Why stopping mass shootings with gun laws is probably impossible

 

5 January, 2013 – I don’t usually comment on criminal events involving the use of firearms in the United States, as there are so many other websites out there that do.  However there has been so much coverage of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut that I’m forced to inject some facts and reality into the debate.

First of all, the use of semi-automatic firearms in crime is as old as semi-automatic firearms, as evidenced for example by the Sidney Street Siege in 1911.  Also mass shootings are nothing new.  There are so many in fact that Wikipedia has a hard time keeping up.

Second of all, there is no one single profile of a mass killer, they vary in age, sex and motive.  Some are sane, some have serious mental health issues.

Third of all, and perhaps most relevant when talking about whether new gun laws could prevent further massacres, they have been committed with every type of firearm there is: single-shot shotguns, double-barrel shotguns, .22 rifles, pump-action shotguns, handguns, bolt-action rifles, lever-action rifles, semi-automatic rifles, machineguns and so on.

And fourth, if not already obvious, these incidents happen the world over, including in countries with very harsh gun laws, such as China, Japan and South Korea.

The impact of gun laws

Against this backdrop, it is very hard to think of any gun law that could stop mass shootings.  Of course the media is quick to point out that countries other than the US with tougher gun laws have much lower firearm-related murder rates, usually pointing first to the UK as an example.  But as anyone familiar with statistical analysis will tell you, you can prove anything with a sample size of two.

It is particularly difficult to compare two different countries and their crime rates, because there are so many possible differences, but at least in the case of homicide, you can assume the police found a body before they recorded the statistic.

Most people use the Small Arms Survey for their statistical comparisons, however having spoken to them in the past even they admit their figures are based on data that could be flawed, estimates of gun ownership in countries like the US for example are largely guesses, based on public opinion polling and other limited sources of information.  But it’s all we’ve got.

So let’s take some low gun ownership, low firearm-related murder countries:

Firearm-related homicide rate per 100,000 Firearms per 100 people
England & Wales 0.07 6.2
Japan 0.01 0.6
South Korea 0.03 1.1

 

And now some low gun ownership, high firearm-related murder countries:

Firearm-related homicide rate per 100,000 Firearms per 100 people
The Bahamas 15.37 5.3
Trinidad & Tobago 27.31 1.6
El Salvador 39.9 5.8

 

Or… how about some high gun ownership, low firearm-related murder countries:

Firearm-related homicide rate per 100,000 Firearms per 100 people
Switzerland 0.77 45
Finland 0.45 45.3
Serbia 0.46 37.8

 

My point being that you can prove anything with international comparisons, first of all you have to take a leap of faith that the data is even accurate.  What it doesn’t prove though is that high gun ownership rates ipso facto mean higher firearm-related murder rates and even though there have been a lot of mass shooting incidents, they’re still too rare to use in any sort of statistical comparison.

You wouldn’t think this though if you read through the press, for example Jack Straw (Home Secretary when handguns were banned in GB) blathering on about how the ban “reduced the risk” of another massacre.  There is no evidence to support this assertion, according to the data collected by the Home Office.  In the years following the handgun ban (1997), handgun-related offences in England & Wales rose sharply, going from 2,600 to a high point of 5,800 a few years later.  Firearm-related homicides rose, in fact they nearly doubled from 54 in 1997/98 to 97 in 2001/02.  They have since fallen, but opinions differ as to why this is, partly because the Home Office changed their methods of collecting data after 2001/02.  One explanation being used across the developed world is that as the population ages, crime levels fall.  Another explanation is that a lot of handgun-related crimes were in fact committed with imitations and were misreported, and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (which introduced controls on realistic imitations) may have caused a decline in more recent years.  If that is the case, then the statistics have been wrong for a long time and there is little to be inferred from them, other than the homicide rates (you can’t commit murder with a gun that is purely an imitation, unless you beat the person to death).

But… you can go further back.  Firearm-related offences also rose sharply after the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which was introduced after the mass shooting in Hungerford.  The main provisions were the prohibition of centrefire semi-automatic and pump-action rifles as well as the introduction of shotgun registration.  The Act was fully implemented in mid-1989 and looking through those statistics you can see a sharp rise in serious firearm-related offences in 1990 of 663 to 1,074 in 1994.  The subsequent decrease is usually put down to the concerted effort of the Met Flying Squad in London focussing on firearm-related crime.  However you want to characterise it, “reduced the risk” is totally inaccurate.  And such statements are surely cold comfort to the victims of Derrick Bird.

So… international comparisons

People going on about how wonderful the gun laws are in the UK miss one rather important fact – because of the British Empire, many Commonwealth countries have gun laws based on those in the UK.  A good example are The Bahamas.  The gun laws in The Bahamas are virtually identical to those in Great Britain, having been written the year after – back when The Bahamas were still a British territory.  The main differences in the laws are in fact that they are stricter: low-power airguns require the same type of licence as a shotgun and licences are renewable annually.  Handguns have been virtually prohibited for decades and require a special licence for which the applicant must show a “genuine need”.  But The Bahamas have a firearm-related homicide rate of 15.37 per 100,000, far higher than the rate in the US (about 3 per 100,000), let alone the rate in England & Wales.

Trinidad & Tobago also has a firearm control regime closely modelled on GB – the main difference being that the controls that apply to rifles in GB basically apply to everything that can be legally possessed there.  And the firearm-related homicide rate there is even higher than The Bahamas: 27.31 per 100,000.  Think I’m picking on the Caribbean?  Lesotho also has very similar gun laws, unfortunately I don’t know what the exact firearm-related murder rate is for Lesotho but I doubt anyone would argue it is anywhere near as low as GB.  As detailed on this site, the Republic of Ireland has gun laws that were modelled after British laws, yet their firearm-related murder rate is 0.48 per 100,000, many times higher than England & Wales.

I’m afraid saying tough gun laws make the world a safer place is simply not proven in fact.  Both The Bahamas and Trinidad & Tobago have lower levels of gun ownership than GB, remember, if the Small Arms Survey is to be believed.  So does Lesotho (2.7 per 100 people).  And they have the same type of gun laws.

Beware of politicians bearing egos

There has also been a lot of press coverage of comments made by John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia who takes the credit for foisting various anti-gun laws on Australia after the Port Arthur shootings.  First of all, although he advocated for them, gun laws are primarily the responsibility of State governments in Australian law.  Second, the Australian Institute of Criminology statistics do not seem to indicate that the gun laws did in fact lead to a lower murder rate – the murder rate was already declining before the laws were enacted (both with and without firearms) and the trend has continued since.  Third, the Australian Crime Commission points out that firearms that were not surrendered in accordance with the 1996 laws are the primary source of illegal long guns used in crime in Australia, so the laws apparently created a black market.  (Estimates vary as to what the compliance rate was, as several States such as New South Wales had no long gun registration at the time, but suffice to say the number not handed in is a significant number by any reasonable estimate.  Look at the first table in this SSAA article – New South Wales has a larger population than Victoria but the number of guns handed in was substantially lower).

And most importantly of all, there has been a mass shooting in Australia since 1996, so the laws were changed again.  Perhaps the 1996 laws did reduce the chance of a mass shooting, who knows, but the picture is a lot more murky than John Howard would have you believe.  Tasmania did in fact have a firearm licensing law in place in 1996, the Guns Act 1991, but Martin Bryant had not obtained a licence and was illegally in possession of the guns he used.

And finally

Rarely do I ever hear calls for the military and the police to be disarmed.  Even people who want guns banned still seem to think it is okay for the military and police to operate a monopoly of force.  There have been many cases of rogue members of the military or the police committing mass shootings.  There’s one currently facing trial as I write this.  Here’s an example of a police officer who did it.  Or they might just be career criminals (which is after all why the police carry guns, here’s another example).

I’m afraid there is no easy solution to stopping the phenomena of mass shootings, if there was, it would have been done already.  I could explore some of the other options and reasons why they happen.  Maybe I will at a later date, but suffice to say that gun laws do not possess the magical properties some politicians and certain commentators in the media bestow on them.


Scotland

On the subject of gun laws that won’t work, the Scottish Government has launched a consultation on airgun licensing.  They’re clearly going to try doing it and I don’t see much way of stopping them since the SNP won the election.

People are trying though, petition and facebook page.

My view is that when you respond to the consultation, focus on demands for compensation and also that the licensing fee should be waived to begin with.  When the cost of this madness dawns on them, perhaps reality will finally take a grip.  Doubtful though, seeing as they ignored the Home Office, who pointed out that any licensing requirement could easily be evaded by going to England. 


“We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on.” – 29th Canon of the Second Lateran Council, under Pope Innocent II, 1139.

Cumbria

 

15 June, 2010 – We may never know exactly what was going on in Derrick Bird’s head on June 2nd, and if we did there’s a good chance we would never be able to make sense of it, because there seems little in his personal life that could have led him to commit murder, let alone mass murder.  Mr Bird used a double-barrel shotgun loaded with birdshot and a .22 bolt-action rifle to shoot dead twelve people and injure another eleven on that day, before taking his own life.  There was apparently a dispute over a will and also apparently a tax investigation by HMRC, but these are problems faced every day by people and he appears to have been an entirely ordinary person engaged in an ordinary job who possessed ordinary firearms for the most mundane of reasons, i.e. pest control.

Given that most of his victims appear to have been randomly chosen and that his route around Cumbria was also apparently random, there appears to have been a lack of planning by Mr Bird of his murderous rampage beyond the first three victims or so.  The logical conclusion to draw is that something went seriously wrong inside Mr Bird’s head and it happened pretty rapidly, as witnesses indicate they noticed nothing out of the ordinary until some statements made by him the day before.  If in fact he was mentally ill and simply snapped, this is one of the few times an incident such as this has occurred and people have felt sympathy for the perpetrator, as Mr Bird was apparently well-liked in the local community.  The other theory is that he harboured resentment over losing a job in 1990 and if someone can hold in that degree of anger for twenty years and go undetected, it’s likely they never would have been.

The police response

Apparently two or three officers attempted to pursue Mr Bird during his rampage but were unable to do so because he was armed; this obviously has led to criticism of the police not carrying guns, so Cumbria’s Chief Constable has asked for help in a review of how they deal with firearm incidents.  As I have previously pointed out, the police probably do need to have more guns than they currently have, however arming every PC in the country especially in an area with little armed crime like Cumbria is unrealistic.  Faster access to firearms and having more trained officers is probably the best that can be done, but in a place as rural as Cumbria, police stations are few and far between so expecting the police to grab their guns and stop the shooter before any damage is done is a dubious hope at best.  Probably the most that could be expected is that they might be able to cut short the incident.

One positive thing that has happened though is that the police seem to have been jolted out of their complacency about these sorts of incidents; up until now they appear to have considered that Parliament could actually prevent them with oppressive legislation and instead planned on tackling armed robbers and the like.  It’s unrealistic to expect Parliament to ban the possession of shotguns in rural areas by pest controllers, so clearly the police need to have a plan to deal with such incidents.  Look at it like this – if it had been a carload of terrorists armed with military weapons rather than a bloke with a shotgun, what would the police have done?  Yes, it’s very unlikely but still, there needs to be a plan to deal with it when it does happen.

The coalition

David Cameron has taken the approach of calling for calm and no knee-jerk legislation; this is of course the correct thing to do but it’s not clear what the Government is really thinking.  What is sure is they have their hands full with the economy and the best read of what they’re thinking at the moment is: “we’ve got better things to do”.  The Prime Minister has however promised a parliamentary debate at the end of July on the subject of gun laws, after the Home Office has had a chance to examine the issue; shooters will of course have to monitor this closely.

The current thinking

There have been various ideas put forward in the press and elsewhere on how controls could be tightened; the widow of one of the victims of the Monkseaton shootings has been the first to come forward to advocate for changes.

Many people have called for central storage of firearms at gun clubs; the standard response to this one is that central storage creates an easy source of guns for criminals.  However the real reason why it won’t happen and didn’t happen in 1997 is that it is wholly impractical.  The vast majority of guns in the UK are not owned by target shooters who are members of gun clubs; they are principally owned by pest controllers and people involved in a wide variety of field sports.  Given that reality, anyone bent on mass murder could easily create a pretext for removing their gun from central storage.  Logistically there are approaching two million licensed firearms in Great Britain – if 200,000 handguns could not be kept locked up centrally then clearly two million long guns cannot be.  Lord Cullen’s idea of keeping a key component stored at a club won’t work for double-barrel shotguns because there is no bolt to remove.

The only places that do have central storage tend to be city states like Singapore and Curacao for example.  In Hong Kong where handguns must be stored at gun clubs, pest controllers can keep their shotguns at home.

Another idea that is always mooted after events such as this is psychometric testing of licensed gun owners.  Japan has such testing but has had two people run amok with licensed shotguns in the past.  However in the UK the Royal College of Psychiatrists submitted evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in 1996 stating that no meaningful testing could ever be done given the sheer volume of certificate applications and renewals every year.  Checking with GPs has also been put forward as an idea – although the police can check with an applicant’s GP they usually don’t unless they have a concern about the application.  As part of an NHS performance review some years ago, GPs were advised not to counter-sign applications for shotgun certificates anymore because it wasted their time, so it’s doubtful they could possibly respond to an enquiry about every certificate application or renewal.  Another simple point is that many certificate holders don’t have a GP or if they do might never have seen him or her.

Something else that has been suggested is to require firearm certificates for shotguns – however Mr Bird had obtained an FAC in 2007 for his rifle, so that seems unlikely to have prevented his rampage.

Most likely the Home Office will dust off many previous proposals that they have sympathised with in the past, such as a referee requirement for shotgun certificates; better questions on the referee form; modernisation of the language in section 21 of the 1968 Act (prohibited persons) and most importantly, requiring the police to visit applicants in person prior to granting or renewing a certificate.  Although this was recommended by the Dunblane Public Inquiry, some rural police forces with limited resources still perform renewals by post.  The additional cost of doing this will likely lead to higher licensing fees which are already under review.

Whether they propose banning anything else as a sop to public concern remains to be seen.

Mass shootings in Great Britain

There has been much comment in the press that this is the “third” of these incidents, which is inaccurate.  More accurately, it’s the third one that the average journalist can bring to mind.  For the sake of factual accuracy, here are some of the others:

  • James Griffiths in 1969 shot 13 people with a sawn-off shotgun in Glasgow while attempting to evade police;
  • Olatunde Adetoro in 1999 shot and wounded five people with an AK-47 while attempting to escape from pursuing police;
  • Barry Williams in 1978 shot dead three of his neighbours in Birmingham, seriously injuring another using a 9mm pistol, then went on a rampage shooting at people randomly from his car before stopping at a petrol station and shooting dead two people, before being arrested. (Committed under the Mental Health Acts, later released);
  • Robert Sartin, a mentally ill man released into the care of his parents under the “care in the community” scheme in Monkseaton in 1989 stole his father’s shotgun and shot 17 people with it, one fatally. (Committed under the Mental Health Acts);
  • Kevin Weaver in 1988, murdered his mother and sister in Bristol with a hammer then went to his workplace with a shotgun and randomly opened fire, killing two other people.  Weaver had previously been diagnosed as mentally ill, but a police psychiatrist disagreed and his shotgun certificate was reinstated;
  • The murders of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare in 2003 in Birmingham.

There are a couple of others I can think of, one in the late sixties (man murdered his family with an SLR, after a police siege he was committed to a mental hospital, released in the early 1990s and then murdered his wife with a borrowed shotgun) and another in 1990 (man murdered a range officer at a gun club, stole the gun, shot his wife with it), but I can’t recall all the details unfortunately.

We told you so

I hate to make political points on the back of a tragedy, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that it is blatantly apparent now that the handgun ban in 1997 was a complete and utter waste of time and money.  And more importantly by turning a handgun ban into a political issue rather than considering public safety implications properly, there are a number of politicians who should not be sleeping well right now.  I recall for example Michael Yardley’s submission to the Dunblane Public Inquiry in which he demonstrated that a similar massacre could be accomplished with a double-barrel shotgun and then went on to discuss psychological factors that come into play with people that go on these rampages; although Lord Cullen took note of his and other submissions, the Government never did.  The tories were too busy trying to stay in power and the Labour Party were too busy trying to win an election.  They essentially turned the issue of public safety into a political football and by so doing overlooked or maligned many important issues that were raised by Dunblane.

It’s worth naming some of the more important offenders:

  • Tony Blair, who went out of his way to point the finger at handguns (most notably at the Labour Party conference in 1996) in order to gain political leverage in the election;
  • Michael Forsyth (former Secretary of State for Scotland) who told the cabinet they must support a handgun ban, thereby misdirecting the evaluation of what had happened and what might be done to prevent it;
  • Michael Howard (former Home Secretary) for listening to Michael Forsyth when he should have known better and also for coming to conclusions about what would be done with the gun laws before the public inquiry was complete;
  • George Robertson (former NATO Secretary General), whose attacks on shooters and general ranting in Parliament were unprofessional and also prevented proper consideration of the issues involved;
  • David Mellor (former Conservative MP), whose general idiocy on the issue of guns and rabble-rousing in the press also helped derail any proper consideration of what should happen;
  • Brian MacKenzie, now a peer, then the head of the Police Superintendents’ Association, who told his Association that the Home Affairs Committee report on handguns “should be thrown in the bin” even though in their submission to the Home Affairs Committee, the PSA described a ban as “too draconian” and “an unacceptable restriction on the liberty of the citizen”.  Lord MacKenzie is one of the worst offenders because he appears to have used his support for a handgun ban as political leverage with the Labour Party to get nominated as a peer.  The coalition supports reforming the House of Lords to provide for direct elections, so we can only hope he loses his seat as a result.

One can only hope (and lobby) that this time, because there is no election at stake, calmer minds will prevail.


“It is natural enough to ask, after a major disaster involving a particular class of gun, why possession of all such weapons should not be banned.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple.  It is obvious that panic legislation, which might be seen at its outset to bear the seeds of failure, should be avoided.  What would be the point of a total ban on the lawful holding of handguns if there remained easy access to unlawful handguns, and easy access – both lawful and unlawful – to powerful rifles, or to shotguns which, given time to reload (and we have already noted that rate of fire at both Hungerford and Port Arthur was not a particular factor in the scale of killing), would have the same result?  As we concluded when we discussed the possibility of banning the possession of all guns, the improvement in public safety would be minimal.  We see no point in a total ban on the possession of handguns alone, and we do not recommend it.” – Home Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of the 1995-96 session, “Possession of Handguns”, page xx. (Emphasis as original).

Finally, an actual election

 

30 March, 2010 – The British Government will shortly call a general election; it’s generally expected to be called on April 6th and to take place on May 6th, because that is the date of the local elections.

Unlike the last couple of elections, this one will actually be a real contest for reasons that are too obvious to state here.  The real question is what should shooters do this time around?

Labour have undoubtedly been the most anti-gun government for decades, as I suspected they would be when I created the banner at the bottom of the page.  The list of all the anti-gun laws they’ve put through Parliament is pretty long, starting with the Firearms (Amendment)(No 2) Act 1997 that banned .22 pistols.  This was followed by laws such as the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 that banned airguns like the Brocock air cartridge guns and raised the age limit for legal possession and the even more onerous Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, that banned “realistic imitation firearms” as well as raising the age limit for possession of an airgun again, required airgun dealers to be registered, banned mail order sale of airguns and so on.  Not content with all that there is a Bill in Parliament right now called the Crime and Security Bill which would also introduce a secure storage requirement for airguns, plus there is a consultation on new controls on de-activated firearms.

In short, they’re no friends of shooters.  The problem is that the tories aren’t either.  Under Thatcher there was the Firearms Act 1982, which banned many types of imitations and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, that banned most types of pump-action and semi-automatic rifles while also introducing registration of shotguns.  Also there was the handgun ban in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 under the Major Government.  David Cameron, the current leader of the Conservative Party, has already stated he does not want to see the handgun ban repealed.

The Liberal Democrats don’t appear to be particularly friendly towards shooters either, although they do tend to represent constituencies in rural Scotland and the southwest where gun ownership is the most common.  However they haven’t formed a Government since the Firearms Act 1920 so generally it’s not that important what they think.  The Scottish nationalists also appear to be vehemently anti-gun and are currently lobbying for a ban or licensing of airguns in Scotland.

So what to do?  Well we need to bear in mind that not all Labour and Conservative MPs follow the party line.  For example there are Labour MPs such as Austin Mitchell, Frank Cook, Kate Hoey etc. who have lobbied quite hard against the anti-gun line of the Labour party.

Basically, you should contact the leading candidates in your constituency and find out where they stand – make it clear your vote depends on it.

Personally I think that a minority Conservative Government would probably be the best outcome for shooters, as they will need a lot of support to be able to govern and they may reach out to shooters in that event.  Devolution of firearm law-making power to the Scottish Parliament is also something to quiz candidates about, as this is something that will be decided pretty much immediately after the election.

Dogs

No doubt if you’ve been following the press you have read about the Government plans to tighten the Dangerous Dogs Act in various ways, due to the misuse of so-called “attack” or “assault” dogs by thugs.  Various figures have been given for the number of dog bites treated at hospitals and any sort of tragic story is being trolled through the tabloids, etc.  It all sounds familiar doesn’t it?  There is little doubt in my mind that without a serious change in culture the UK could well end up having a Cat De-clawing Act on the books.

Ireland

Been awhile since I’ve done one of these editorials, but an important piece of legislation passed last year in Ireland, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.  It sounds innocuous, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Basically this Act was intended to clean up the mess created by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, not the least of which was the wording of “restricted firearms” in the 2006 Act, which was intended to be a way to prohibit firearms, more or less, but that didn’t turn out the way the Govt. intended.

This Act provides for the Minister of Justice by statutory instrument to prohibit certain types of firearms; creates a massively complex system of prohibiting realistic imitation firearms with some exemptions that require licensing; prohibits “dynamic and practical” shooting sports; provides for a staggered introduction of the three-year licensing term; grandfathers owners of handguns and bans new applications except for air pistols and .22s in rare circumstances (potential Olympic team members and the like, basically).

Bear in mind this is all in addition to the new provisions introduced by the 2006 Act, as detailed here.

Don’t move to Ireland, to cut a long story short.  Although I suppose at least it is still technically possible to own an actual modern handgun for target shooting in Ireland, which is more than you can say about Great Britain (excluding the handful of Olympic hopefuls who have been given prohibited weapons authority so they can dry-fire their pistols).

Finland

A recent multiple shooting at a supermaket in Finland with a stolen 9mm pistol has prompted a commission set up by the Govt. there to call for a ban on semi-automatic pistols, this also follows two school shootings using .22 semi-auto pistols.

There are about 200,000 legally owned handguns in Finland, about the same as in Great Britain prior to the ban – except that Finland has a population 9% the size of Great Britain.  Not surprisingly, with that level of gun ownership the coalition Govt. is split over implementing such a ban.  Two rather obvious problems with it is that it would be barking mad in a country where collectors can legally own machineguns (not to mention revolvers), the second is that a lot of problems have been highlighted with the licensing system, which in many locales still involves a lot of paperwork with gun registration records residing in filing cabinets.  It’s rather hard to collect guns in when you’re not sure who owns them.


“A lady can carry a revolver hidden for self-defence in many more ways than a man, owing to her draperies affording more places for concealment.  Cloaks, capes, etc., make good hiding-places for a revolver; inside a muff is about one of the best places; and a small revolver in the right hand, inside a muff, that hand hanging down by the side, is ready for instant use.  As ladies often carry their muffs in this way, it does not arouse suspicion.  It is very important for ladies to protect their ears when shooting.” – Walter Winans, p. 218, “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, pub. 1901.

 

Out of ideas and out of time

 

April 1, 2007 – Nothing indicates quite clearly how intellectually bankrupt the Government now is on the subject of armed crime in our society than the recent fiasco involving statements made by Tony Blair.

Responding to public concerns over a recent spate of shooting incidents in London, Manchester and elsewhere, Mr Blair made one gaff after another on a BBC breakfast TV show.  First he stated that the age limit for being subject to the mandatory 5-year sentence for possession of a prohibited firearm should be lowered from 21 to 18.  Unfortunately, section 287 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 already says that, and the Conservatives were able to make political hay out of the Prime Minister’s gaff at apparently not being aware of major provisions of legislation his own Government is responsible for.

The second gaff the PM made was to announce a “review” of firearms controls, without apparently being aware that the Home Office is already conducting one.

And then the PM fell back onto tired old rhetoric about gun crime “summits” and the usual platitudes.  Unfortunately for the PM, this time virtually no-one finds any of it credible.

It’s the same old rubbish we’ve heard many times before, which is why laws like the Criminal Justice Act 2003, Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 exist.

The Met police chief, Sir Ian Blair, then destroyed his own credibility by pulling another tired old idea out of the hat, i.e. a call for a gun amnesty.  The Home Secretary, John Reid, appeared non-committal.  Probably a good idea as his career will outstrip that of either Blair.  Or there is the remote possibility he is aware of his department’s own guidance to the police, which says:

25.5 Anyone surrendering an illegally held
firearm should be questioned discreetly with
a view to establishing its history but, unless
circumstances exist to give serious cause for
concern as to its provenance (for example,
if it appears to have been stolen), the
person handing it in should not be pressed.
The emphasis should be on creating an
environment in which people hand in illegally
held firearms.

What this basically means is that there is a permanent firearms amnesty going on all the time.  That the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police appears to be unaware of this is rather worrying.

The real picture

Home Office statistics on firearm-related crime paint a mixed picture, and it is possible to pull things out of them in isolation that support the view that gun crime is not as bad as it was, or alternatively, that it is getting worse, by picking on whichever category you want.  For example, armed robbery is up, while firearm-related homicide is down.

However, to draw any conclusion its necessary to look at the complete picture, which of course no politician is going to do, especially on national TV, unless its overwhelmingly positive, which it isn’t.

What we see if we look at the statistics in total is that the most serious types of armed crime are indeed going down, such as homicide.  On the lower end of the scale, such as offences involving the use of airguns, the statistics are relatively static.  However, it is the middle tier of offences where things are getting worse, such as armed robbery.

This gives us a mixed outlook.  There are various theories that fit these statistics.  My own theory is that the use of firearms in the middle tier of offences is slowly broadening, and that is supported for example by the increasing use of firearms in robberies on public highways.  This is not a good long-term sign, because although the total number of offences is still relatively low, the broadening of various categories of offence indicates an increasing reliance on the use of firearms in crime generally.

Also, firearm-related homicide is such a rare event it’s difficult to draw any conclusion on one year’s worth of statistics.  Injuries caused with firearms are however down, but this is a small drop after several years of sharp increases.  I wonder whether part of the drop in homicides could be attributed to the fact that hospitals and ambulance staff are simply becoming more skilled at dealing with firearm-related injuries?

Suffice to say however that there is no strong indication that any of the legislation in the past few years has caused any sort of massive impact on armed crime.  Which is why we are now being treated to all sorts of politicians and policemen going through the motions with the same tired old rhetoric.  They are, quite simply, out of ideas; but then that was obvious years ago.

France

France has recently amended their firearm laws in an intriguing way – to allow people “who are exposed to serious risks to their security” to have a Category 1 or 4 firearm for personal protection, (meaning basically a handgun).

The motivation for this has been to safeguard against terrorist attacks.  It is similar to the provisions that exist in Northern Ireland, where it is possible for someone who is at risk of terrorist attack to obtain a firearm certificate for one pistol for personal protection.

France has had for many years a tightly circumscribed provision that allows people to have a Category 4 handgun on their own property for personal protection, but being allowed to carry a handgun around, and a military calibre one at that (Category 1) is a new phenomenon.

I have argued unsuccessfully for some time that Great Britain needs a similar provision, but it always seems to fall on deaf ears.  I have never understood (and neither have many Northern Irish politicians) why a person who is able to qualify for an FAC for personal protection in Northern Ireland should suddenly not be deemed fit to even possess a handgun, let alone carry it around with them, when they set foot in Great Britain.  Do terrorists not travel?

In this era of terrorist attacks by radical Islamic fundamentalists, it does seem odd that a provision equivalent to the new French law does not exist in Britain.

Scotland

Calls for an airgun ban in Scotland, mainly by those on the far left, continue.  The cynical view of this is that the sponsor wants to divert attention away from his allegedly seedy personal life, however there is more than that to it, with victims of crime also calling for a ban.

The Scottish Government has so far resisted calls for a ban, for two simple reasons – the Scottish Govt. doesn’t have the power to enact local firearm legislation, as this is reserved to Westminster.  The second reason why is that they don’t want to ask because it would be politically embarrassing and patently wouldn’t work, because it could be easily evaded by simply crossing the border to acquire an airgun.

However, if you live in Scotland, it would be wise to contact your MSP to protest against calls for tighter airgun regulations.  If for no other reason than the large amount of legislation that has been passed at Westminster the last few years.

The “Violent Crime Reduction Act”

Last, and by no means least, is the pending introduction of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 which contains many firearm-related provisions.  I will update the legal section when the regulations under the Act have been finalised, but the Act will come into force during 2007.

On Friday April 6th various firearm-related provisions will be commenced: 

  • enhanced application of mandatory minimum penalties to firearm-related offences; 
  • the new offence of minding a firearm; 
  • the requirement for dealers in air weapons in GB to be registered (note: this is only a limited commencement of these provisions to allow time for dealers to become registered, before the rest of the provisions relating to mail order bans, higher age limits, etc. is brought in); 
  • the requirement for transfers of primers or primed cases to be made only to people who hold a firearm or shotgun certificate, an RFD or who are otherwise exempt.

There is also lots of new firearms legislation in the Republic of Ireland, in the shape of Part 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006.  However the Dept. of Justice is still trying to figure out how to implement the various provisions, so I shall update the legal section at the relevant time. 


“Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” – Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., at a time when the city had the highest per capita murder rate in the US.  Washington also has the highest per capita rate of handgun-related murders in the US, despite banning handguns in 1976.  Only one firearm-related homicide has been committed in Washington with a firearm other than a handgun since 1976.

 

More legislative nonsense

 

4 June, 2006 – The Violent Crime Reduction Bill continues through Parliament, and will likely be enacted before the summer recess.

Some of the sillier provisions in this Bill that would have affected shooters have actually been removed, such as the ban on deactivated firearms and the requirement to show a firearm certificate before acquiring a reloading press.  However, it still contains various nasty provisions, such as the very broad prohibition of: “realistic imitation firearms”.  This will largely outlaw airsoft guns, although ones currently in circulation will be legal to possess and transfer by gift.

The problem of course, as I’ve previously described, is that due to the widespread ownership of these guns, hardly anyone will be aware of the prohibition, and if those people then attempt to sell their airsoft guns, they will be liable to prosecution.  The Government has made a small concession to airsoft enthusiasts, that being that dealers will be allowed to import them for the purpose of making them not look realistic (presumably by changing their colour) prior to sale.

One hopes the Home Office will make a more serious effort to explain this prohibition to the public at large than they have with previous prohibitions, such as the prohibition of self-contained air cartridge guns, which was met with 10% compliance – at best.

The Bill also contains a provision requiring the age limit for the legal purchase of airguns to be raised to 18 and also imitation guns (which presumably includes water pistols and many toys) will have an age limit of 18 imposed for their acquisition.  How raising the age limit for airguns from 17 to 18 will make any difference is unclear, and the Government are more than happy to say that, contradicting their own consultation document which suggested that age limits be made more consistent.  So when this Bill is enacted, a person will be able to buy a shotgun or a rifle at a younger age than they can an air pistol or air rifle.  Yes, very logical, I don’t think.  Dealers in airguns will also need to be registered with the police, as it the current case with other types of firearm.  The main upshot of this is that mail order sales will be prohibited.  At one fell swoop, this will wipe out a large chunk of the gun trade.

And just to illustrate how stupid this legislation is, there is nothing in it that prohibits people convicted of serious offences from possessing a realistic imitation firearm.

Belgium

A recent racially-motivated killing in Belgium by a self-confessed fascist teenager has led the Belgian legislature to vote nearly unanimously to enact the pending gun licensing bill that has been languishing for some years now.  The teenager in question had purchased a rifle from a dealer, and under current Belgian law, the dealer issues the licenses for Category C and D firearms (most sporting long guns) rather than the police, who are simply notified of the sale.  The passage of this law predictably led to a rush of people buying guns before the new licensing provisions come into effect, so I’m sure that will make everyone a lot safer.

The new licensing law is very invasive, and allows the police to interview the neighbours of the applicant, requires frequent license renewals, limits the number of firearms a person can own, etc.  It’s based on Dutch law, and we all know how intolerant and illiberal the Netherlands are.  When it comes to guns, anyway.  I should note that it’s entirely possible the teenager in question would still have been able to get a license.

The real problem with the law however is that it has now been rushed through without proper consideration, and this leads me onto my next point…

South Africa

The South African Government rammed a heavy-handed piece of legislation down the throats of South African gun owners in 2000.  It was doomed to failure due to the hugely bureaucratic nature of the law, which the already stretched South African Police Service couldn’t hope to cope with.  This was made worse by the very short periods that licenses were valid under the Firearms Control Act.

Since the law came into effect, very few licenses have been issued as SAPS is swamped with paperwork, and the situation has rapidly descended from a state of chaos into a frank admission that they can’t meet the requirements of the Act.

After consulting with gun owners, the Government decided to scrap the relicensing requirements of the Act and simply proceed with an audit of guns owned by licensees.  However, they then decided that they could face civil action by people issued new licenses who had been forced to dispose of some of their guns without compensation because they were unable to obtain new licenses for them (the new Act imposes numerical limits on the number of guns licensees can own).

So, the Government is going to proceed with the relicensing provisions of the 2000 Act, but the new Amendment Bill introduced into Parliament will extend the validity of most categories of license, and create a much longer transitional period that will end in 2009 for the new licensing provisions to be brought in.

Hands up everyone who thinks that SAPS will be able to complete this massive bureaucratic undertaking by 2009?

As I suspect the Belgians will shortly find out, it’s easy to vote for “gun control” – but putting it into practice without wasting huge amounts of police resources that could actually be used to catch criminals is something else.  Hmm… which leads me onto my next point…

Canada

The new Conservative Government in Canada is coming under pressure from gun owners to scrap the hugely costly gun registry, which came into being as a result of the Firearms Act 1995.  Originally it was expected to cost $2 million, but with on-going costs it’s probably topped $2 billion by now.

The new Government has pledged to scrap the registration of so-called: “non-restricted firearms”, i.e. most sporting long guns, which make up more than 90% of the firearms owned by Canadians.  However, it is the gun owner licensing provisions that make up most of the cost of the system, and it’s not clear what will happen there.  So far the Government has merely proposed handing it over to the RCMP to manage instead of the Dept. of Justice.

Many gun owners in Canada were hoping the law would return to the pre-1995 situation, but this was always unlikely.  Some of the more hated provisions of the legislation, such as the prohibition of handguns with a barrel length of 105mm or less, magazine capacity restrictions on pistols and semi-automatic rifles, etc. seem destined to stay, at least for now.

NATSS

The national target shooting associations in the UK, the National Rifle Association, the National Smallbore Rifle Association and the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association have announced their intent to merge into one organisation that will be called the “National Association of Target Shooting Sports”.  I can think of better names frankly, but this is a huge step in the right direction of strengthening the shooting sports in this country.  It will allow for a co-ordinated national strategy in many areas, including the political one of course.

Shame they didn’t do it twenty years ago, but better late than never.


“A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.” – Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his nephew, 19 September, 1785.

 

Gold for Gault

April 1, 2006 – Which just about says it all, Michael Gault won Gold for England in 25m Standard Pistol at the recent Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

Winning this award is virtually miraculous, due to the fact that the .22 rimfire semi-automatic pistols used in Standard Pistol are prohibited in Great Britain, and Mick has to go to Switzerland to practice.  Winning it also makes Mick the most successful English competitor in Commonwealth Games history.

As amazing as all this is, it is obviously tempered by the fact that unless something is done to repeal the handgun ban, Mick will likely be the last British competitor to be so successful in these pistol disciplines.  By the time the 2012 Olympics roll around, Mick will be in his late fifties, and it’s hard to see how much in the way of new blood can be gotten into these disciplines.

Thanks to the determination of people like Mick, legal equipment has become available in the past few years that is suitable for 50m Free Pistol under ISSF rules.  It’s legal because the barrel has been made longer and counter-balance rods have been added to the rear of the pistol which make it legal under GB law, as the law defines a handgun by length.

Alan Westlake of Westlake Engineering has been making similar efforts with semi-automatics, unfortunately although he has come up with guns that are fairly workable, they are not legal for competition use under ISSF rules (which means transitioning to another pistol overseas for international competitions).

What this means is that there is a chance of new competitors coming through who can win at the international level, but realistically, with all the barriers they face it’s going to be an uphill struggle.

The handgun ban is a stupid law that needs to be repealed.  Handguns are more widely used in crime than they ever were before the ban, as proven by Home Office statistics.  The Government sometimes tells us that the reason for the ban was to stop “legal” handguns being used in crime, after the events at Dunblane.  The problem with that statement has always been that the public inquiry headed by Lord Cullen came to a different conclusion.  Even if the Government wanted a ban and ignored his recommendations in relation to them, Lord Cullen wrote, there was no reason to ban clubs from possessing handguns for the use of their members.  So what do we have today?  A complete ban on target shooting with handguns, with the exception of muzzle-loading pistols and air pistols.

Kate Hoey MP has introduced an Early Day Motion into the House of Commons which makes this point.  It’s important that you get hold of your MP and urge them to support this EDM, and point out to them the heroic efforts of people like Mick Gault.  If you don’t know who your MP is, find out who they are on the Parliament website, and write to them at the House of Commons, Westminster, SW1A 0AA.

The Dunblane “Conspiracy”

Talking about stupid things, I grow increasingly depressed by how many people keep getting taken in by the conspiracy theory surrounding the tragic shootings at Dunblane Primary School.

It seems to have a never-ending life, as soon as one aspect of it is disproven, along come another bunch of people with yet another spin on the theory to which they want: “answers”.

The reality is that it’s simply not true, the various theories that Thomas Hamilton was somehow involved with the masons or some sort of paedophilia ring with members of Central Scotland Police are pure fiction and have no basis in fact.

You may wonder why I am so certain about this; well apart from the fact that I can think logically, I know for a certain fact that this conspiracy theory was made up, because I know who the people are who originally made it up.  Despite my best attempts to quash it at the start it continually keeps popping up and has been endlessly embellished by the latest campaigner for the “truth”.

Over the years I’ve had bona fide journalists contact me for information, and after I’ve given them the information I have, they too have also concluded that it’s a fantasy.

Like all conspiracy theories, it contains some limited elements of truth.  For example some of the people who gave oral evidence at the public inquiry made statements that don’t entirely match up with their written statements.  This is one of the things that is seized on to say there was a “cover up”.  Unfortunately it proves no such thing, I doubt there has ever been a judicial inquiry in the history of the planet where all the oral and written statements entirely match up.  Knowing that it’s made up I suppose gives me an advantage, because I can clearly see through all the claptrap and flawed theorising immediately.

For awhile, people prattled on about how there must have been a cover up because Lord Cullen put some of the evidence under a 100-year closure order.  Since it’s been lifted, yet more embellishment has come out of the woodwork.

If you actually take the time to think it through logically, it’s obviously bunk, because why would someone like Thomas Hamilton, a person who was heavily in debt and almost certainly a paedophile, go on a rampage and kill over a dozen children if he had connections to various people in authority who would have overlooked his transgressions?  The answer is that he wouldn’t of.

The calls for a further public inquiry also make me laugh, because I guarantee that the end result of any further inquiry would simply be that the whole thing would be discredited – and so would be all the people who have put it forward, which unfortunately includes a number of shooters who should know better.

Now if you’re a conspiracy theorist and want to waste your time pursuing this absurd conspiracy theory, go right ahead and waste your time.  However, if you’re a shooter, please come to your senses and realise that this theory is total nonsense and use your time more usefully, e.g. by trying to get the handgun ban repealed.  Certainly undermining the Dunblane Public Inquiry won’t do that, because Lord Cullen didn’t recommend a handgun ban, and he also concluded that Central Scotland Police made serious mistakes in their dealings with Thomas Hamilton and the manner in which he was able to retain his firearm certificate.

It’s a stupid theory and endlessly going on about it helps no-one.  Get a grip people.  (And no, just because I wrote this on April 1st doesn’t mean I’m pulling your leg either.)

Targeting the right people

 

February 26, 2006 – Recently released crime statistics from the Home Office indicate that armed crime in England & Wales fell in the most recent reporting year, 2004/05.  Armed crime dropped overall by 5% and armed crime involving the use of a handgun fell by 15%.  This is the first recorded decrease since 1997, and shows that the police focus on armed crime is finally starting to pay off, although the overall rate is still far higher than it was in 1997 and so is the rate of handgun-related offences, despite the utterly futile handgun ban in 1997.  The statistics also seem to indicate interestingly in table 3.03 that the use of converted imitation firearms in crime is not as great as the police and Government have been saying for several years.

However, all is not sweetness and light in my opinion.  Several so-called “targeted” operations have in fact ended up with the arrest and conviction of people who frankly were no threat to public safety, and in many cases they were entirely unaware they had committed an offence.  I have frankly been astonished at the number of e-mails I have received from respectable people who have no criminal records who have been arrested and in most cases convicted of what can only be described as relatively trivial offences.  However, because of recent legislation, (mainly the Criminal Justice Act 2003), they find themselves facing 5-year sentences for possession of a prohibited firearm.

How this all came to pass bears some examination.

Under the Firearms Act 1982, an imitation firearm that can be readily converted into a working firearm with ordinary household tools and without specialised knowledge is treated as an actual firearm for the purposes of the law.  This has always been a serious offence, but it became much more serious with the handgun ban in 1997, because such an imitation firearm (they are usually handguns) became a prohibited firearm, and in 2003 a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence was imposed for the possession of a prohibited firearm.  In addition, the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 also prohibited “air cartridge” guns, meaning mainly the Brocock pistols and rifles that have been sold since the mid-1980s.  Possession of one now without a firearm certificate also makes the possessor subject to a 5-year minimum sentence.

The problem is that over time the goalposts have moved significantly, and most people are simply unaware of the dramatic changes in the law.  The Home Office has done virtually nothing to remedy this situation, as their notifications of changes in the law usually involve sending a few leaflets to police stations for them to stick on their notice boards, putting up an obscure website and maybe notifying Home Office approved gun clubs.  None of which is likely to inform the overwhelming bulk of people who own imitation firearms and air guns of the changes in the law.

The situation is not helped by increasingly restrictive interpretations of the 1982 Act by the Forensic Science Service.  It has reached the point now where almost all blank-firing guns sold in this country since 1982 could be regarded as being: “readily convertible” going by various recent court cases and current FSS guidance.

Part of the reason for the crackdown is because the police have targeted some gun shops that decided to simply import imitation firearms from the continent, either unaware that they failed to meet the standards laid down in the increasingly restrictive FSS guidance, or because the people running the business were indeed in the business of supplying criminals knowingly.  In targeting those shops, the police obtained the details of people the guns had been sold to, and arrested them as well.

In many cases, these people were totally unaware they had acquired something that was illegal, but yet, many of them have been prosecuted, even though it is unclear in some of these cases how this is in the public interest.

A lot of these cases also revolve around a dealer in France who sold guns to people in the UK via their website.  However, although it sounds fishy, bear in mind that at one point that dealer was advertising in UK gun magazines and it was not completely unreasonable for the legally naive purchaser to think he had broken no law by purchasing an imitation from the French dealer – especially given that France is an EU state, which implies harmonisation of the rules.  But unfortunately not in this case, as you were likely to find out if you were one of the said purchasers.

This situation has now reached the point where the courts are beginning to show resistance to the cases being brought.  A judge in Derby was highly critical of the Home Office failing to clearly notify people of the changes in the law regarding “air cartridge” guns when an individual was convicted there of illegally acquiring one.  The fact that it is estimated that less than 10% of people who own these guns obtained a firearm certificate (as required when the law changed) tends to indicate the judge was correct and even the Home Office appears to accept that estimate.

As bad as this situation is, it is set to get far, far worse when the Violent Crime Reduction Bill is enacted.  This Bill contains a prohibition on the sale, manufacture and import of “realistic imitation firearms”.  It’s not entirely clear at this point what the definition of a realistic imitation firearm will be when the Bill is enacted, as it’s still going through Parliament, but it seems likely to include most types of airsoft gun, as well as some realistic-looking toys.  The penalty for violating the law is a maximum sentence of 51 weeks in prison.

So in other words, someone selling a lawfully acquired airsoft gun to their next-door neighbour could potentially get 51 weeks in prison when this Bill is enacted.  If you don’t think it could happen, I’ve got some e-mails to show you…

It is essential that you contact your MP and urge some serious expenditure by the Government on informing people of the provisions of this Bill when it is enacted; and by “serious expenditure” it must include TV advertising and ads in major newspapers and on billboards too.  Failure to do so will undoubtedly result in greater costs down the road as the police are involved in pointlessly arresting people.  In addition, when the police conduct these operations, the focus must be on actual criminal enterprises with serious criminal intent, not on people who are arrested a few hours after receiving a package from what they thought was a legitimate business, or some hapless James Bond fan who simply wanted a replica PPK to bolt over the mantelpiece.

The Olympics

While you’re writing to your MP, it’s a good idea to tell them that repealing the handgun ban would be a good idea.  The crime statistics show quite clearly that it has been completely useless, and it’s clearly no deterrent to madmen going by various terrorist offences since then, not to mention various incidents involving criminals running around with machineguns.

Various shooting organisations have asked shooters to write to their MPs to ask for the Home Office to grant section 5 (prohibited weapons) authority to members of the Olympic squad so they can practice with their .22 pistols.  My personal view is that this is a silly idea, because first of all the average target shooter in this country will never qualify for the Olympic squad, and secondly the Home Office will never grant a blanket authorisation to anyone to possess any sort of prohibited firearm for target shooting because it would set a legal precedent so that anyone could obtain it.  The most they’ll ever do is grant authority for people to bring them in temporarily for competitions like the Olympics in 2012.

Frankly there’s virtually no chance at all that this Government will either repeal the handgun ban or grant prohibited weapons authority to target shooters to possess them, however, making noise about it now puts it on the political agenda and eventually there will be a change of Government, maybe even before the Olympics.  So it’s important that MPs know now that this is an issue with their constituents.

Canada

Some of you may be wondering what happened in Canada after my last editorial; to cut a long story short, the Conservatives won, barely (only 40% of the vote, 30 seats short of a majority but more seats than anyone else).  They will not implement a federal handgun ban, although the Government of Ontario still wants one.  Various other thefts of large handgun collections have occurred in Ontario; so many that it beggars belief that there is not some sort of organised criminal activity going on targeting legal handgun owners.

There is a lesson in this for all gun owners.  Make sure you are not followed when coming home from a gun club or gun shop; be careful who you tell about your shooting interests; keep your firearms securely and do not leave them unattended for long periods (one of the thefts in Ontario involved a collector who had been in hospital for several weeks).


“There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people.” – Vice-President of the United States, Hubert Humphrey, in a speech in Virginia, May 1, 1965.

 

Oh, no, Canada!

December 27, 2005 – You know, it’s amazing how stupid Governments can be, especially when they’ve been caught red-handed siphoning off millions of taxpayer dollars into their party coffers.

Such is the dilemma of the Liberal Party of Canada, who currently are running the minority federal Government, headed by Prime Minister Paul Martin MP.  The other main Canadian political parties, the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois finally lost patience with the Government at the end of November.  This was after a public inquiry came to the conclusion that a Govt.-run “sponsorship” programme, designed to promote the idea of Canada in the separatist-leaning province of Québec, had instead been used to divert millions of dollars of taxpayer funds via a complex system of fraud involving advertising agencies into the Liberal Party coffers in Québec.  Although Martin represents a constituency in Montréal, the inquiry came to the conclusion he probably wasn’t involved in the fraud.  However, the opposition parties decided to call a motion of no-confidence, which they easily won because of the minority position of the current Government.  And thus a General Election had to be called.

Move on to December 9th, and with the Liberal Party facing annihilation in seat-rich Québec and also in much of western Canada, the Prime Minister decided to respond to public concern about a spate of homicides in Toronto by promising a national ban on handguns, in an attempt to curry favour with voters in the large province of Ontario.  And to no-one’s great surprise, this was met with adulation by the Liberal Mayor and Liberal Premier of the province.  Outside the community centre where he made the announcement, things were not quite so rosy, as a local girl pointed out that the ban would not prevent criminals from obtaining guns.  An article appeared in the Toronto Star indicating that one of his own MPs in Ontario wasn’t particularly happy about the idea, and neither was a local criminologist.

Although the Toronto Star predictably editorialised in favour of the ban (with some caveats), the rest of the press editorialised against it for the most part: 

This is laughable – Toronto Sun
It’s hard to fathom how the ban will reduce crime – Globe and Mail
Resources should be devoted to catching real criminals, not meaningless bans – Calgary Herald

What would we have given here in the UK for such editorials when the handgun ban was announced here?  (Which according to the Home Office has not succeeded in reducing armed crime, have a read of the summary on page 31 – and table 2.1 on the next page, particularly the  “all weapons excluding air weapon” part, which shows a steady rise since the handgun ban in 1997 – it had actually been falling prior to the handgun ban).

However, perhaps the biggest indication that the Prime Minister was in trouble before his proposal had even gotten off the ground was demonstrated by provincial governments immediately after the announcement.  The Prime Minister indicated that the ban would work by putting an “opt-in” provision in the Criminal Code that provinces and territories could sign up to: by the end of December 10th, the Governments of Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan had announced that they would not be opting in!  Bear in mind that both British Columbia and Saskatchewan have Liberal Governments.

Even the police have their doubts, as Tony Cannavino, the president of the Canadian Professional Police Association: “disagreed that a sweeping ban on handguns would be very successful in combating urban violence, considering that most guns used in shootings are obtained illegally”, although as you would expect, he welcomed the idea of spending more money on law enforcement activities.

In the face of all this, even the largest anti-gun organisation in Canada, the Coalition for Gun Control appeared to be hedging its bets, as the head of the organisation, Wendy Cukier, indicated that the CGC have taken no position on the proposed ban.

This is perhaps not surprising, when the specifics of such a ban are looked at in detail.

The first problem is that it’s not really clear what impact such a ban would have.  The Prime Minister and the Mayor of Toronto have been saying that: “half” of handguns used in crime in Toronto were stolen from legal gun owners, however this is a misrepresentation of an investigation conducted by the Toronto Police.  According to those statistics, in fact only 16% of handguns seized by Toronto Police were listed as: “stolen”.  The statistics also involve a guesstimate of how many guns seized with obliterated serial numbers originated in Canada; not exactly scientific.  A small fraction were: “too old” to trace, so they probably pre-date licensing laws that were introduced in 1934, or are maybe war trophies that were never declared.  12%, (or a quarter of the guns the politicians say were stolen) are listed as: “not registered”, but not smuggled or stolen.  This probably indicates they are air pistols or antiques or something along those lines.  Even if the guns are listed as: “stolen”, they could have been stolen from dealers, not individual gun owners.

Hardly a convincing statistic, especially as only a fraction of guns used in crime would be seized.  Even the police are not certain that the guns themselves are actually “crime guns”, they are merely listed as: “potential crime guns”.   It really is the vaguest of estimates, based to a significant degree on guess work.  Even if taken as the gospel truth, it still indicates that 52% of seized handguns originated in the United States.  Certainly it cannot be taken as representative of the situation of Canada as a whole, as some anti-gun commentators have tried to do.

Another statistic not receiving as much press comes from a joint task force organised by the Ontario Solicitor General of six regional police forces in Ontario, including the Toronto Police Service as well as Canadian Customs and the US agency, ATF, called “Operation Gun Runner”, which in a nine-month period in 1995 seized 193 handguns from illegal dealers across Ontario.  166 of these were found to have been illegally smuggled into Canada from a wide variety of sources.  Not a recent statistic, admittedly, but in fact the handgun laws in Canada are more restrictive today than they were in 1995.

The second problem with this proposed ban are the physical complexities of actually implementing it.  There are roughly 530,000 handguns in Canada, about 166,000 of which are are already prohibited (any handgun with a barrel of 105mm or less, or .32 or .25 calibre), but grandfathered to their owners (who can transfer them to owners of other prohibited handguns).  There are 183,000 people licensed to own handguns in Canada (compared with 57,000 who owned them in GB – so in other words six times as many owners per capita, roughly).

This figure compares with just over 200,000 handguns that were legally possessed in Great Britain prior to the handgun ban here, about 160,000 of which were surrendered for compensation (the rest were either deactivated, exported or were exempt for various reasons, for the most part).  The handgun ban here cost £97 million back when the figures were tallied around 1999.  Take into account inflation and the much larger number of handguns in Canada, then if you assume 80% of them are turned in for compensation as was the case here, you come up with a figure around $600 million!

That is a gigantic sum of money, and no doubt if spent on traditional crime reduction strategies in Canada would have a far more profound impact.  Evidence of just how out of touch the Canadian Liberal Party is with this reality can be seen in their own press release.  This indicates that they reckon the total cost will be only $150 million – which is less than the cost of our ban even though we had less than two-fifths as many handguns!

However, in his address at the Elmbank Community Centre in Rexdale, Ontario, the PM said that the Government would spend $1.9 million to: “give hope” to the community.  As we would say in Britain; pull the other one, mate, it’s got bells on!

We can only hope that the Canadian people will vote the Liberals out on January 23rd.  Because truly, among hair-brained “gun control” schemes this has to be one of the most stupid ever.


You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” – President Abraham Lincoln

 

Arm the police

 

November 27, 2005 – The fatal shooting of a police constable in Bradford recently has once again reignited the debate on whether the police should be generally armed with firearms; and once again, the debate reverts back to the old clichés about how doing this will drive a “wedge” between the police and the public, and how the police don’t support doing it, it’s unnecessary, perhaps we need a few more armed response vehicles, arming the police will simply mean criminals steal them from officers, etc.

All of this is complete twoddle and anyone who has ever examined the issues involved knows this full well.  The problem is communicating this to the public and having the political will to do something about it, both of which are quite hard.  We apparently have a Prime Minister who takes “principled” stands when the police say they want 90 days to question possible terrorist suspects, but when it goes against the grain with the police, what we get are platitudes.

So, perhaps it’s time someone made the facts known, although they will remain tucked away on this little corner of the web.

The first fact is that the police actually already are armed, just generally not with firearms.  They no longer carry truncheons; they carry PR-24 batons and CS spray.  Has this caused a “wedge” between the police and the public?  I think not.  What generally causes a “wedge” between the police and the public is when the police are unable to tackle crime that affects the public – and tackling criminals armed with firearms is rather difficult when the police generally don’t have them.  I never hear of anyone talking about a “wedge” between themselves and the police in countries where the police carry guns, including places with similar cultural values to the UK, such as Australia and Canada.

The second fact is that armed response vehicles are largely useless except in response to intelligence-led investigations, or tackling barricaded armed suspects.  Home Office research strongly indicates this.  For example, this study, on page 30 contains the memorable quote that in response to police initiated responses to armed crime, that: “Armed Response Vehicles, although they may have been deployed, were not responsible for any arrests.”  Another Home Office study indicates strongly why this is the case: it takes 10-12 minutes (at best) for ARVs to arrive on the scene of an armed incident.  By this time of course, the crooks are long gone, and have certainly had time to shoot at the first responders if they haven’t fled.  But the most important fact is that when police respond to an armed crime without advance intelligence, with a handful of exceptions that you can count on your fingers, the first officers to arrive are invariably not armed with firearms.  One of the most graphic examples of how this can go wrong was the murder of PC Ian Broadhurst by David Bieber.  Although Bieber was outnumbered by police officers, he was able to kill one officer and nearly kill two others simply because he was better armed.

If you need any further evidence of the uselessness of ARVs, you only need to read this story.  Yep, that’s right, West Midlands Police happened to haul in a suspect involved in shooting dead a PC, and they had no firearms themselves because they didn’t know he was there!

The Police Federation routinely point to a poll that indicated 80% of their members don’t want to carry firearms, so the PF then calls for more police to have firearm training and for an increase in the number of ARVs, a sort of way of calling for the police to be better armed without actually arming them with guns.  Unfortunately, it’s nonsensical as already pointed out.  ARVs are useless, and firearm training without having immediate access to a firearm is also pointless.  Whenever I hear about this poll result, two things always go through my mind – the first is that I wonder how many of the 20% of officers who want to carry guns work in areas where armed crime is common, and how many of the 80% of officers who don’t want to carry them do?  The second thing that goes through my mind is that I’d like to know when health and safety issues were open to being decided by a poll!

Unfortunately there are no statistics on how many guns stolen from police officers are used in crime (probably because it’s so rare), so that’s a difficult question to answer, however FBI statistics indicate that only 8% of officers murdered in the course of their duty in the US are shot with their own guns, and that only 10% of officers who are shot dead are shot with their own guns.  This to me is an argument for better weapon retention training in some police organisations, not that it’s too dangerous for officers to be armed with guns.

The only argument that people opposed to arming the police have that holds any water is that there is no need for the police to be armed generally with firearms.  And they’re right, there isn’t.  The rate of armed crime in most parts of the country simply doesn’t justify it, especially when put in the context of the cost of buying all those guns and the amount of training that would be required.  But, and it’s a big “but”, in some areas of the country, notably parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Bristol, some of the suburbs of those cities and elsewhere, there is a significant amount of serious armed crime, and in those areas, there is a need for the police to be generally armed with firearms.

So please can they now be armed?  The alternative is that the police in these areas continue to be ineffective at stopping random armed crime and simply serve as human sandbags, which is unacceptable.

More from Parliament

The Violent Crime Reduction Bill continues through Parliament.  It has now passed over to the Lords who have the unenviable task of trying to make it into a workable piece of legislation.

There is some good news for gun owners – under pressure the Government have decided not to include deactivated firearms, antiques, and replica antiques in the definition of a “realistic imitation firearm”, which the Bill prohibits from import, manufacture or sale.  However, airsoft enthusiasts will be in for a tough time.  The Government proposes to allow the sale of airsoft guns and other imitation firearms to continue provided they no longer look realistic.  Primarily this will be achieved by either requiring the imitation to be very small, or a certain bright colour.

One wonders if anyone at the Home Office has heard of black paint; it appears not.  Assuming that imitation firearms are the grave threat to public safety that the Home Office says they are, it’s hard to see how this legislation can be effective because of the huge number of imitations already in circulation and also because of the existence of black paint.  The Home Office Minister responsible for moving the legislation through the House of Commons, Hazel Blears MP, tells us that according to the most recent statistics, the use of imitation firearms in crime has risen 66%.

The problem with this statement is that first of all, a single year’s statistics prove basically nothing, as there is no trend to identify, and secondly, the Home Office’s own research indicates that this figure is dubious because it depends to a large extent on victim identification, or identification by the police.  Undoubtedly in many cases the gun is misidentified, and it’s highly unlikely a victim (or anyone else) can swear to the difference between a “realistic imitation firearm” and a non-realistic imitation firearm, especially if it’s dark, the gun is in someone’s pocket, etc.

However, it gets worse.  The Government have caved into pressure to crack down on air guns, despite stating in their own consultation paper in May 2004 that: “we do not therefore believe that there should be a system of licensing or further restrictions on the sale of air guns”.  Among various provisions, the age limit for the sale of an air gun would be raised to 18 (despite having been raised less than two years ago to 17), dealers in air guns would have to obtain a dealer’s registration (as dealers in other types of firearm have to) and transactions would have to be face-to-face.

Very little in the way of justification has been put forward for any of these provisions so it’s hard to critique the reasoning, in fact Hazel Blears appeared almost proud that she could not present any evidence at all to justify the increase in the age limit for acquisition.  What will happen of course is that a lot of air gun dealers will disappear as they depend on mail order sales.  This will lead to less choice for air gun users, and higher prices, given that you will only have a handful of choices locally where you can buy your new air gun, as transactions will have to be face-to-face.

Other silly provisions include a requirement to show a shotgun or firearm certificate prior to acquiring a reloading press.  Which is even more silly given the context that the Bill also requires a certificate to be shown for the acquisition of primers, making the provisions for presses redundant.

Hopefully the Lords will remove some of this nonsense from the Bill, but whether or not the Commons will accept their amendments is an open question.  Write to your MP and urge him or her to vote for the acceptance of any Lords amendments that do remove these provisions from the Bill.


“No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.” – Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, 1936.

 

Another pointless prohibition looms

 

June 18, 2005 – Over the years I have been running this website, I have occasionally received e-mails from irate supporters of the Government, who complain about my portrayal of Tony Blair on this website (especially the tagline, which they appear to especially dislike).

But the beauty of the internet is that very little is ever forgotten, and it’s at times like this I’m glad I did use the tagline that adorns every page on this site, simply because it’s accurate.  [later removed – Ed.]

Under the guise of “violent crime reduction”, the Government, in fact Tony Blair personally – introduced a Bill that among other things will prohibit the import, manufacture and sale of “realistic imitation firearms”.  (You can read the explanatory notes by clicking here.)

What is a “realistic imitation firearm”?  Well, it’s basically anything other than a firearm that strongly resembles a make and model of firearm.  This runs the gamut from airsoft guns to deactivated firearms, to model kits, prop guns and many types of blank-firing gun.  Of course, upon the Prime Minister’s announcement in Parliament on June 8th, these types of gun largely became worthless (or certainly will become worthless) due to the proposed prohibition of sales.  This may not bother the casual owner of an airsoft gun they bought at a model shop for £10, but for people who collect guns in this category, it means they were more or less instantly deprived of thousands of pounds.  Dealers are of course even worse off, unless they manage to shift their stock before the prohibition comes into effect.

One would think for such a Draconian prohibition to come about that something staggering had happened recently involving imitation firearms.  No, not really.  Armed crime has been rising for some time, but it’s unclear exactly how much of it is committed with imitations, as opposed to actual working guns.  Criminologists have long disagreed on this subject.  Home Office statistics for the year 2002/03 indicates 1,815 offences were committed with imitation firearms, however, even the Home Office cautions against the accuracy of these statistics, as they often depend on a determination made by a victim of a crime.  In truth, the general moaning of the police about being called out to deal with armed incidents when someone is found waving an airsoft gun about had more than anything else to do with it.  One could argue the police need to come up with better tactics, as there will still be millions of air guns and other types of imitation in circulation, assuming this prohibition works.

Even if one accepts the Government’s argument that there is a problem, it’s hard to see how legislation that causes dealers to dump their stock at firesale prices is likely to help.  Nor is it clear how much of an impact it could have, given that there is general agreement that there are well over a million (perhaps several million) guns that fall into the category of a “realistic imitation firearm” already in circulation.  Moreover, there is no legal prohibition on such a gun being transferred or being possessed by anyone, including a criminal, mentioned anywhere in the Bill, except for the prohibition of sales.

Yes folks, you heard that right, there is no provision in this Bill whatsoever to prohibit people convicted of criminal offences, even armed robbery, from possessing a “realistic imitation firearm”.  Given this reality it is quite easy to categorise this prohibition as little more than a publicity stunt, which will adversely affect collectors, re-enactors, actors and people pursuing various innocent hobbies to a far greater degree than it will impact on Joe drug dealer.  The Bill does contain a slight increase in the criminal penalty for possession of an imitation firearm in a public place “without lawful authority or reasonable excuse”, but so far this law (introduced in 2003 for imitations) has attracted more attention when the police have used it to harass children playing Cowboys and Indians than for any impact on actual armed crime.

Bear in mind this legislation supposedly addresses exactly what the Government said the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 was for; the 2003 Act contained an increase in the age limit for possession of air guns, a ban on self-contained air cartridge guns, a ban on possession of imitations in a public place, etc.  But two years later, here we are again with yet more silly legislation, which also increases the age limit for possession of an air gun (from 17 to 18), increases the penalty for having an imitation in a public place, and also bans another “bogey man” type of gun.

The cry continues: “The gun law isn’t working – what we need is another gun law!”  Sigh.  No, actually what we need is an attempt to address the social problems that lead to armed crime, rather than criminalising people selling an airsoft gun at a car boot sale.  (Shall we take bets on how much time and money the Home Office will spend on making the provisions of this prohibition known when it comes into force?  I suspect the payout will be on “virtually none”.)

Please, go and see your MP and ask them to oppose the prohibitions contained in this Bill and the increase in age limits for possessing an air gun or imitation gun, and to support any amendments that remove them or provide compensation.  You can contact your MP at the House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.  If you don’t know who your MP is, you can use this tool to look them up.  If you’re not very good at talking to politicians, this discussion document should give you some ideas what to say, but always make the point that you will be personally affected by this legislation.


“Fortunately, in this country there is no necessity to carry a loaded revolver on a bicycle.  An empty one is sufficient to frighten away tramps, if they stop you on a dark, lonely road; or even a short bicycle pump when pointed at them will scare them off.” – from “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, p. 219, by Walter Winans, 1901.