Thursday, 17 July 2008

A Modest Proposal

by Charles Pooter

I have never owned or even used a firearm. I have no interest in weaponry and violence disgusts me. However, now that the UK Government has conceded that people have the right to defend themselves at home or in public, is it not time that Britain looked at the ability of its citizens to defend themselves?

This can be thought of as a matter of equality: equality between the sexes, equality between the young and the old and, more generally, equality between the strong and the weak. If we agree that people have a right to defend themselves against violence (and I think there is now a cross-party consensus on this), but we deny them the effective means of doing so, we create a society where the physically strong can feel more secure in their homes than the physically weak. We need to ensure that all people, no matter their strength or aptitude, can have access to the tools they need to make themselves feel safe.

I propose the gradual reintroduction of civilian ownership of firearms for self-defence in the UK. Obviously, this would need to be very tightly-controlled and the details would need careful consideration. Initially I suggest a pilot scheme involving previous victims of crime who are at high risk of attack in future. After basic psychological assessment, criminal records checks and thorough firearms training (perhaps from Police firearms officers), they should be issued with an appropriate pistol, ammunition and storage facilities. The possibility of electronic tagging of weapons should be investigated in this early phase to enable proper tracking of firearms within the population.

After a successful pilot study, firearms and training should be offered more generally to "pillars of the community" in areas of high crime. Initially the bar for weapons ownership should be very high, perhaps with many character references and a postgraduate education being needed. After this, more general ownership can be considered, but always with an eye on the dangers of gun ownership. The reintroduction of firearms should also be heavily advertised with a hard-hitting advertising campaign. The message should be clear that these guns are owned for defence of life, not for sport or any other reason. This will highlight the serious nature of gun ownership and act as a deterrent against violent crime.

It is all very well for the Government to reassert the right of people to defend themselves, but without allowing the vulnerable to own the effective tools, they are just empty words. It is time to even up the odds and reintroduce ownership of guns for self-defence.

25 comments:

Ted Hoffman said...

I'm not entirely certain of their current UK status, but, assuming they are by and large illegal, (re)introducing the use of tasers, pepper sprays etc. could be a first step.

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Buy a dog.

Charles Pooter said...

Edwin,

I realise your response is flippancy and not a serious attempt to engage with a proposal made in good faith, but I shall respond as if it were otherwise.

Firstly, this is not about me. I have no interest in owning a weapon. Violence repulses me.

I merely think we should run a restricted trial to gauge the effectiveness of allowing the most vulnerable in our society to be able to protect themselves from those that would harm them.

A dog can indeed allow for someone to feel safe, especially if they live alone. It is also known that they can have other benefits, especially for the elderely or infirm. But a dog is certainly not as reliable a means of self-defense. Dogs are unpredictable: they may not be where you need them, when you need them. On the flipside, they may be too agressive. We have all heard the terrible stories of children being savaged by so-called "devil dogs".

For many, ownership of a dog is not practical. This is more likely to be true of the vulnerable who may live in rented accomodation, may not be able to afford the humane upkeep of an animal or may not have the physical capacity to give a dog all the excercise and attention that such an animal needs. It is exactly these kinds of people for which this proposal is designed.

So I ask you to put your knee-jerk prejudices to one side and consider this as a proposal aimed at the most vulnerable in our society. It is a proposal aimed at inclusivity and social justice, which can be greatly helped when people feel they are self-sufficient when it comes to their own personal safety.

Quink said...

I think the idea would be disastrous.

The likelihood of being shot at today is minimal. Your argument is one of "If the criminals have access to weapons, then so should everyone else". Net result - a disproportionate flood of weapons into society, which would almost certainly encourage more criminals to arm themselves. Net result, according to your lights, would be the weak (with guns) defending themselves against the weak (with even more guns).

Not much of a deterrent - just a more hideous society, wrecked further by well-meaning idiocy.

Veering off: I shot for my school and university, and there's no way I'd want a rifle, handgun, shotgun or anything else in my flat. The very idea appalls me.

I don't want a dog either. A vicious cat might appeal, though.

Quink said...

I meant the weak (with guns) defending themselves against the strong (with guns), but I daresay you got the gist...

Charles Pooter said...

Hi Quink:

"Net result - a disproportionate flood of weapons into society, which would almost certainly encourage more criminals to arm themselves"

Who mentioned a "flood" a weapons into society? Again, this seems like a kneejerk reaction. If criminals wish to arm themselves, they will do so. The careful introduction of a small number of legally-held firearms will make no difference to this one way or another. It will have no effect on demand for illegal guns or the supply chain that supplies them.

I am not suggesting a Wild-West scenario. Obviously there should be continued and stringent monitoring of offences committed with the new legal firearms, and the frequency and severity of these offences should then be measured against the predicted detterent effect. From this we will be able gauge the effectiveness of the policy.

If it is clear early on that the policy is having a negative effect then obviously it can be reveresed before any lasting damage is done. I'm willing to bet that this won't be the case though.

All good modern cosmopolitan Englishmen have a distaste for guns and I share it too. But we should not allow this to close our minds to a potentially liberating policy.

Edwin Hesselthwite said...
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Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Ok... I've discussed this with you behind the scenes, and I'll move this discussion into the main comments thread:

I think that in general this is a flawed argument. On one level, I can see the libertarian angle coming through (self defence should be a given, and any prohibition is probably mistaken), on the other hand, you've sweetened the pill by introducing (vague) statist caveats:

Obviously, this would need to be very tightly-controlled and the details would need careful consideration (what details?)

perhaps from Police firearms officers (so is this the proposal or not?)

The possibility of electronic tagging of weapons should be investigated in this early phase to enable proper tracking of firearms within the population (so is this a possibility or a requirement).

I am highly, highly suspicious of a libertarian argument where the pill has been sweetened with statism.

At base this comes down to re-permitting the supply of guns, and aim it at those who "need to make themselves feel safe". Well, ignoring the abundant problems this country has had with gun crime previously, and the demonstrable tendency of illegal handguns to be acquired through straw purchases where legal firearms are available, let's get down to your target group: people who need to feel safe.

You haven't said people who are at risk, you have specified on numerous occasions the feeling of safety, which is one of the most unstable and irrational parts of our collective psyche... There are numerous ways to make a person who feels unsafe feel safer: home security, tasers, dogs, street lighting... But for some reason firearms have acquired a special status in these discussions... Lethal force is not the answer. If you can't cure people of their collective safety-neuroses (and the British crime figures do not show some incoming apocalypse), then giving them back firearms is no way to go about it.

There are long and elaborate arguments against firearms ownership that I don't wish to go into here (I may write a post myself on arguments against firearms ownership in the UK) but your specific argument here is full of sand.

Charles Pooter said...

Hi Edwin,

Thank you for this more considered response.

"I am highly, highly suspicious of a libertarian argument where the pill has been sweetened with statism."

If you wish to make an "unsweetened" libertarian argument, that is your prerogative and I would applaud you for it. This however was not the purpose of my post. I was attempting to make a serious proposal that could be implemented within the current or near-future British political context.

I see no reason why my tentative, sceptical anarchism precludes me from making policy suggestions based upon the world as it currently is.

"Ignoring the abundant problems this country has had with gun crime previously, and the demonstrable tendency of illegal handguns to be acquired through straw purchases where legal firearms are available"

I'm not sure what these dubious statements have to do with my proposal, which in its current form would make "leakage" of legal firearms onto the black market very unlikely and such cases would be traceable after the fact. It would be foolish to say that crimes would never be commited using the new class of legally-owned guns I propose, but this would be continually monitored and measured against the benefits in terms of crime reduction and prevention due to improved self-defence and the deterrent effect.

If it was shown early on that the cons outweighed the pros, the policy could be reversed without lasting damage.

"There are numerous ways to make a person who feels unsafe feel safer: home security, tasers, dogs, street lighting... But for some reason firearms have acquired a special status in these discussions..."

All of these things are good ideas and all have been tried to greater or lesser effect. All I'm saying is lets try something else at the same time. A pilot study is all I'm talking about. Because without a trail, we cannot gauge what is more effective. Home security and self-defense are not mutually exlusive.

"Lethal force is not the answer."

Lethal force in self-defence is always a tragedy. It is a tragedy for the person who is killed, whose transgression may have been a first offence or whose faculties may be impaired by drink or drungs. It is also a tragedy for the victim of the crime who must live, for the rest of their lives, with having killed a fellow human being.

But no one denies the right of self-defence and no one can ask a victim to act rationally or proportionately in the heat of the moment. The government has conceded this fact.

This is a discussion about means, rather than about the principle (upon which we now have near consensus). And it is my belief that the principles of social justice should lead us to allow the vulnerable in our society to obtain the most effective means of self-protection as their disposal. To refuse to even consider allowing restricted firearms ownership for this purpose seems to me callous and against the principles of equality.

I thank you for your comments but I ask you to reconsider your position.

Quink said...

I think you've got in a terrible muddle.

You are proposing that people should have arms for self-defence. They would be holding those arms in case someone attacked them with a firearm, and for no other reason. The threat of being attacked by a firearm is minimal, and to be perfectly frank most people - when confronted with a gun-toting loon - aren't really going to say "excuse me whilst I unlock my gun cabinet, with ammunition stored safely and separately elsewhere."

What they are going to do, though, is hear noises from downstairs, grab the gun and cartridges/bullets, and let off both barrels at hapless burglar armed with nothing more than a stolen torch and a smack habit. One dead junkie thief, sure, but an unnecessarily dead one in my opinion.

You need to separate out your ideas. Giving people firearms is little to do with the right to self defence. The more important question is whether people should be allowed to use weapons at their disposal in self-defence - including firearms, if they happen to hold them for some other legal purpose.

Giving people lethal weapons solely to protect themselves from criminals they will - in all probability - never encounter is lunatic and lethal.

Charles Pooter said...

Quink:

I disagree (obviously). With respect, I think your prejudices and English cultural conditioning have closed your mind.

I think it is far more muddled to say: "It's OK for certain people (like country squires) to own a gun for the reason of sport or for pest control and if they happen to shoot a violent criminal then we'll begrudgingly allow that, but we can't possibly allow the vulnerable to own the effective means of self-defence...they might [Gasp!] shoot someone!"


Quink said: "Giving people lethal weapons solely to protect themselves from criminals they will - in all probability - never encounter is lunatic and lethal."

I don't need to point out that the word "lunatic" in this sentence is (rather insulting) ad hominem. The "lethal" I'll allow. That is kind of the point old boy...

I'm quite enjoying this. It's like I've broken some unspoken rule of civilised English punditry: "Ixnay on the gunsnay".

I think I underestimated the level of British hoplophobia.

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Ok, Attempt number 2:

"I propose the gradual reintroduction of civilian ownership of firearms for self-defence in the UK"

"After a successful pilot study, firearms and training should be offered more generally to "pillars of the community" in areas of high crime."

The key element of your argument is this piloted introduction, with tight controls on the process. I don't need to underline that this is a transitory proposal and that you have not addressed the long term ideal that you're pitching at. Beyond the arguments I addressed above, you're argument basically comes down to "People need guns" and "Let's bring them back in the most civilised way possible". So, what I feel obligated to ask is: what on earth is your end-state? How long is this supposed transitory period before you have more open gun requirements? I think you are covering a desire to re-introduce guns period with a poorly masked cover-story.

Quink said...

What's so bad about ad hominem attacks? I think they're fun.

Anyway, I attacked your idea as lunatic - not you. I have plenty of lunatic ideas too, though am still a way from being certifiable.

You say:

I think it is far more muddled to say: "It's OK for certain people (like country squires) to own a gun for the reason of sport or for pest control and if they happen to shoot a violent criminal then we'll begrudgingly allow that, but we can't possibly allow the vulnerable to own the effective means of self-defence...they might [Gasp!] shoot someone!"

Who brought up country squires? I didn't.

That said, I have belonged to rifle clubs and teams; I have worked on an estate where firearms were used for vermin control; I have been clay pigeon shooting; and I used, as a teenager, to take pot shots at pigeons with my air rifle. I've seen people from all classes and backgrounds enjoy - and respect - firearms. Nothing wrong in that.

I do think these are all legitimate pursuits - and pursuits (bar the latter) in which people are properly trained and vetted. That said, I've never been comfortable with the idea that individuals should keep .22 or .762 rifles in their homes - club armouries are a better solution. And I think shotguns etc need to be securely stored, with the ammunition elsewhere. Not an ideal solution for a rapid response to an armed maniac.

So, I think subject to sensible precautions, people should be allowed to have weapons to pursue legal pastimes or tasks. But to encourage gun ownership to defend oneself against fear (which is what you're really saying) is, and I repeat, lunatic.

If you want to do that, you'd be better off confiscating people's copies of the Daily Mail. Not giving them weapons and giving criminals an added incentive to get armed.

Charles Pooter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Pooter said...

Quinkster:

"That said, I have belonged to rifle clubs and teams; I have worked on an estate where firearms were used for vermin control; I have been clay pigeon shooting."

All very nice but, with respect, irrelevant. As far as ownership of guns for sport or work is concerned, this proposal is neutral. I am proposing a new class of civilian firearm ownership unknown in this country for at least 50 years: ownership purely for self-defense.

This will have nothing to do with gun clubs or target shooting or pigeon culling or fox hunting or any of the other excuses country types currently use to get their hands on weaponry.

I have already explained how I propose this should be done with all the caveats and monitoring that would be required.

"But to encourage gun ownership to defend oneself against fear (which is what you're really saying) is, and I repeat, lunatic."

Ad hominem may be be fun but it doesn't get us anywhere. What I'm really saying is what I've already said: we should cautiously allow, on a trial basis, the private ownership of strictly-controlled firearms for self-defence. The trial should initially focus on previous victims of crime who are at high risk of attack in future.

The Kusabi said...

Quirk:-

The killer(s) of those two French student's didn't use a gun...I take it that you therefore think using a gun against such creatures would not be justifiable?

I wonder if you would also refer to people who had fire extinguishers at home in case of fire as 'lunatic', after all, the odds of fire are very small, especially if care is taken to avoid starting housefires, so people would not really need to be able to put fires out?

Your comments about fear would only be rational if you could show that no-one, nowhere, would ever find themselves in circumstances where they might need to use a gun...since you logically can't do that, you probably should abandon your arguments about 'fear' as they don't hold water.

Last question - do you think that people should value your opinion about whether they're 'lunatic' or not over their own safety, or, do you think they should disregard your peer-pressure tactics in favour of acting in their own best interests?

Quink said...

Morning all.

@ Charles.

1) There is nothing ad hominem about saying an *idea* is lunatic. I made the distinction when I pointed out that I have lunatic ideas myself, but am not - I assure you - a lunatic.

2) Surely it's more inconsistent to say on the one hand "I think it's muddled to say: "It's OK for certain people (like country squires) to own a gun..." after you have argued "the bar for weapons ownership should be very high, perhaps with many character references and a postgraduate education being needed".

I didn't mention country squires. Or class. Or background. But you are suggesting putting guns into the hands of those who you feel can be trusted with them - eg postgraduates. How patronising can you get?

@ the kusabi

1) See my point about the distinction of a lunatic idea and a lunatic person.

2) The point about most crimes is that you wouldn't have a chance to get to your gun when whatever situation erupted. Allowing people firearms in their homes, without having them locked up, and without having the ammunition stored safely in a different place, is a recipe for accidental killings galore. And no-one is really going to say "Could you lay off stabbing me whilst I get my weapon." It's a non-solution to a non-problem, and one that will have unnecessarily fatal consequences for a larger number of people in society. If that's liberty, then give me chains.

Charles Pooter said...

Good afternoon to you Quink...

"There is nothing ad hominem about saying an *idea* is lunatic."

OK, you're playing the ball not the man, but it is just an emotive assertion rather than any kind of argument.

"But you are suggesting putting guns into the hands of those who you feel can be trusted with them - eg postgraduates. How patronising can you get?"

I'm just saying that as the policy of reintroduction of firearms for self-defense will be seen as potentially risky, it would be prudent to set strict qualifications for ownership—at least initially. Educational attainment is one example of such a qualification, but I'll admit it was just the first one I thought of.

My references to country squires was in reply to your irrelvant comments on the current excuses for private gun ownership in Britain (sport and work). In terms of these kind of weapons, the de facto qualification for ownership of guns is basically that one is a certain sort of country dweller. My policy suggestion is neutral on this type of gun ownership. I merely state that the qualifications for ownership of guns for self-defense should be based (at first) on demonstrable risk of attack and (then) on objective measures of character. Educational attainment is one possible measure of the latter.

As you seem to be dwelling on the practicality of safe storage of weapons vs quick access in an attack, I shall address this briefly:

The storage requirements you have mentioned were designed for weapons to be used for sport or work. In these circumstances there is absolutely no need for rapid access and so a very conservative belt-and-braces approach can be taken to storage. Obviously the storage requirements for weapons to be used by the vulnerable for self-defense would be different and the standards would be agreed after investigation into the optimum compromise between safe storage and quick access. As I previously mentioned, at all phases of the implementation of the policy, the negative effects of the policy (including thefts of weapons and accidental discharges) would be continually measured against the predicted crime reduction effect.

Obviously discharge of a weapon in an act of self-defense, using reasonable-force, would be measured as a positive act of crime prevention not a negative homocide or injury.

The Kusabi said...

1) See my point about the distinction of a lunatic idea and a lunatic person.

Now what effect are you going for by using the word 'lunatic' in either case?

2) The point about most crimes is that you wouldn't have a chance to get to your gun when whatever situation erupted.

And you know this how exactly, Oracle? In fact there've been several thousand instances (in the US where you can use guns for this purpose) where people did indeed have a chance to get hold of their guns to put a stop to whatever situation, often without shooting anything or anyone.

Allowing people firearms in their homes, without having them locked up, and without having the ammunition stored safely in a different place, is a recipe for accidental killings galore.

Not really, you could just take the attitude that guns are not toys and are not supposed to be used in an irresponsible and reckless manner.

And no-one is really going to say "Could you lay off stabbing me whilst I get my weapon." It's a non-solution to a non-problem, and one that will have unnecessarily fatal consequences for a larger number of people in society.

Sorry, are you describing being stabbed as a non-problem? The way you've phrased the statement suggests you are.

If that's liberty, then give me chains.

OK, now this is just a facetious comment, and you're clearly just trolling the place.

Either that or you're a genuine sociopath.

Charles Pooter said...

the kusabi:

I have a it on good authority that Quink is a very nice chap. It is a little over the top to label him a sociopath for holding an opinion shared by the majority of the British population!

The Kusabi said...

Really.

I wouldn't want to have someone who refers to being stabbed as a 'non problem' as one of my friends, any more than I would want to have a rabid NF member for a friend, but YMMV.

Quink said...

I meant legalising firearms for self defence was a non-solution to the problem of fear. I daresay I fired off my post without properly taking aim.

Thankfully I'm much more deft with a firearm, even if I'd rather shoot The Kusabi than put them into the hands of vulnerable, frightened people (or those with PhDs).

Still, I think it's odd that someone would get so worked up about the (mis)concept of stabbing as a non-problem, whilst advocating the violent death of criminals on hall carpets up and down the land.

The Kusabi said...

I meant legalising firearms for self defence was a non-solution to the problem of fear.

But it's the possibility for actually being faced with violence from criminals that's the problem, not 'fear', isn't it Quirk?

As I asked before, are you prepared to say that firefighting equipment for domestic use is a non-solution to the 'problem' of fear of housefires? If not, why not?

Still, I think it's odd that someone would get so worked up about the (mis)concept of stabbing as a non-problem, whilst advocating the violent death of criminals on hall carpets up and down the land.

It's not odd at all to say that death at the hands of the victim can and should be a risk faced by people who commit violent crime.

The difference there is that the criminals can always avoid being left for dead on hall carpets, by...not...committing...violent...crimes...against...people...

That way they don't get killed, and their potential victims also don't get killed, or beaten, or robbed. It's win-win. How can you not go for that?

Incidentally, why are you more OK with shooting me, than with shooting some criminal who'd beat someone up for no reason whatever? Because, um, you're a sociopath?

Quink said...

The possibility of being faced by an armed intruder is minor. Arming citizens is a crass overreaction.

Of course I'd have a fire extinguisher - for minor fires. For a seriously threatening fire, I'd escape, or shut all the doors I could, and then call the fire brigade. Some situations call for people who actually know what they are doing, as well as having the kit.

The side effects of your proposal would result in more than just criminals bleeding to death on hall carpets.

Shooting you, Kusabi? I'd say a lack of humour was one hallmark of a sociopath, but I'll let it go...

The Kusabi said...

The possibility of being faced by an armed intruder is minor. Arming citizens is a crass overreaction.

Of course I'd have a fire extinguisher


No sorry Quirk, you can't have it both ways. If you're going to say that the risk of crime is too low to justify being able to defend against crime by being armed, then you also have to say that the risk of fire is too low to justify having fire extinguishers and things like that.

The possibility of being faced by an armed intruder is minor. Arming citizens is a crass overreaction.

Of course I'd have a fire extinguisher - for minor fires. For a seriously threatening fire,


This comparison doesn't work either, you'd be better off comparing a minor fire that one could tackle to a burglary, or a mugging, or similar low-scale violent assault, that a person should be able to deal with, and a 'seriously threatening fire' to a riot, which we wouldn't expect ordinary people with to deal with.

The side effects of your proposal would result in more than just criminals bleeding to death on hall carpets.

Really. Like what? Like being tied up and then stabbed over and over again? That's the sort of thing we get already. I wouldn't expect mercy just because I didn't have a gun with which to tackle violent thugs, would you?

Shooting you, Kusabi? I'd say a lack of humour was one hallmark of a sociopath, but I'll let it go...

I'm just remarking about how sociopaths like you (oops!) seem to think that violent criminals deserve more respect than ordinary people...as in, you finding the thought of dead criminals offensive but the thought of a dead ordinary person is just hilarious by comparison...