment, and part of British common law since the 12th century. According to the March 6, 2001 London Telegraph, the British government's law reform advisors recommended that "the ancient right of a person not to be tried again for the same offence should be abolished in murder cases...if 'compelling' new evidence became available".

Crime has become so much a part of British daily life that the familiar false promise of safety in exchange for a little liberty has become very enticing. After all, these measures would have no effect on the rights of law-abiding citizens - they'd just get more criminals off the streets. Right?



Best of all, why not take your cue from American politicians like Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and blame everyone else for Great Britain's problems? Call for more stringent controls in other countries to "stem the flow" of illegal gun-trafficking when your own restrictive firearm laws backfire. Blame the U.S. for its huge stockpile of guns, and blame Eastern European gun factories. You can always extend the blame as the pattern of criminal acquisition changes.

In his report "The War Between the States", Schumer declared that "a vast network of gun runners use our highways like firearms freeways to traffic illegal guns to criminals...[A] handful of states with weak gun control laws are the source of thousands of guns used by criminals in states with strong gun control laws", like New York. Harsher restrictions in "weak states" - the alleged starting point of the gun-running "pipeline" - will cure that problem, or so we're told. (Wasn't Virginia's one-gun-a-month law supposed to help fix that?)

Just like street-corner con-men, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook (like their U.S. counterparts) use their smoke-and-mirrors tough-on-crime posturing to divert attention away from real solutions, calling for the same failed scheme to be implemented on an international level: stricter controls in other countries to stem the illegal flow of guns into Great Britain. At least it'll look good on paper.

Prefacing his plea with the same emotionally charged rhetoric that has succeeded for America's anti-self-defense lobby, Britain's Foreign Secretary Cook lamented that "For too many children in the world today, the first encounter with the technology of the 21st century is...the barrel of a gun". He then laid the blame on everyone else in the world for the out-of-control explosion of government banned firearms and skyrocketing firearm related crime now afflicting his country.

Cook's solution? Same as before, just try harder this time. "Only a truly global partnership holds out any hope of dealing with the problem" of ready access to small arms by ordinary citizens. The essence of Cook's diatribe is that countries like the U.S. need to tighten the screws on civilian acquisition and ownership of firearms - and on gun manufacturers - in order to keep British criminals gun-free.

Are Tony Blair, Robin Cook, and Charles Schumer right? Are communities really safer with a disarmed citizenry? Is Great Britain now safer? Or Washington, D.C.?

What Cook and the rest of Great Britain's politicians refuse to acknowledge is that there is no way to completely eliminate the black market in firearms.

Disarming a civilian population only serves to ensure that the certain, eventual rearmament will be uneven, with the criminal elements the most likely to be the first to rearm. That's exactly what's happening in Great Britain today.

But suppose - just suppose - that, even on a global scale, all private firearms could actually be confiscated tomorrow. Would that do the trick? Would that solve Great Britain's violent crime problem? Or America's?

How long would it take before someone would be there to profit from the manufacture of new firearms?

Ironically, it was Colin Greenwood, a former Chief Inspector of British Police, who observed in 1972, "[If the question is] 'How can we stop criminals from obtaining firearms?' From the evidence so far supplied, the answer appears to be that we cannot...". Nearly thirty years later, in a private communication, Greenwood told us that nothing has changed his opinion.

To those who cherish liberty and want the safest possible world, here's an old warning with a new twist: Better watch out, or we'll end up going down the British path!

Dr. Paul Gallant practices optometry in Wesley Hills, NY. Dr. Joanne Eisen practices dentistry in Old Bethpage, NY. They may be reached at GOSS, PO Box 354, Thiells, NY 10984-0354.

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