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Posted: 4/30/2009 3:50:52 PM EDT

30 April 2009 3:06 PM

On being a gun nut

Well, I said I would be misrepresented when I voiced doubts about 'gun control', and I duly was, by a contributor who seems keen to legalise a drug that destroys the brains of the young, but regards it as unthinkable to allow individuals to own guns. He says I am a 'gun nut'. Does that make him a 'dope nut'? Perhaps, though I doubt he will see it that way. Well, I don't see it his way either. Here's why.

Presumably he imagines that my house is crammed with firearms and ammunition, and that I salivate over gun porn in my bullet-proof bunker. I'm sorry to disappoint him but I neither own any guns nor wish to do so. I find proper firearms as alarming as I find powerful motorcycles. In both cases you need to know what you're doing before you use them. In both cases they give you more power than you might want to possess. In both cases, they are too easily capable of inflicting pain and injury. Having nearly killed myself (and someone else) on a motorbike when I was 17, I would be reluctant to ride one again. I can, without any effort at all, recall in vivid detail the screaming of metal on Tarmac as my machine tipped over, sparks flying, and the first sight of my very badly broken ankle after I had hopped to the roadside. I can also remember that, after a dreamlike interlude when I was unaware of how badly I was hurt, it was very painful but (fortunately) have no actual memory of the pain itself, which was just short of the level needed to pass out. I hope this helps to explain why I am also not anxious to keep a firearm.

I don't even like being near motorbikes any more. I am more aware than most people of what severe physical injury looks and feels like. And I suspect I should be just as cautious with a loaded gun of any kind. Handling unloaded ones, as I did for some posed pictures in Moscow, Idaho last October, is of course another matter.

The only firearms I ever possessed were a couple of childhood airguns, once common but now - I suspect - more or less banned. The righteous frenzy against toy guns (including those which are unmistakably and obviously toys) is now so great that toyshops often don't stock them any more. All I desire is my lawful freedom, as guaranteed by the 1689 Bill of Rights and lawlessly whittled away by the civil service and dim politicians, to own a gun if I choose to do so. I suppose it's possible that, as our anarchy deepens, I might reluctantly want to take advantage of this. But that's the point. The choice should be mine, not that of some boot-faced politically-correct police officer anxious to maintain his monopoly of force - and anxious to ensure that his idea of the law should be the only one available.

As I argue in my book 'A Brief History of Crime', it's the great gulf between police and public over how the law should be enforced that lies behind two important features of modern Britain. The frequent arrests of people for defending themselves or their property are not accidents or quirks. They are the consequence of the Criminal Justice system's abandonment of old-fashioned ideas of punishment; also of that system's social democratic belief that crime has 'social' causes and the ownership of property isn't absolute. Most law-abiding people don't really accept this. They think criminals do bad things because they lack conscience or restraint, not because they were abused as children or their dole payments are too small. And they don't see why they have to barricade their houses or hide their worldly goods from view on the assumption that some unrestrained low-life is otherwise bound to steal them. So they regard it as legitimate to hurt and punish those who rob them or otherwise attack them. If they were allowed to enforce the law as they see it, they would quickly show the police and courts up as useless and mistaken. One of the most important jobs of the police is to stop us looking after ourselves, in case we do a better job than PC Plod.

Guns simply take this to a higher level. Since we foolishly abolished the formal death penalty, imposed after a careful trial, we have transferred the power of capital punishment to an increasingly armed police force (though no legislation has ever actually been passed to arm them, and the pretence is still maintained that they are unarmed). That police force is now the arm of the liberal state - rather than enforcers of conservative law (which is why it is nowadays called a 'service') - and so has a much wider licence to use (liberal) violence than ordinary conservative citizens. Contrast the police force's zealous efforts to stamp out private gun ownership with its own rather poor efforts at responsible gun use, as a result of which quite a few people (one stark naked in a well-lit room) have been shot by mistake or as a result of over-reaction by armed officers. As it happens, I find these mistakes and over-reactions quite easy to pardon. Which of us, in such situations, could be sure he would do the right thing? I've never joined in the frenzy of criticism over the de Menezes case, for instance. It is terribly easy to see how such an error could have been made under the circumstances. But if we didn't have an armed police force, and left executions to the hangman, then these things would be a lot less likely.

But what concerns me is that members of the public in the same situation are judged so much more harshly if they make such mistakes. And, perhaps more important, how police shootings are widely accepted, though they are summary, often erroneous and inadequately investigated. Whereas a society which finds this summary execution acceptable gets into a pseudo-moral lather about the idea of lawful execution after due process, jury trial, the possibility of appeal and reprieve.

This brings me back to the USA. Americans are not so infantilised as we are. For many reasons, mainly the fact that it is still possible to live genuinely rural lives in large parts of the country, Americans are less likely to rely on others to protect them or their homes from danger.

This used to be true of us too (again I must urge those who are interested to read the relevant chapter in 'Brief History'). It's evident from a lot of English fiction, written not for propaganda but by people who simply recorded life as they understood it, that until quite recently we had a more American view of things. In fact until 1920 English Gun Law made Texas look effeminate. Read, as nobody now does, Captain Marryat's 'Children of the New Forest' set in the days of Cromwell, and observe the wholly different attitudes towards self-defence against crime that are casually described there.

Read, as fewer and fewer people now do, alas, the 'Sherlock Holmes' stories, and see how often Holmes and Dr Watson venture out carrying firearms. This was perfectly legal, and unsurprising, in the late Victorian and Edwardian era in which the stories are set. And pre-1914 attempts to control guns were resisted by MPs much as the US Congress resists them now.

My suspicion is that the guts were knocked out of us British by the First World War, in which the best people of all classes died by their thousands in the great volunteer armies which marched off to Loos, Passchendaele and the Somme. Those who survived lacked something of the spirit that a free country needs, and we never fully recovered, just as Russia has yet to recover from the fourfold blow of the First World War, Civil War, Great Purge and Second World War, each of which destroyed the best and brightest of their generations. The USA - a society, for the most part, of volunteers and pioneers, has never had a comparable experience. Let us hope it never does.

May I endorse the kind things said about Canada by some correspondents? British people are often given to making lofty and scornful remarks about various countries which they decry as 'boring' - Canada, Belgium and Switzerland usually being the chief victims. Canada is anything but boring. On the contrary it is a fascinating and intensely civilised society, made all the more so by the survival of a French-speaking province (and I admit to having been too diffident about the monarchism of the Quebecois, who were sensibly allowed by Protestant Hanoverian Britain to maintain their Roman Catholic faith without restriction - though I was sorry, on my last visit to Quebec City, to find the handsome Anglican Cathedral there closed and locked. Still, I was pleased to see that - like the Anglican church in Sark - it offered services in French as well as English. How I wish the 1662 Prayer Book could be translated, and I mean properly translated, with all the poetry, into every major language of the world).

Belgophobes also need to travel a bit more. Among the many delights of that country are a comprehensive railway system that puts ours to shame, several treasure houses of some of the best paintings in the world and a rather better record in resisting German invasion than they are generally given credit for. As for Switzerland, the determination of its people to remain free is very far from boring, and continues to this day.

One contributor asks why I don't go to live in the USA, since I like it so much. Why should I? This is my country, where my ancestors are buried and where I hope and intend to be buried myself, where I grew up, whose landscape, climate, music, poetry and architecture are in my bones, whose battle-honours are my battle-honours and whose history is my history. Nowhere else is like it. It is precisely because I know and like so many other countries that I know and love my own best of all. Given the way things are going, I don't completely rule out the possibility of becoming an exile, but that will not be because I want to be. It never is.

Oh, and by the way, those who object to being called 'dimwitted' by me have a simple remedy. Don't say dimwitted things, and especially spare me any repetitions of the 'what about alcohol and tobacco, then, eh?' attempted defence of cannabis. If I urged the unrestricted sale of alcohol and tobacco, they might just have a small point. Since I support legal restrictions on both (both for reasons repeatedly given on this site - I do not believe that legally banning their possession would work, whereas it would with cannabis), they have no point at all. This argument annoys me especially because it is so dishonest, given that those who use it have no actual interest in curbing the use of any poison, merely in preventing serious action against the poison they favour. It also annoys me because its proponents did not even think of it themselves, but bought it retail, ready made in easy-to-swallow capsules.

I suspect (because it is so common) that this non-argument is being widely taught it in school in 'PSHE' indoctrination sessions, and that those who advance it have never thought about it all, because it suited their own interests to swallow it whole. I think it is good for such people to realise that others regard them as dimwitted - for parroting weak and wicked arguments foisted on them by irresponsible teachers. They and these teachers ought to be forced to do weekend shifts in the cannabis wards in our mental hospitals. Meanwhile, the jibe that they are 'dimwitted', a mild one under the circumstances, might make them think about the subject, perhaps for the first time in their sheltered lives.


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