Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gun Laws in the UK

For obvious reasons, there are few statistics more obscured, obfuscated and truncated than gun crime number, particularly those of countries with strict gun control laws. Take this display from today's Wall Street Journal:
[The] Dunblane [massacre of 1996] had a more dramatic impact. Hamilton had a firearm certificate, although according to the rules he should not have been granted one. A media frenzy coupled with an emotional campaign by parents of Dunblane resulted in the Firearms Act of 1998, which instituted a nearly complete ban on handguns. Owners of pistols were required to turn them in. The penalty for illegal possession of a pistol is up to 10 years in prison. 
The results have not been what proponents of the act wanted. Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. Gun crime, not a serious problem in the past, now is. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time. Moreover, another massacre occurred in June 2010. Derrick Bird, a taxi driver in Cumbria, shot his brother and a colleague then drove off through rural villages killing 12 people and injuring 11 more before killing himself.

The author is correctish. I haven't been able to find specific numbers for only handguns, but "gun crime" as a whole did double between the implementation of the handgun ban in 1998 and its peak in 2006. However, it's been declining ever since:

It's also important to understand that every new crime law usually labels certain kinds of behavior "criminal" that weren't necessarily considered such before, and Britain does not screw around in terms of enforcement of their gun laws. Behavior that wouldn't get people arrested in most jurisdictions in the United States receives the unapologetic wrath of the Queen's justice. Take the following recent case, for example:
An armed robber was caught out when he threatened a group of 'drug dealers' only to find out they were actually undercover police officers. 
David Nestoruk was dishing out his own brand of 'street justice' when he used an imitation firearm to threaten a gang of what he thought were drug pushers completing a deal on the streets of Penwortham, Preston, Lancashire. 
The 23-year-old convict cycled past the group flashing an imitation handgun and warned: 'You've got five minutes to get out or I'm going to blast you.'
I just want to point out that identifying the man as an "armed robber" is something of a cross between a sensationalist touch indicative of the British press and a convention used to describe a man with a long rap sheet and a thin employment history. He was actually not robbing anyone during the incident in question. What's more:
He also said the imitation gun, which was a gas powered BB gun, was in effect a 'toy gun.' 
Police say the imitation firearm still has not been recovered. 
Judge Jonathan Gibson, in handing out a 22-month prison sentence, said: 'These police officers believed this gun to be real, leaving them scared and shaken.'
A case like this might not even reach the point of arrest depending on the neighborhood and race of the offender in the United States, where it would likely be resolved as a misunderstanding. In Britain, the man was sentenced to two years in prison.

The justness of the verdict aside, this case illustrates the size of the chasm between what constitutes a "gun crime" in the UK versus the American definition of same. If you prefer an even more extreme example, try this one on for size:
Ian Poulton, 33, was arrested after more than 15 armed officers wearing bullet-proof vests and aiming machine guns at him swooped on a quiet street in Telford, Shrops, in May this year. 
Police were alerted after residents reported seeing a man with a weapon tucked into the waistband of his trousers. He was said to have been threatening Jose Luis Candelaria, his neighbour. 
But the operation took an unusual turn when officers discovered Poulton was actually in possession of a sexual appliance. 
Poulton was jailed for five years after he admitted possessing an item which had the appearance of a handgun with intent to cause fear of violence at Shrewsbury Crown Court. 
He also admitted assaulting Mr Candelaria, causing him actual bodily harm. 
Jailing Poulton on Wednesday, Judge Robin Onions told him: "It was clearly not a gun, be it imitation or real. It was an entirely innocent object. It was the defendant's intention to deceive. Witnesses thought it was a firearm so he has to take the consequences."
Even the most rabid gun control advocate in the United States would consider 5 years for battery with a deadly dildo to be a bit extreme.

But there is also something very interesting to the British approach to "gun control." Take a look at the chart below:

Ignoring "air weapons," which could include certain kinds of paintball guns (seriously), the most frequent kind of gun offense is due to handguns, but look at how radically different in "% used as" handgun crimes are in relation to other kinds of guns are: almost 80% are threats like the ones described above. In other words, the British approach to violent crime prevent has a lot to do with locking up potential violent criminals at the very first sign that they're headed in the direction of violence.

Why are we here at the Chief so intrigued by this statistic? Because the #1 motive for known causes of homicides in the United States is ... argument. Depending on how you define "arguments" for statistical purposes, they're responsible for between 33-50% of murders in America. The British treat arguments -- or threats -- involving guns, or even the perceived appearance of guns, with deathly seriousness. Here in the United States we all too often do not.


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