August 13, 2001
Being 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 on guns:
The 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.
The 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.
The 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 fed.
This 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.
Two times in the last century, four times if you count the Boer War and National Service, the British Army has needed a vast amount of erstwhile civilians to quickly fill their ranks. Without going into the niceties of whether the British should have been fighting these wars, it does illustrate that their will be times when the British state will need to ask its civilians to put on uniform. An unarmed citizenry, indoctrinated to fear guns and uneducated in either their use or safe handling, is going to prove a liability when called on.
This case will never be discussed in respectable drawing rooms, nor considered by our policy making elite. The case is not a radical one, in many ways it goes with the flow of present policy discussion what better case of self-reliance or civic community could there be than a local militia. What does not go with the flow, though, is the idea that the government should be seriously concerned about the defence of the British Isles. Perhaps that is the most worrying aspect of this non-debate.
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