August 13, 2001
Gun Control and the Defenceless State
The Debate no one wants
against gun control in Britain is slightly less tenable than teaching
that the earth is flat. Everyone, apart from a couple of extremists
(in the best possible sense) centred on groups such as the Libertarian
Alliance, is for gun control that would be regarded as authoritarian
by the most liberal Democrat in America. The question often seems
to be debated on the margin, so far has the principle permeated
mainstream political thought. To give some idea of the extremist
position in Britain, here are a few examples from the recent debate
overwhelming majority of British politicians and voters who wish
to keep the present gun laws cannot be characterised as "gun grabbers";
all the guns have already been grabbed. The arguments against gun
control are well rehearsed. Gun crime has gone up in Britain since
restrictions in the mid-nineties. People are unable to protect themselves
against higher crime. Law-abiding people are banned from a harmless
pursuit with no appreciable benefit to public safety. Etc., etc.
I do have some sympathy with these arguments, having a natural preference
for government that does not interfere with people's lives. These
are general preferences that I can not see affecting my daily life,
and, if truth be told, I'd no more go to the barricades for these
arguments than I would to keep hunting or to legalise marijuana.
argument that should be worth going to the barricade for, is that
of national defence. By the national defence, I do not mean trampling
on other sovereign countries, implementing a thinly disguised empire.
That is offence. I mean defending the British Isles against invasion.
It is here where gun control seems particularly senseless. Simply
put, a well-armed citizenry is more off putting to an invading army
than any measure, short of a nuclear deterrent. International law
did not persuade the West that an occupation of Serbia was folly;
it was the fact that so many Serbs had guns. The same (with the
modification of the Alps and a trained and organised militia) applied
to Switzerland in the Second World War. Occupation of a hostile
and armed population is not for the faint hearted. Although this
does not guarantee that no one will invade you, just ask the French,
it does make occupation difficult.
other point here is that it is remarkably cheap for any government.
At a time of severe defence cutbacks and approaching recession,
it is amazing that many fiscal conservatives have not seen the extraordinarily
low cost of this defence proposal. The cost of the equipment will
be borne by the owners. In addition, guns purchased on the open
market will to be more reliable and better suited to local defence,
than the botched attempts at central government procurement. Unlike
the standing army, an armed citizenry does not need to be paid and
will not mean that we can get rid of an army, navy and air force
but this does mean that they can be cut back in the long term. There
is a moral objection that a government should ensure by all means
possible that the invaders should never reach British shores. It
should. However, one of the ways in which an invader can be deterred
from reaching British shores is if they realise that the British
will tie down more divisions and cost more money than they can afford.