Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Of That, I Have No Doubt

As mentioned below, there was quite the kerfuffle at Rachel's on the topic of Brits and violent crime and gun control, and one very patient (and willing) proponent of gun- and knife-control stood up to make his voice heard. So, as I am wont to do, I invited him to debate the topic. His name is James Kelly, and he's a Scot.

Now, Mr. Kelly, who I will henceforth refer to as James, was reluctant to accept the invitation, stating:
I'd only just taken part in a full-scale debate on the matter and it was difficult to see the purpose of instantly embarking on a second one which would probably cover much the same ground. Secondly, having visited Kevin's blog it became clear that the honeyed words in his comment here about the value of such a debate and my contribution to it were somewhat at odds with the rather more caustic assessment of me he had made over on his own patch –

"Not only more free that he's ever imagined, more free than he can ever possibly understand."

It's hard to fathom how someone he regards as being so intellectually challenged in this way could also simultaneously be regarded as someone worthy of entering into intelligent debate with. A suspicious person might almost think I was being looked upon rather more as a willing patsy.
To be fair, I can see how he could draw that conclusion, but such is not the case. I don't think James is "intellectually challenged," at least not from a medical standpoint, I just think his philosophy is (provably) wrong. As I said in reinforcing my invitation:
James, it's not about "winning" or "losing," it's about the philosophy.
At any rate, James did concede to at least one (1) post in the spirit of the invitation, though he stated that he does expect "fun and relentless mockery" in response. I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder, but I don't intend such. (I am, however, tempted to interpret James's hypothetical example of the gun-control mindset as the product of isolated, paranoid, home-schooled, internet-bound loners as a bit of "relentless mockery" of his own! ;-)

As noted, James begins the meat of his post, titled The only freedom I'll ever understand, by drawing a hypothetical analogy of someone who has been taught that direct contact with other people can expose one to harmful diseases, and that such contact is risky and unnecessary. But our hypothetical person discovers that others, surely having this same knowledge, do it anyway! How can this be?!? He says:
This (admittedly colourful and extreme) example seems to me roughly analogous to Rachel Lucas' bafflement in encountering a society where it's not simply the case that ordinary citizens are legally thwarted from owning guns for self-defence purposes – for the most part they simply have no wish to do so.
Remember this. I'll come back to it.

James continues:
But of course, the reason why people in Britain don't want to carry guns even though there are hypothetical situations in which they might 'need' them is exactly the same as why people get physically close to others even though they might pick up deadly germs. It's not that they're fools or that they haven't spotted the risks – it's just that they choose not to allow their way of life to be defined by those particular risks.
Note the "scare quotes" around the word "need." I'll come back to this, too.

But where I want to start is here:
I was mercilessly mocked the other day for suggesting the cornerstone of true personal liberty is the freedom from fear. This was a childish fantasy I urgently needed to grow out of, I was told – freedom from fear is a literal impossibility, because it is a simple law of nature that we are all at constant risk. But this is to completely misconstrue the point I was making. Women who walk the streets without the gun in their handbag that they might 'need' to defend themselves against a potential assailant, or just anyone who shakes hands even though there's a small chance it might make them ill...all these people in a small way have achieved that freedom from fear I was talking about. Not because the risk, the source of the fear isn’t there any more, but because they’ve recognised as rational people that it's an acceptably small risk and that their lives therefore don’t need to be defined by that fear. Isn't there freedom in not feeling you need to be practically chained to a gun, in the same way there's freedom in not feeling compelled to avoid shaking hands with others?
This is where James illustrates his complete philosophical divergence from the majority of people who read this blog, and for that matter, Rachel's. In Rachel's comments, he put it this way:
I think this is another crucial aspect of the cultural difference between the US and countries like Britain with strict gun controls. You see, I believe in liberty as well - and the cornerstone of that is the freedom to live and the freedom from fear. Freedom that can only be safeguarded by a gun in my hand and the sharpness of my physical reflexes is a very poor quality, one-dimensional freedom. The widespread possession of deadly weapons by others is therefore a severe infringement of my personal liberty. And, yes, I am being utterly serious.
It was that comment that caused me to post my initial response.

James Kelly is a member of The Other Side. He honestly believes, convinced by his own flawed logic or by the constant deluge of the media or for some reason that weapons are the problem, and that by enacting strict controls on weapons, "freedom from fear" can be achieved. From his comments at Rachel's:
I’m one of those idiots who think we’d all be a lot safer without so many knives around. And it seems the police in the UK (not a bunch of woolly liberals on the whole) agree with me, as they’ve fairly regularly held knife amnesties with the intention of making the streets safer.

At the end of the day, it’s a legitimate philosophical difference - am I safer with there being far fewer guns around to shoot me with, or is the proliferation of guns a price worth paying as long as one of those guns is in my hand and I’m trained to use it? I prefer the former option, and I suspect I always will.
"A legitimate philosophical difference." Never mind that all available data says that such is not the case, and simple thought-experiments can disprove the theory. I suspect he will always think that way, too. But I'm not doing this to change his mind, I'm doing it in the hopes that someone, someday, somewhere will read this and decide - on the evidence - that James' philosophy is wrong and mine is right.

"OvertheCliff" called it: "Cognitive dissonance," anyone? Contrast this:
I think this is another crucial aspect of the cultural difference between the US and countries like Britain with strict gun controls. You see, I believe in liberty as well - and the cornerstone of that is the freedom to live and the freedom from fear.
with this:
Women who walk the streets without the gun in their handbag that they might 'need' to defend themselves against a potential assailant, or just anyone who shakes hands even though there's a small chance it might make them ill...all these people in a small way have achieved that freedom from fear I was talking about. Not because the risk, the source of the fear isn’t there any more, but because they’ve recognised as rational people that it's an acceptably small risk and that their lives therefore don’t need to be defined by that fear.
The unstated implication is that "countries like Britain with strict gun controls" have reduced the risk. (And note the scare quotes around "need" again.)

Based on what evidence?

I've been here before and have the T-shirt to prove it. Throughout Rachel's comments James repeatedly made reference to the fact that the US homicide rate is "nearly three times greater" than in the UK, based on this Wikipedia entry that puts the 2002 UK rate at 2.03/100,000 and the U.S. rate at 5.6 for the same year. (Checking my math, that's - carry the one - 2.76 times). For example:
Well, whether it’s down to fewer guns or some other factor, the article you linked to shows a homicide rate in the United States almost three times greater than that in the United Kingdom. The very least you can conclude from that is the personal right to defend yourself with guns is not sufficient to stop innocent people being killed (and the whole basis of Rachel’s post is her fond belief that it would be).
That's quite a conclusion to draw from a single point of data, isn't it? (James also mischaracterizes "the whole basis of Rachel's post" as well, but I'll leave that for possibly another time.)

Here's an interesting chart I've made use of before, US homicide rates, 1900-2004:

Click on the image to take you to the Bureau of Justice Statistics web page, then click on the image there for the data in tabular form. Note that during that 105 year period the number of firearms in private hands in the U.S. increased each and every year. Over the last couple of decades it has been reported that the number of firearms in private hands has been increasing at a rate of at least 3-4 million annually - over two million long guns and about a million handguns. Every year.

But what about the UK? Well, for some reason, that kind of data is a little harder to come by. There is this:

This chart is from Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2007/2008 (PDF), a publication of the Home Office's Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.

Note one difference between the American chart and the UK one? Ours has peaks and valleys. Theirs just keeps creeping up.

Here's an older chart, again, only for England and Wales, but for the period of 1945 to 1997:

Again, this is the total number of homicides, not a rate, but with this chart you can see that things were pretty flat from about 1955 through about 1964.

If you go to the source, the report Homicide Statistics provided by the House of Commons Library (PDF) they give a table on Page 10 for England and Wales, and this chart on page 11 for Scotland:

Page 12 carries the homicide rate numbers.

Here's a comparison for the years where we've got data so far, in rates per 100,000 population:

Year US England & Wales Scotland
19466.4 0.81 0.72
1947 6.1 0.86 0.59
1948 6.1 0.78 0.66
1949 5.4 0.68 0.47
1950 5.3 0.79 0.68
1951 4.9 0.75 0.41
1952 5.2 0.91 0.53
1953 4.8 0.74 0.80
1963 4.90.650.88

What about later data? Say, 1998-2004? Well, we have the U.S. figures, and we have numbers from the aforementioned Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2007/2008, and for Scotland from this Scottish government site.

Year US England & Wales Scotland
2004 5.9 1.47?

(* 2001 data includes the victims of the 9/11 attacks)

Wait - there's a discrepancy. The U.S. number for 2002 in this chart is 6.1/100,000, not 5.6 as referenced in the Wikipedia entry. Turns out, the numbers used above come from the Centers for Disease Control. The 5.6 number comes from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, which (at a guess) is reflective of criminal homicides. No matter, I'll use the CDC's numbers as they make the US look even worse.

So, what does all of this (painstakingly collected and collated) data tell us? Well, this for one thing:

That's a graph of the ratio of homicide rates between England & Wales vs. the US, and Scotland vs. the US since 1946. James seems to believe that the fact that the Wikipedia entry showed that the US homicide rate is "nearly three times" higher than in the UK somehow proved that "strict gun control" has made the UK somehow safer.
A murder rate of 5.6 per 100,000 residents in the US is more than two-and-a-half times greater than the murder rate of 2.09 per 100,000 residents in the UK. I’ll just say that again - more than two-and-a-half times greater. Can you not see that is not a trivial difference but is in fact an absolutely massive one?
It's not a speck on the 10:1 ratio from 1971, is it? Anybody want to extrapolate out to where those graphs will cross 1:1?

But the trend indicates something far different from James' position. Over the last eighty-plus years, via death-by-a-thousand-cuts legislation successfully aimed at disarming the (law-abiding) populace, the UK hasn't gotten "progressively" safer. Over the same period, while the US keeps adding to its private arsenal, we haven't gotten progressively less safe. Note another very interesting bit of information from those graphs of homicide rates above: since 1993 the US homicide rate has been precipitously declining. It is now at a level we haven't seen since the 1960s.

What else has happened here during that same period? Here's another graphic I've used before:

For those uninitiated, "Shall-issue" means that the affected states must issue a permit to carry a firearm, concealed on their person, to anyone who meets certain minimal requirements and applies for one. No discretion is left to the licensing state. Apply, qualify, receive permit. Period.

Among the criteria for qualification is a requirement that the applicant not have a felony record, nor a record of misdemeanor domestic violence. In all, the requirements to get a carry permit in 37 of our 50 states are far less than the UK places on the mere possession of a firearm. Two states require no permit whatsoever. James concluded that last quotation I cited thus:
Of course, my own conclusion would be stronger than that - it’s the gun culture in America that’s partly responsible for that death rate.
Partially correct. As a member of The Other Side, James holds the belief that there's only one "gun culture." As I've noted before, their errant philosophy leads to another inevitable (and wrong) logical end: the inability to differentiate between "violent and predatory" and "violent but protective." There's more than one "gun culture." The surviving "gun culture" in the UK is largely responsible for the homicide rate there as well.

Certainly Americans have been killing each other at rates far above those in the UK, but they've been doing it since long before either polity enacted any gun control laws. It's most definitely a cultural difference. But it isn't the guns that are the cause of that difference. If they were (using their own logic) their homicide rates would be trending down, would they not? After all, "strict gun controls" are supposed to make you safer, right?
I share that basic logic - the simple, common sense logic that having fewer deadly weapons around in the UK results in fewer violent deaths. Since you dispute that logic and are boldly arguing the case for far more guns on the streets of the country you now live in - my country - I’d suggest the onus is on you rather than me to produce some very, very convincing statistical evidence that more people would not die as a result of you getting your wish. Certainly more convincing than vague assertions about regional variations within the society which you come from - which I fail to see how you can dispute is in general a much more violent society than the one in which you now live. Yes, gun violence has increased in the UK in recent years - largely because there are more guns around than there used to be. I’ve been accused of magical thinking, but it is the very definition of magical thinking to imagine that the solution to a problem caused by an increase in the number of guns on the streets is to speed up that increase exponentially!
But here in the US "the number of guns on the street" has increased, massively, and homicide rates have done what again? Gone down! With statistics, and everything!

It would appear that James' "simple, commonsense logic" has failed, at least here in the US. I don't know, it is perhaps possible that the inhabitants of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are constitutionally different and that the evil, mind-bending rays that guns emit would turn normal, law-abiding subjects into murderous killbots there, but somehow I don't think so.

For me, though, the fascinating part of that comment is this:
Yes, gun violence has increased in the UK in recent years - largely because there are more guns around than there used to be.
Wait, what? I thought "strict gun control" was supposed to reduce "the number of guns"? No, James is sticking to the tenets of his philosophy: guns are the cause. If there is more gun violence, well it must be because there are more guns. Cognitive dissonance. The philosophy cannot be wrong. "Strict gun controls" must result in fewer guns and reduced gun violence. The explanation must be that the solution was improperly implemented! Do it again, only HARDER! (OK, I am mocking, but it's so hard to resist!)

As an aside, let me illustrate:
The one thing you’ve conveniently left out of that list about Washington DC is that it borders a jurisdiction with incredibly lax gun controls, thereby rendering its own restrictions virtually useless. Golly, I wonder if that might just have something to do with it as well?
There we go again. Remember the "simple thought experiments" I mentioned above? I've covered this topic before, too. Alexandria, Virginia abuts Washington, D.C., Virginia being one of those states with "incredibly lax gun controls." Unsurprisingly, Virginia has a very high rate of gun ownership.

And Alexandria has a homicide rate less than 1/10th that of D.C., where "strict gun controls" - the strictest in the nation - have been in effect since 1977.

I thought the philosophy said guns caused gun violence. Are all the ones in Virginia somehow defective?

And what about the UK? It has uniform "strict gun controls," and is surrounded by water, yet guns just keep streaming in. (Hopefully James finds the Guardian an acceptable source of information.)

Now, I think I've exhausted homicide statistics. Let's get back to "need."

In another comment at Rachel's, someone challenged James about the rates of other violent crimes in the UK. His response:
Well violence isn’t so much of a problem if you’re talking about the sort that only produces bumps and bruises. I strongly suspect that kind of violence is also worse in the US, but as that isn’t the point I’ve been making I don’t really need to prove it. On the point I am interested in making - violence that results in death - I think I’ve already proved it umpteen times over.
But not the way he intended, I think.

Let's look at that comparison of non-lethal violent crime. James doesn't believe that the UK really has much of a problem in this department:
I've seen that asserted many times over the last few days but I've yet to see compelling evidence. I'm guessing it may depend on the definition of 'violent'.
This first came up as a topic back in 1998 when the Bureau of Justice Statistics published Crime and Justice in the United States and in England and Wales, 1981-96 (PDF). It hit the evening news here. Here are the highlights:

For most U.S. crimes (survey estimated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft; police-recorded murder, robbery, and burglary), the latest crime rates (1996) are the lowest recorded in the 16-year period from 1981 to 1996. By comparison, English crime rates as measured in both victim surveys and police statistics have all risen since 1981. For half of the measured English crime categories, the latest crime rates (1995 for rates from victim surveys; 1996 for rates from police statistics) are the highest recorded since 1981


(T)he U.S. robbery rate as measured in the victim survey was nearly double England's in 1981, but in 1995 the English robbery rate was 1.4 times America's


(T)he U.S. robbery rate as measured in police statistics was 6 times England's in 1981 but 1.4 times in 1996


(T)he U.S. rape rate as measured in police statistics was 17 times England's in 1981 but 3 times in 1996
Things haven't improved there since 1996, either. They have here.

"Bumps and bruises"? You'll note I included a graph of burglary above. Burglary? Surely that's not a "violent crime."

It's gotten to be in the UK. "Hot" burglary has become common there. Here in the states, burglars prefer to hit homes they know are unoccupied. It reduces the possibility of getting shot. But in the UK, where those few remaining honest subjects who own guns are required to keep them locked up, separate from the ammunition and where crime has been skyrocketing, homeowners tend to put alarm systems on their homes. It's much easier for a "burglar" to ring the bell, assault the person answering the door, and then enter and "burglarize" the premises. Or just bust in on people while they're at home. It's not like they're risking much. Here that's called "robbery," but not, apparently, in the UK. Ask Annie Hendrick and Sally Skidmore how much "proportional force" they should have used resisting the young men who invaded their homes, beat and robbed them. Really, we shouldn't be concerned. After all, it's just "bumps and bruises," right?

The BBC reported in 2008 that a number of police forces in England and Wales have been undercounting some of the most serious violent crimes, and that "The government says it does not know how long the undercounting has been going on - leading to concerns that figures on violent crime may have been wrong for up to a decade." (Note that said statistics would have been after the FBI report.) For example, "Crimes of 'grievous bodily harm with intent' committed between April and June this year were being mistakenly recorded as lesser crimes."

Bumps and bruises. Right.

Here's where the philosophical rubber meets the existential road. The Other Side believes that weapons are the cause of violent crime. Based on that belief, it logically follows that reducing the number of weapons in circulation will result in a reduction in violent crime.

So they pass laws to effect that reduction. The UK is the perfect petri dish for us to observe the efficacy of this philosophy.

"Gun Control" started in England about 1920. There were various measures before that, but after the turmoil of World War I there was fear of armed insurrection by communist-controlled labor groups brought on by the overthrow of the Russian government. The Firearms Act of 1920 required registration of all handguns and rifles and restricted them only to people who could prove they had "good reason" for them. Shotguns and air guns were exempted, as they were perceived to have only "sporting" purposes. Though the legislation was written because of a fear of civil unrest, it was presented to Parliament as a crime control measure.

In 1937 the laws were further tightened. Following the example of and amplifying on our 1934 Gun Control Act, the British outlawed fully-automatic weapons and short-barreled shotguns. If you had registered your war-trophy from W.W.I., or if you had purchased a perfectly legal Tommy-gun with your firearms permit, you had to turn it in. England didn't outlaw alcohol as the U.S. had done, so they didn't have a problem with machine-gun toting gangsters.

The "next step" (and isn't there always a "next step"?) came with the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act. This made it illegal to carry an "offensive weapon" without being able to demonstrate a need for it. Offensive weapons included knives, pointed objects, and tear gas along with firearms. Ownership of a handgun for self-defense was no longer considered a "reasonable need." After all, you were prohibited by law from carrying it.

Next came "sporting" shotguns. After a heinous murder in which three police officers were killed with unregistered handguns, the Parliament took action! The Criminal Justice Act of 1967 (later consolidated into the Firearms Act of 1968) required owners to register their formerly innocuous shotguns, and gave the police the power to refuse registration if they felt that possession of a shotgun by the registrant would "endanger public safety". How this action could have possibly had any effect on the murders of three policemen with handguns was not addressed in the debate. Now all firearms were subject to licensing and registration, and two types had been banned.

There were a few other less sweeping laws passed in the interim, but in 1987 Michael Ryan, a licensed firearms owner, took a semiautomatic pistol, an AK-47 type rifle and an M1 carbine and went on a killing spree in Hungerford, England. He murdered 16 people before committing suicide. A few days later, a double murder was committed with a shotgun. The press, those stalwart defenders of the public, of course went crazy. (Much like we're seeing here now.) There were a total of 159,000 firearms certificates held by English citizens at that time, and only a small percentage of the permit holders owned semi-automatic rifles. There were 861,300 shotgun certificates on file. The law shoved through Parliament and enacted in 1988 banned all semi-automatic rifles and all pump-action rifles as well. Owners of shotguns that could hold more than two shells were now required to get the more stringent Firearms certificate.

British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd reportedly told an audience that most the provisions in the 1988 Firearm Act had been (not surprisingly) prepared long before Hungerford, and the government had been waiting for the right moment to implement them.

Surely the number of guns was reduced and the British were safer now? No. In 1996 Thomas Hamilton, another licensed firearm owner took four handguns and several hundred rounds of ammunition and went to a school in Dunblane Scotland where he proceeded to kill sixteen children and a teacher. He was a suspected child molester. He had been refused membership at several gun clubs (membership being a requirement for holding a firearms license). He had lied on his application form. People had filed complaints with the police asking that they pull his license. Nothing was done. Hamilton, with all the restrictive laws already passed by the British government, was free to kill with impunity. He could just have easily done it with illegal firearms.

The predictable result - more banning.

Alun Michael of the British Home Office announced after passage of the Act: "Britain now has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. We recognize that only the strictest control of firearms will protect the public." (Sound familiar?) As of today British citizens are allowed to own only antique muzzle-loading firearms, shotguns, and rifles as long as they are not pump-action or self-loading (I believe that self-loading .22 rimfire rifles are still OK. For the moment.) Most are required to store their firearms in secure cabinets separate from the ammunition. The instructions provided by the government concerning what constitutes "safe storage" covers 15 pages. Firearms must be stored in a secure locker that is tamper proof and physically attached to the building. What constitutes "tamper proof" is up to local law-enforcement to define. No one but the licensed firearms owner is allowed to have access to his firearms. (A retired lawyer lost his shotgun license because he told his mother where the key to the gun safe was stored!)

The British have effectively disarmed their law-abiding citizens. In Scotland in 2007 there were 26,056 firearm certificates on issue to a total population of 5,062,000. In other words, about 0.5% of the population is licensed to own a centerfire rifle or a shotgun that can hold more than two shells. In England and Wales there were 128,528 firearm certificates on issue to a population of about 54 million, or less than 0.25% of the population there. No one can own a handgun, legally.

The government has made carrying any sort of weapon for self defense punishable by up to ten years in prison. The government has promised the people that each and every additional infringement on their right to arms will make them safer, and they have lied to them every single time. The British don't kill each other all that often with firearms (or with much of anything else) because, apparently, killing just isn't cricket - not because of any gun laws that have been foisted on the public in the name of safety. But the statistics say they're learning.

Instead, the laws that have been passed have made the British public less safe; unprotected victims just waiting to be preyed upon by the growing class of those unafraid to break the law. Since 1920 England has enacted more and more draconian gun legislation, one step at a time, with the advertised purpose of making its citizens safer. Remember the words of Alun Michael: "Britain now has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. We recognize that only the strictest control of firearms will protect the public." If that has been their true aim, they have failed. Epically. While still low, England now has an overall homicide rate more than double what it had when it began enacting gun control legislation. They have a higher firearm-related homicide rate, even though it has "some of the toughest gun laws in the world". They have achieved a violent crime rate higher than even the United States. According to a UN report:
Scotland tops list of world's most violent countries

England and Wales recorded the second highest number of violent assaults while Northern Ireland recorded the fewest.

The study, based on telephone interviews with victims of crime in 21 countries, found that more than 2,000 Scots were attacked every week, almost ten times the official police figures. They include non-sexual crimes of violence and serious assaults.

Violent crime has doubled in Scotland over the past 20 years and levels, per head of population, are now comparable with cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Tbilisi.

The study, by the UN’s crime research institute, found that 3 per cent of Scots had been victims of assault compared with 1.2 per cent in America and just 0.1 per cent in Japan, 0.2 per cent in Italy and 0.8 per cent in Austria. In England and Wales the figure was 2.8 per cent.
What a sterling example of gun control for the U.S. to study! Britain proves what gun-rights activists have said all along: Disarming the law-abiding is worse than useless, it's counterproductive.

At the beginning of this essay I quoted James:
. . . it's not simply the case that ordinary citizens are legally thwarted from owning guns for self-defence purposes – for the most part they simply have no wish to do so.
For the most part, here in the U.S. they don't wish to either. Only about 2-3% of the people who are eligible get a concealed-carry permit. The majority of people who own firearms in this country don't keep one loaded in their home for the purpose of self-defense. The majority of Americans don't own a gun at all.
. . . the reason why people in Britain don't want to carry guns even though there are hypothetical situations in which they might 'need' them is exactly the same as why people get physically close to others even though they might pick up deadly germs. It's not that they're fools or that they haven't spotted the risks – it's just that they choose not to allow their way of life to be defined by those particular risks.
The vast majority of people in the US make that same decision, and for the same reasons.

The difference here is we still have the CHOICE. The UK has, through a slow systematic strategy, denied its citizens the ability to make the decision to have a gun for self-defense out of the demonstrably FALSE belief that by doing so EVERYONE WILL BE SAFER. In the opening to James' post, his "admittedly extreme" example involved someone who has been taught from childhood that physical contact with other people risks exposure to horrible disease, but what James (I'm sure unconsciously) illustrates is that his entire culture has been brainwashed in exactly that manner - except what they've been taught is that exposure to firearms brings with it the risk of horrible death. It's part and parcel of the philosophy that guns are the cause of violence. From a comment James left here:

I'm not under the impression that the legalisation of gun ownership would make it mandatory in the literal sense. Perhaps I didn't make this point clearly enough in my post (I did on the Rachel Lucas blog earlier) but my basic proposition is that a personal freedom can only regarded as absolute insofar as it doesn't interfere with the rights and freedoms of others. And the right to own and carry a gun does exactly that. It's not like owning a pen or a compass or a pack of bottled water - if you don't own a gun but you learn that all your neighbours do, that's a fact that changes things for you. It makes you (in a very rational way) reassess your own sense of security, and certain actions will flow from that. You might very well feel compelled to purchase a gun at that point and learn how to use it, even though it was not your wish to do so. And that compulsion would come from fear, not from government diktat.
From a comment at his own site:
Prior to the restrictions in the late 1990s, only a relatively tiny percentage of the UK population took advantage of the right to own handguns. But as we saw from the Dunblane and Hungerford massacres, there was a severe danger to the non-gun-owning remainder of the population from even that limited level of legal handgun ownership. An absolutely open-and-shut case of a personal 'right' interfering with the freedoms and rights of others - and in any civilised society, it's at that point where a personal right must cease to be regarded as absolute.
The "logic" there is that - by definition - anyone who possesses a firearm is a danger, a severe danger, to all of society. The risk of exposure must be eliminated! But the risk of exposure to disease? Minor, manageable. Another comment from James:
I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that fear is a relative thing, and that the less (rational) fear we need to endure, the more free we are. In one sense, people on the other side of this debate might even agree with that - they feel more safe in the knowledge that they are free to defend themselves with a gun, whereas others feel more safe by there being fewer guns around for people to be attacked with. And, yes, the latter proposition demands that we tackle the scourge of illegal weapons as well.

And it goes without saying (I hope!) that I most certainly don't want to see you beaten and killed - I just think you're less likely to be killed if there are fewer guns around.
But given the evidence, is James' fear of weapons rational? I submit it is not. Continuing that same quote:
. . . yes, Scotland does have a huge knife violence problem. I'd have to disagree with you, though - part of the solution is to get as many knives as possible off the streets (and from what I can gather, that's a crucial part of the police strategy).
Let's see: Guns are the problem, therefore "the strictest control of firearms will protect the public." Only it doesn't. There's more guns, and more violence, and more violence with weapons other than guns. But the philosophy cannot be wrong! The only answer for the failure? Do it again, only HARDER!

Cognitive dissonance resulting in escalation of failure.

James said:

I believe in liberty as well - and the cornerstone of that is the freedom to live and the freedom from fear.
How do you defend your "freedom to live" if you are denied the tools necessary to the job?

One more comment from James:
I also think there's an element of people on the other side of this debate wanting to have their cake and eat it. If someone is determined to attack you, they insist it makes no difference whatsoever whether it's with a gun, a brick or a cobblestone, the outcome will be exactly the same. But then when they shift to talking about a person engaged in self-defence, the weapon in their hand suddenly makes all the difference in the world! That was the very question Rachel Lucas originally posed - how can a man hope to defend himself properly with a hammer? Why couldn't he have had a more effective weapon to defend himself with?

So as a rational person, I hope you'd concede the following - the choice of weapon must make a difference to the outcome for BOTH an attacker and defender, or for NEITHER. I can't see a reasonable third option here.
Of course he can't. To do so would require him to question his philosophy.

I've had this conversation before, too. Tim Lambert worded it thus:
If the law disarms attackers, then it can make self defence possible where it would have been impossible if the attacker was armed.
But the data says - and James admits - that the law, the "strictest gun laws in the world" - haven't disarmed attackers. There are more guns in the UK than there were before the bans. But now they're almost exclusively in the hands of the criminals. Reader Sarah corrected Tim's (and by extension, James') assertion:
If the law disarms citizens, then it can make self defence impossible where it would have been possible if the citizen was armed.
THAT is what the law has done. It has disarmed the law-abiding, so that any thug can assault anyone (not also a thug) without fear of being faced with a weapon. I think it was Ronald Reagan who said "If you want more of something, subsidize it." "Strict control" of weapons subsidizes violent criminals. It makes their vocation safer. Weapons are a force-multiplier. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is King. In the kingdom of the disarmed, the armed man is King.

But it's just "bumps and bruises," right?

The philosophy of The Other Side is in error. Nearly a hundred years of history illustrates this in unmistakable terms to anyone who will actually look. One more quote from the archives, from the meta-study of American gun control law and research conducted at the behest of the Carter administration, published in 1983 as Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America:
The progressive's indictment of American firearms policy is well known and is one that both the senior authors of this study once shared. This indictment includes the following particulars: (1) Guns are involved in an astonishing number of crimes in this country. (2) In other countries with stricter firearms laws and fewer guns in private hands, gun crime is rare. (3) Most of the firearms involved in crime are cheap Saturday Night Specials, for which no legitimate use or need exists. (4) Many families acquire such a gun because they feel the need to protect themselves; eventually they end up shooting one another. (5) If there were fewer guns around, there would obviously be less crime. (6) Most of the public also believes this and has favored stricter gun control laws for as long as anyone has asked the question. (7) Only the gun lobby prevents us from embarking on the road to a safer and more civilized society.

The more deeply we have explored the empirical implications of this indictment, the less plausible it has become.
British culture may have been neutered by their embrace of that philosophy, but it is my intention to ensure that the same thing doesn't happen here. I'm not interested in learning how to properly be a victim. I don't want my police forces to issue me a "spit kit" when some "chav" decides that I'm going to be his next target of aggression. I don't want my government to tell me that I shouldn't even honk my horn if I see someone committing a crime. I'm part of the good "gun culture," and I refuse to allow the philosophy James espouses to do to us what it has done in Britain.

ESPECIALLY since Americans don't seem to have much problem with killing each other already.

James says that his belief in "freedom from fear" is "the only freedom I'll ever understand," but it's blindingly apparent he doesn't understand it.

Of that, I have no doubt.

UPDATE: For a guy who didn't want to debate, one is still raging in the comments of his post.

UPDATE II: And in a new post there.

As I said in a comment, James is failing miserably at not continuing the debate, and I am failing miserably in doing it in the comments at his blog instead of here.

UPDATE, 5/13: My final piece in this debate finally is done, Cultures: Compare and Contrast

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