American Elephants


The British Have Lost the Right to Self-Defense. Obama is After Ours. by The Elephant's Child

In 1953, British law banned carrying anything for the purpose of self-defense.

In England, self-defense is not considered a “good reason” to carry a knife, much less a gun, as an “offensive weapon” is “defined as any weapon designed or adapted to cause injury, or intended by the person possessing them to do so.”

The BBC offers this advice for anyone in Britain who is attacked on the street: “You are permitted to protect yourself with a briefcase, a handbag, or keys. You should shout “call the Police’ rather than ‘Help.’ Bystanders are not to help. They have been taught to leave such matters to the professionals. If you manage to knock  your attacker down, you must not hit him again or you risk being charged with assault.

A report from the Cato Institute points out that self-defense is an endangered right.

The withdrawal of a basic right of Englishmen is having dire consequences in Great Britain, and should serve as an object lesson for Americans. Today, in the name of public safety, the British government has practically eliminated the citizens’ right to self-defense. That did not happen all at once. The people were weaned from their fundamental right to protect themselves through a series of policies implemented over some 80 years. Those include the strictest gun regulations of any democracy, legislation that makes it illegal for individuals to carry any article that could be used for personal protection, and restrictive limits on the use of force in self-defense. Britons have been taught, in the words of a 1992 Economist article, that such policies are “a restraint on personal liberty that seems, in most civilized countries, essential to the happiness of others.” The author contrasted those policies with “America’s vigilante values.”

The result of that tradeoff of rights for security has been disastrous for both. Many Americans, either unaware of, or unconcerned with, the perverse impact of British policy, insist that our public safety demands a similar sacrifice. But an examination of the experience of the British people offers a cautionary tale. A few examples underscore the situation in Britain today.

A homeowner discovered two robbers in his home, and held them at bay with a toy gun, while he telephoned the police. When the police arrived, they arrested the two burglars and also the homeowner, who was charged with putting someone in fear with a toy gun.

An elderly woman who scared off a gang of youths by firing  a cap pistol was charged with the same offense. The government is now planning to make toy guns illegal.

In 1999, a 55-year-old farmer, Tony Martin, living alone in a dilapidated house, was awakened by the sound of breaking glass as two burglars broke in. Martin had been robbed six times previously. Like 70 percent of rural villages, his had no police presence. He crept downstairs in the dark, shot at the burglars, killing one and wounding the second.  Both had many prior convictions. Martin was sentenced to life in prison for killing one burglar, 10 years for wounding the second, and 12 months for owning an unregistered shotgun. The prosecutor claimed that Martin had lain in wait, and caught the burglars “like rats in a trap.”

The wounded burglar was released after serving 18 months of a three-year sentence. He then sued Martin for the injury to his leg, claiming it prevented him from working and interfered with his martial arts training and sex life. He was awarded £5,000 of taxpayer money to prosecute the suit. Martin’s sentence was reduced on a finding that he had an abusive childhood, but he was denied parole because he had expressed no remorse for killing one so young, and posed a danger to other burglars.

A trend of 500 years of declining interpersonal violence reversed abruptly in 1954 as violence began to increase dramatically. In 2001 England ranked highest in the level of homicides in Western Europe, and violent crimes were three times worse than the next worst country, and climbing. It is far higher than the United States.

The safety of the public has taken second place behind the government’s political preference for order and power. It is an alarming lesson for us.

In the meantime, President Obama on Sunday pledged to put his “full weight” behind a legislative package next year aimed at containing gun violence. He voiced skepticism about armed guards at schools. He said he intended to press the issue with the public. “Will there be resistance? Absolutely there will be resistance.”

In California, the number of guns sold in the state has risen sharply, doubling since 2002. Oddly enough, gun injuries and deaths have fallen. Across the country many teachers are signing up for firearms training on their own.

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