Want to see that celebrated British stiff upper lip begin to quiver? Just mention to Parliament or press that England is not the isle of tranquility envisioned more than a century ago, when the nation began the systematic disarmament of its citizens.
After years of chipping away at private firearm ownership through passage of a rash of seemingly innocuous rules and regulations, with the adoption of a total handgun ban in 1997, the British achieved what was hailed as the "gold standard" of gun control. At the time, leading newspapers in England heralded this "restraint on personal liberty" as "essential to the happiness" of the country's law-abiding.
The credo was a simple but vacuous one: fewer guns mean fewer crimes. Essentially, it was the legal intention that "nobody, except a soldier, sailor or policeman" should ever have access to a handgun. Simultaneously, the courts took up the cause, prosecuting those who resisted violent attacks with any sort of armed reaction. Over time, it became evident that predators were apt to be judged less harshly than victims who used any type of device, even a stout stick, in an act of self-defense.
According to the utopian scheme of things, gun bans were supposed to evoke a kinder and gentler world-a social paradise concocted by politicians who believed that civilized society could only be made crime-free through the confiscation of all arms. At the same time, it seemed pertinent for the government to also divest British citizenry of all normal human reactions regarding self-preservation.
The results have been as tragic as they were predictable.
A litany of failures were apparent as early as the year 2000, when CBS News reported that law and order in Britain was deteriorating at a rapid rate, while the country was experiencing a crime surge much more severe than any recorded within the United States.
"Have a nice daydream," was the retort fired back at CBS from editorialists with the London Mirror, the same daily newspaper fond of pointing out that the British crime rate was "nothing at all compared to the Wild West culture on the other side of the Atlantic, where every other car is carrying a gun."
However, in time, in stories sandwiched between inside pages, the newspaper conceded that CBS was right. "Britain has overtaken the U.S. for all major crimes," the newspaper admitted. In fact, the motherland was indeed racing ahead by a substantial lead, sporting a crime rate in England and Wales that at times peaked at as much as 60 percent above crime statistics here in the States, with gun crimes especially prominent.
So how could a nation operating under an alleged discipline of total disarmament suddenly become victim to a spike of armed, violent crime? Especially a country that advanced the notion that individuals had a right to personal security more than 100 years before it became a fixture in America?
Consider that William Blackstone, an early British champion of working-class citizens, argued that the right of self-protection was one no government could take away. Another champion of individual rights, A.V. Dicey, cautioned that if the government discouraged self-help, then loyal subjects became the slaves of ruffians.
It's no wonder that the U.S. Constitution would feature a Bill of Rights insisting on a Right to Keep and Bear Arms. For generations following the British insistence on equal rights for its citizens, including the right to self-defense, subjects of the Crown were among the safest and most law-abiding in the world, with a crime rate that truly was the envy of its neighbors.
Things began to disintegrate in the 20th century with the passage of laws that increasingly restricted private possession of firearms, along with edicts forbidding the right to carry arms for self-protection. Eventually, British law determined that even vigorous self-defense could only be "reasonable in the circumstances." By 1969, British police officers were told by higher authorities "it should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person."
British wags were quick to point out that the justice system appeared to have its philosophical hat on backwards. One commentator said the courts seemed to regard the scandal of the killing of a robber as of greater consequence than the safety of the robber's victim. Such comments soon were both numerous and scathing, and not without good reason.
Grumblings in the British press increasingly mirrored grassroots opinions about the plight of the law-abiding: "The monumentally useless British police, with greater manpower per capita, higher rates of pay and with far more lavish resources than the Americans, haven't had an original idea in decades, so they cling ever more fiercely to their core ideology: the best way to deal with criminals is to impose ever greater restrictions and inconveniences on the law-abiding."
In 2002, the chances of being mugged in London were approximately six times greater than in New York City, cultural center of the "lawless Wild West" so often mocked by British snobbery.
Another accused Tony Blair of going "total: blame everyone, ban everything."
Essentially, the firearm issue never has been about the guns themselves, but more about eroding social mores balanced against the rights of the individual. And while America has thus far managed to protect its Right to Keep and Bear Arms for self-protection (borrowed for use in our Constitution from the 1689 English Bill of Rights), many of the English rank and file clamor to have theirs back as societal mayhem takes advantage of the vacuum created by disarmament.
Dismayed Brits point to their country's egregious gun laws, the toughest firearm restrictions of any democracy, and argue that they not only didn't reduce violent crime but managed, as documented by the British press, to leave "law-abiding citizens at the mercy of criminals confident (their) victims have neither the means nor legal rights to resist them." The BBC reported that gun bans "seem to have little impact on the criminal underworld," while the use of handguns to commit crimes rose 40 percent during the two years following the total ban on them.
Simultaneously, the number of innocent citizens robbed at gunpoint rose some 53 percent. In 2002, the chances of being mugged in London were approximately six times greater than in New York City, cultural center of the "lawless Wild West" so often mocked by British snobbery. Overall, rates of assault, robbery and burglary shot past those recorded in America and, maybe most ominously, 53 percent of British burglaries were said to occur while the residents were still in their homes.
Even so, British lawmakers have stuck to the notion that people don't need to protect themselves, because society can and will. And, in a defenseless populace besieged by a growing climate of violence, police urge individuals witnessing a crime to walk on by as if nothing had happened; to let the pros handle it . . . if only they could.
Contrast this to attitudes in the U.S., where law enforcement professionals are among the first to acknowledge that police can't be everywhere and can't protect everyone from criminal attack, and that in many instances individuals have not only a right but a responsibility to protect lives, family and property. At the same time, the majority of candid police officials in this country openly admit that it would be nearly impossible to rid the nation of firearms if guns were banned, or to keep illegal guns from entering the country.
British citizens have found this out the hard way. They found it out in a delivery truck allegedly loaded only with frozen pizzas, a truck with a Croatian driver carrying smuggled firearms in the midst of all that cheese and crust. They also found it in the post-war economy of the Balkans, a region accustomed to supplying guns to those willing to supply cash in return, no matter what laws may be on the books. They found it in the numbers of deactivated, collectible guns refitted to work on the street. And the English have found, to their dismay, that governmental decrees don't necessarily receive consensus respect. There are and will continue to be firearms in Britain, even if Parliament demands the surrender of everything from fine double barrel skeet guns to the most common child's air rifle. The proof, no matter the amount of bureaucratic gibberish to the contrary, continues to generate headlines that shock the nation.
British society remains outraged by stories like the one involving the murder of an 11-year-old boy, a bright and personable child walking home from football practice, gunned down for no apparent reason by another youth riding a bicycle. Brits have seen gunfire erupt in a courtroom when armed men sought to free two defendants in a nightclub shooting. They've listened to reports concerning two men killed by automatic gun fire in what had been a quiet residential neighborhood, and read headlines about the 19-year-old woman killed while walking along a main street in East London, murdered by thugs who sought to steal her cell phone.
According to the Manchester (England) Guardian, Manchester residents fear that the city is slipping into what they refer to as "Gunchester days" due to gang activity and shootings. And there's little consolation to be found in the fact that Parliament promised it couldn't happen, that the civilian population would be compensated for the loss of personal liberty by heightened law enforcement-a sad state of affairs from a country that gave the world the Magna Carta.
Maybe the most chilling scenarios generated by Britain's attempt to legislate a disarmed society are the tribulations of those simply seeking to survive it. Take for instance the English homeowner who used a toy gun to detain burglars caught in his home. When police arrived, the homeowner himself was arrested for using a fake firearm to threaten or intimidate.
Or consider the plight of an elderly woman who fired a cap pistol in an attempt to frighten away a group of young rowdies who besieged her. She was arrested for placing someone in fear.
Or how about the businessman who, during a mugging, pulled an ornamental knife from his cane and used it to slash his way out of what he feared to be a deadly confrontation. Even though he thought he was on the verge of losing his life, the petroleum executive was convicted of carrying an "offensive weapon."
Rather than face the fact that gun control has actually opened a Pandora's box of violence rather than closed the lid more tightly, an arrogant Parliament and societal upper crust have instead chosen to punish those they can most easily-the remaining Brits with backbone enough to fight for their rights as law-abiding citizens. After all, gangs and street toughs shoot back-and have the firearms to do so in spite of propaganda to the contrary.
Perhaps the time has come for Britain to rethink its restrictions on the rights of good citizens, and focus on the mayhem routinely practiced by the bad ones. If Parliament would only do the right thing and take necessary steps to reinstate the most basic human right of self-preservation, then maybe those of us here in the United States would resist the urge to say, "I told you so," and instead cheer the resurrection of liberty back in the land where it started.