Gun ownership is always thought of as a rarity in the UK. We may like to think that this country has lower levels of gun crime than the US, and that we don't have the same problems of US gun control - especially after the Tucson shooting last year.Forgotten Derrick Bird so soon?
But there are still plenty of firearms around here, all held legally. These latest figures from the Home Office have just been released and they show that more guns have been licensed than ever before.How many?
• There were 141,775 firearm certificates on issue on 31 March 2010, an increase of 2% compared with the end of March 2009This is exclusively England and Wales. It does not include Scotland nor Northern Ireland.
• 580,653 shotgun certificates were on issue on 31 March 2010, 1% up
• Those certificates cover a total of 1.8m guns
So we have a grand total of 722,428 licenses covering 1.8 million rifles and shotguns. Surely there is a large overlap between the group of people who possess firearm certificates (rifles and certain shotguns) and shotgun certificates (single- and double-barreled shotguns only), so the total number of individuals possessing licenses is going to be well under 722,000.
The article states that the ratio is about 3,323 shotguns and rifles combined per 100,000 population, and that much is true, but what's the license ratio? The population of England and Wales is a bit over
I can't help but recall the words of St. George Tucker from his 1803 Blackstone's Commentaries on American law:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep,(sic) and bear arms, shall not be infringed.Well, I guess they can count themselves lucky that they're doing better than one in five hundred.
This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty .... The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.
The estimate on illegally possessed firearms? Well, in 2000 the Sunday Times reported:
UP TO 3m illegal guns are in circulation in Britain, leading to a rise in drive-by shootings and gangland-style executions, new figures have revealed.That dwarfs the 1.8 million currently legally owned, doesn't it? And in 2008 The Guardian reported:
The gun shown here, a Webley, is up for sale in London for £150, one of hundreds of such weapons that are easily and cheaply available on the streets of the UK's big cities, a Guardian investigation can reveal.Grenades!
The variety of weapons on offer in Britain is extensive and includes machine guns and shotguns, as well as pistols and converted replicas. A source close to the trade in illegal weapons contacted by the Guardian listed a menu of firearms that are available on the streets of the capital.
"You can get a clean [unused] 9mm automatic for £1,500, a Glock for a couple of grand and you can even make an order for a couple of MAC-10s," he said. "Or you can get a little sawn-off for £150. They're easy enough to get hold of. You'll find one in any poverty area, every estate in London, and it's even easier in Manchester, where there are areas where the police don't go.
"People who use shotguns tend to be lower down the pecking order. There is less use of sawn-off or full length shotguns, and if a criminal wants street cred, he wants a self-loading pistol, a MAC-10 or an Uzi submachine gun."
But it is the arrival of eastern European weapons that, alongside a homegrown industry in converting them, has contributed to the firearms glut. "There has been an influx from eastern Europe and particularly from Poland, and there are also a lot coming in from people who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq," said the source. "In Liverpool docks, you can put in an order for 10 guns and some grenades and they'll say OK and two weeks later, they will be there - and they are straight goers."
There have been grenade attacks in the UK. In 2003 a 63 year-old woman lost a leg when a grenade was tossed into her Liverpool home, for example.
But if this information is even close to accurate, it means that you have a greater chance of meeting someone who possesses a firearm illegally in Britain than someone who possesses a firearm legally.
And the person who possesses one illegally is far more likely to stick it in your face by way of letting you know. So you can hopefully forgive me when I dismiss the idea that the UK's "strictest gun laws in the world" has done much of anything to disarm its criminal element or prevent spree-shootings.