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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 22 The UK Pro-Gun Lobby.

This was composed at the request of Lascivious, who was discussing this on his blog a few weeks ago.
All references and figure are taken from The Gun Control Network.

We in Britain are in a rare and enviable position. Since the Dunblane Massacre in 1996, in which 15 children aged 5 and 6 were gunned down by legal gun owner Thomas Hamilton, our gun laws have been systematically tightened, making handgun ownership a serious criminal offence in its own right. The latest figures for 2003/2004 show that 68 people were murdered in England and Wales by guns (35 by handguns). This is down on 2002/2003 (81) and the peak of 2001/2002 (97) (records began in 1989 and a new method of monitoring incidents introduced in 2002 has inflated some figures). No police officers were killed between 1997 and 2002 and only 9 seriously injured (in only 3 of those 6 years).

The number of injuries caused by guns (shooting, bludgeoning or threatening - the distress caused by being threatened is recorded as an injury) has increased from 3767 in 2001/02 to4762 in 2003/04. BUT the number of offences using shotguns has remained constant (111, 107, 104 respectively) and the number using handguns have decreased (648, 640, 590). The increase is mostly attributable to rifles, "imitation" guns, air rifles and unidentified weapons. None of those three classes of weapon are as tightly controlled as handguns.

Overall recorded gun offences have risen over the last few years, however it is worth noting that the biggest increases have been in both imitation weapons and air rifles. It is also worth noting that the gradual tightening of gun laws means that at least some of those recorded offences are simply for the possession of weapons that would have been legal previously.

Yet despite this, some fools believe that what British society needs is more guns, not less. In the US there are approximately 2-300 million privately owned handguns and their police officers are invariably armed. In 1999 a staggering 28,874 people were killed by gunshots. That's over 80 a day - in just 3 days, more American citizens were killed by guns than were killed in the UK that entire year.

The pro-gun lobby trot out a number of naive and dubious arguments in favour of allowing private gun ownership.
For example:

In Switzerland all men are required by law to own a gun, and they are hardly known for their crime waves.
True enough, but the gun-related murder rate in Switzerland is more than 4 times that of the UK (0.5 deaths/100,000 population vs 0.12/100,000 for both England & Wales and Scotland). Furthermore, all Swiss men undergo national service where they are trained in the correct and safe use of firearms - a weekend course in Montana with a group of overweight men in second hand fatigues who shout "Yeeah!" and "Go git 'im boy!" does not compare.

Having a gun in the house will make me safer.
The research disagrees however, with most studies showing that keeping a gun in a pivate house increases the risk of violent death. Children killing themselves whilst playing with firearms is all but unheard of in the UK - it is a sadly regular occurance in the US. When a husband in the UK comes home to find the missus in bed with the milkman, he might be quick enough to give the milkman a kick in the bollocks on his way out the door, and the wife a slap for taking liberties. In the US it is all too common that the husband grabs the shot gun, kills the visitor, then gives the wife one between the eyes. He then realises what he's done, and goes into the next room to kiss his kids before killing them and shooting himself. Having easy access to a gun makes it easier for you to "solve" your problems there and then with a red haze covering your vision. Do I even need to mention that most school and workplace massacres in the US were commited using legally owned weapons?

Suicide is also a whole lot easier with a gun. Many suicides are a call for help. But when a person is determined to do it, there are few better ways than a gun. Slicing one's wrists is actually quite difficult and unless you know what you are doing rarely works. Similarly, taking an overdose of pills is also harder than it seems on TV. Paracetemol is extremely hard to overdose on - it instead destroys the liver and it may be possible to save the victim. And the contents of most people's medicine cabinets are pretty crap. Jumping from a tall building is also quite a feat of daring - the old joke about the suicide victim looking over the side of the building and exclaiming "I'm not jumping off there, I'll break my neck!" has more than a grain of truth in it. Every time a suicide victim fails, there is a second chance to save that person. There are precious few second chances when you swallow a bullet. A selection of references at the GCN.

The majority of weapons used by criminals are obtained illegally.
The argument here is that criminals will obtain guns illegally on the black market, whilst law abiding citizens will be left defenceless. Thus increasing legal gun ownership will favour the honest citizen and not the criminal. This is a flawed argument on many levels. Perhaps most importantly, it fails to address the hand ordinary law-abiding US citizens have had in creating this black market. The term conjures up images of bandidos and smugglers sneaking across the border late at night with lorry loads of handguns which criminals will use to terrorise suburban soccer moms. The reality is rather more mundane - burglars simply steal them from the houses of soccer moms and the guns stores where said moms bought them. In the UK, when a house is burgled the thief makes it over the garden fence with a TV, VCR, DVD Player and some nice jewellrey if he is lucky. In the US, the criminal can end up with all of the above plus a handgun, a shotgun and enough boxes of ammunition to retake Baghdad. If they are really lucky and break into the house of a "hobbyist" they can walk out with anything short of a fucking surface to air missile. That's where the guns are coming from - not some mythical 'plane drop in the Nevadan desert. As you increase the numbers of guns in society, you increase the numbers of gun-related incidents. QED.

Burglars are less likely to break in if the owners may be armed.
One of the strongest arguments against arming Joe public is the danger of threat escalation. At present in the UK, very few burglars or "petty" criminals carry guns. In the US the same cannot be said. In the US, only the criminally insane would attempt a break in without some sort of weapon. In the UK, we still get people trying to rob banks with knives! Granted, nobody wants to be confronted with a knife wielding criminal - but I sure as hell prefer it to being confronted by a gunman. After all, if I can keep more than an arm's length away from him, I'm probably safe and if it's a choice between a stab wound and a gunshot wound - I know which I'd rather take my chances with.
Returning to the subject of break ins - I certainly believe in a person's right to defend themselves and their property in whatever manner may be necessary, however I feel that I am far more able to do so if the criminal hasn't come armed. Even if I am armed also, at best it comes down to who will shoot first. And if we are talking about reducing the number of break ins - well a large sign outside proclaiming that "This house is insured by Smith and Wesson", may well make it a juicy target for burglars when you go on holiday. Free guns for all!

There will always be cases where, with hindsight, we can say "if only they had been armed, it would never have happened". However, the risks of becoming a society like the US are far greater than the extremely minor and rare risks that we in the UK face. A good analogy I think is the case for X-raying young women for breast cancer. At present, post-menopausal women, in addition to regularly inspecting their breasts for lumps, are offered X-rays to look for cancerous growths. Although breast cancer predominantly affects older women, there are a rare number of cases of the disease in younger women - Kylie Minogue is 37 for example - in even rarer cases there are women in their late teens who suffer from it. In still rarer cases there are young women with no familial history of the disease, for whom it is a bolt from the blue. Screening all young women for cancer using X-rays would unquestionably save lives. However, it would also expose these women to dangerous X-rays, thus increasing the likelihood of diseases as dangerous as that which they are trying to prevent.

The point is, that in life we accept an element of risk (i.e. assuming that young women with no history of breast cancer are unlikely to develop the disease, or will spot it by doing a breast test. Or that we in the UK are unlikely to be placed in a situation where a gun will be necessary) to avoid the far greater risks associated with over-compensating (exposing a young woman to regular powerful X-rays. Or increasing the numbers of handguns in society and increasing the desire for guns and the ease with which criminals can obtain them).

There is a good argument that a sloppily worded second amendment and years of lobbying and glamourisation by the gun lobby in the US has left them pretty much fucked. There is probably not a lot that that Americans can do to to put the genie back in the bottle. However, we in the UK are in a priviliged position. We have exceptionally low rates of gun crime, and tabloid fear-mongering aside, serious gun crime is actually falling, with imitation guns and air rifles now accounting for most incidents. It would be sheer twattery not to learn from the mistakes that the US has made over the years and arm our citizens. Once we do that, there can be no going back. There are only so many raids that the police can conduct to remove these guns and gun amnesties are only good at removing unwanted guns from the streets.

If anything, we in the UK need tighter gun laws. Powerful air rifles have killed or seriously injured a number of people recently, incluing children. Imitation hand guns are, as the figures show, an increasing danger. Not only are they used to threaten, many imitation guns can be converted to real guns using basic tools. And of course it is impossible for police officers to tell the difference, forcing them to assume the worse and drop the aggressor.

Loosen the gun laws? You must be fucking kidding.




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