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Britain's strict gun laws not really working.
January 8, 2002 5:39 AM   Subscribe

Britain's strict gun laws not really working. While Britain has some of the toughest firearms laws in the world, the recent spate of gun murders in London has highlighted a disturbing growth in armed crime. Could the NRA be correct? Should the Bobbies now be required to carry guns, something they have never done before?
posted by Rastafari (43 comments total)

 
More information on this issue: Handgun crime 'up' despite ban
posted by Rastafari at 5:44 AM on January 8, 2002


I'm six times more likely to be murdered in the US than I am here at home.
posted by dlewis at 6:05 AM on January 8, 2002


given that the police do a good job of shooting *the wrong* people at the moment, i would not welcome a higher proportion of gun use by the police.
that is not the answer to understanding crime.
i would imagine that it would also make criminals more desperate, as well as making the police more odf a target for attacks.
posted by asok at 6:05 AM on January 8, 2002


I would imagine (and I have no figures to back this up) that since the new laws were introduced there has been in a fall in other gun-related deaths e.g. suicides, domestic arguments, accidents etc. The rise in gun crime has more to do with the availability of guns from Eastern Europe (especially after the Balkan war has ended) and the general 'raising of the stakes' in crime, than any failure of the new laws.
As far as arming bobbies (there's a word you don't hear very often) British police in some major cities are so often armed it is almost becoming routine.
posted by Cuppatea at 6:13 AM on January 8, 2002


I don't know any 'Brit' under the age of seventy who refers to 'bobbies'. We rarely see these 'bobbies' unless they're in a car, van or on TV - a fact far more relevant to crime figures than gun issues. In any case, the police in the UK are routinely armed when dealing with gun crime.

The vast majority of recent gun incidents have involved 'black-on-black' crime within deprived inner-city areas. From my limited knowledge of the NRA (no significant British equivalent), their ideas could not be less relevant to what is predominantly seen as a social issue.

Any suggestion that making firearms more easily available would help fight armed crime is anathema to the British public who have consistently polled against routinely arming the police. Indeed, gun crime has risen along with the availability of guns not vice versa - restricting acess to them has consistently worked as a policy.

(nb. New member - hallo)
posted by niceness at 6:24 AM on January 8, 2002


To say that the strict gun laws "aren't really working" just because there has been a relatively small number of recent incidents involving firearms isn't really fair.

From the linked article - "Armed street robberies rose, in the same period (April - November), from 435 (in 2000) to 667 in 2001 - an increase of 53% - while overall in the capital there were 45,255 street robberies and snatches last year, against 32,497 in 2000"

If I'm interpreting this correctly, it still sounds like armed street robberies represent a very low percentage of total street robberies for either 2001 or 2000. OK, the tiny proportion of robberies involving guns went up by 53% 2000 - 2001, but the much larger total number of robberies went up 39% in any case, which is a more worrying statistic.

I wonder what the number of armed street robberies as a proportion of total street robberies is in the large US cities?
posted by tucola at 6:26 AM on January 8, 2002


I'm six times more likely to be murdered in the US than I am here at home.

I'm not sure what the point of this is. In case my original post was misleading or unclear, let me state that I advocate gun-control, and am generally anti-NRA. However, I also like to question my beliefs and positions, and perhaps change my p.o.v. if need be.

In this case, I'm questioning whether the NRA has a point about arming oneself for self-defense and their argument for a strong 2nd amendment in the US Constitution. This, in the context of the currant spate of handgun crimes in the U.K., which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world.
posted by Rastafari at 6:34 AM on January 8, 2002


When I get out of the dorm, I plan on arming myself. If I end up working in a large city, like Detroit (most dangerous city in the country right now), I will try to get myself a Concealed Carry Weapons permit. It's called self-protection. The criminals are going to have the guns anyway, why should I handicap myself by going unarmed?

Oh that's right, I should depend on the cops to protect me.
posted by insomnyuk at 6:48 AM on January 8, 2002


Easily answered, tucola. We're going to consider street robberies to be a general class of violent robbery (the taking of property from someone by the use of force).

From the Uniform Crime Statistics databases:

1999: 409,371 instances (150.1 per 100k people)
2000: 407,842 instances (144.9 per 100k people)

Of cities 1m population and higher, 55% were street robberies, with the rest divided among commercial business houses, gas stations, convenience stores, residences, banks, and other. This had the highest rate, of 440.2 per 100k people.

The general breakdown is 40.9% using small arms, and 40.4% using strong arm tactics. The rest would be knives (8.4%) and other weapons (10.3%).

So, extrapolation gives us the following info (using the database to give raw information):

~4500 per city of 1M+ robbed
~2500 robbed on the street
~1025 robbed on street using small arm weapon
~1010 robbed on street using large arms, no weapon
~ 450 robbed on street using bats and knives.

1/4 of 1% chance of being robbed on the street, and over half the time of that not being robbed using a gun.

Oh, and for Rastafari -- one of the countries with the strictest gun control laws is Switzerland, which requires ownership. Very low crime there, btw.
posted by dwivian at 6:50 AM on January 8, 2002


one of the countries with the strictest gun control laws is Switzerland, which requires ownership. Very low crime there, btw.

That's good to know and hear, and the same for Japan, from what I know. But my question is: if a strict gun-law country such as the UK is facing a crisis of gun-related crimes, does the NRA have a valid point about gun control laws? I'm basing this on the fact that UK is closer to the US culturally than to Switzerland.
posted by Rastafari at 6:57 AM on January 8, 2002


Rastafari, I would say that there isn't a crisis in gun-related crimes. Even if there was a crisis I don't believe you'd find a significant percentage of people in Britain who would say this would be solved by relaxing gun control laws.
The US and Britain may be similar culturally but there are many important differences. Specifically we don't have a constitution that allows for armed militias or somesuch.
posted by Cuppatea at 7:03 AM on January 8, 2002


Without wishing to turn this thread into yet another pro vs anti gun control rhetoric-fest, 'bobbies' (on bi-sickles two by two....) with guns, in my view would only raise the stakes. By far the greater number of crimes here are committed by unarmed criminals, arming the police raises the stakes - just as armed criminals are now dealt with by armed police response units, so criminals may respond in a similar manner if all police officers were to be armed.
At the moment, arming onself increases the likelihood of being confronted by armed police, therefore the deterrent is not to bear arms. if one was to be confronted with armed police whatever the case, the temptation would be to go armed, surely.
This is of course anecdotal, I have no evidence to prove that this would be the case and from past Me-Fi experience this will be a debate which will never reach a conclusion.....
posted by Markb at 7:08 AM on January 8, 2002


pro vs anti gun control

Laughs, laughs, laughs.

Pours another drink.

Laughs, laughs, laughs.

Stupid Americans.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:12 AM on January 8, 2002


Even if there was a crisis I don't believe you'd find a significant percentage of people in Britain who would say this would be solved by relaxing gun control laws.

I say good for the British people. But I understand that the opposition to gun control in UK comes from hunters. Is that true? I wish a majority of Americans were so enlightened! Here, especially in the south and west, guns are very much part of everyday life, and many a politicans have lost elections being anti-gun!
posted by Rastafari at 7:15 AM on January 8, 2002


Right Markb, rastafari. We don't have a handgun culture among the law-abiding in this country, unlike in the US.

According to dwivian, around 40% of US street robberies are conducted at gunpoint. Whereas using the BBC statistics, roughly 2% of London street robberies involved firearms, whether you use the figures given for 2000 or 2001.

I think it will take more of a 'crisis' than this to persuade the law-abiding in the UK to abandon the policy that has been in place for as long as anyone can remember and accept the NRA argument that more guns means less crime. Maybe so, maybe not, but the crime that will occur is vastly more likely to involve guns if everyone has a gun and people here are very reluctant for that to happen.
posted by tucola at 7:25 AM on January 8, 2002


The criminals are going to have the guns anyway, why should I handicap myself by going unarmed?

Do you spend your entire life as a victim-in-waiting? It's a 'quality of life' issue, we choose do it differently here:

The likelihood of me meeting a gun face-to-face is extremely slim despite living in Moss Side, Manchester (supposedly a gun capital) for 8 years and now in inner-city London. Very few innocent people are shot in the UK (unless shot by the police and your Glock isn't going to help you there). Murderers kill murderers, the rest of us stay out of it. I only appreciate the peace-of-mind we have when reading posts like yours.
posted by niceness at 7:32 AM on January 8, 2002


But I understand that the opposition to gun control in UK comes from hunters

No, the opposition comes from handgun owning enthusiasts who, since Dunblane a few years ago have faced much stricter controls on the ownership of small-arms. However the number of such people is extremely small and the controls such that handgun ownership is not impossible, just extremely difficult. The problem of course is that the people likely to use a gun in a criminal act are not about to be deterred by laws preventing ownership.
As far as I know (and living in an area where hunting of rabbit, pheasant and deer is prevalent) there is still ample opportunity for most British people, if they are so inclined to go out and take potshots at wildlife.
posted by Markb at 7:35 AM on January 8, 2002


If the police are given guns, let alone untrained idiots, I want out of here. The sad thing is there's nowhere else you can go where the police don't have them.

Charlton Heston scares me more than any of the statistics he can roll off the top of his head about gun control v violent crime in the UK - and he does have them memorised. The NRA would just make me want to kill people.
posted by vbfg at 7:47 AM on January 8, 2002


Niceness: What do you mean by quality of life issue? It sounds like you are implying that you are better off with strict gun-control.

Rastafari: As for the original question, the BBC article also mentions the connection made between the guns and the crack/cocaine trade.

Weapons seized by the Met in 2000 included:
Lancaster sub-machinegun capable of firing 550 rounds a minute
Israeli Uzi sub-automatic machinegun capable of firing 750 rounds a minute


A cop with a pistol would be poorly equipped to deal with someone like this. At that point, the issue isn't even about whether or not the police should be armed, it should be about how much firepower they pack. Is the NRA correct? I think so. It would seem that yes, gun control does not stop criminals from acquiring guns if they want them. And the fact that the citizenry (and even most of the police) are unarmed definitely makes mugging an easy and unhazardous task. I still am mind boggled by the idea that British cops are unarmed. Hell, park rangers in the U.S. carry sidearms all the time.
posted by insomnyuk at 7:48 AM on January 8, 2002


Markb, my understanding is that after Dunblane, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and Firearms (Amendment) (No 2) Act 1997 had the effect of entirely banning private ownership of just about all handguns by extending the ambit of section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968. The only way these guns can now be owned is with the authority of the Secretary of State - so they are banned to the same extent as, for example, fully automatics and rocket launchers.

The wording added to the Act bans "any firearm which either has a barrel less than 30 centimetres in length or is less than 60 centimetres in length overall, other than an air weapon, a muzzle-loading gun or a firearm designed as signalling apparatus".

So legal private handgun ownership is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. Hunting rifles and shot-guns remain legal with the appropriate licence.
posted by tucola at 7:58 AM on January 8, 2002


Bobbies do carry guns. Dunno what country you live in. They have for several years and can pack some pretty heavy stuff too.
posted by fleener at 8:22 AM on January 8, 2002


Niceness: What do you mean by quality of life issue? It sounds like you are implying that you are better off with strict gun-control.

Insmnyuk: I can’t quite tell whether you’re being sarcastic, If not: Of course we’re better off with strict gun-control, relaxing the laws isn't even an issue (unless you're in the arms trade) even the police support it. Hand gun deaths in the UK are rising but still in the, low hundreds per year – in the US it’s verging on genocide.

"…the issue isn't even about whether or not the police should be armed, it should be about how much firepower they pack."

The police are armed when dealing with gun-toting criminals, gun-control means there aren’t that many of them and they’re easily identified – they’re the ones with the guns!?!

It is a quality of life issue and there appears to be a cultural chasm between you and us - we don’t want guns on the streets, you cannot conceive that this is socially possible.

Gun owners in the UK are for the most, farmers and rural folk (more likely to commit suicide than murder) or occasionally school losers, as mentioned before see Michael Ryan. The US seems to have a good number of these as well - for me, I feel safer when we can restrict the local lunatics to kitchen knives.

This story really illustrates the US/UK cultural divide:
2 years ago a farmer shot a 16 year old burglar (in the back) and was himself jailed (he's appealing now).

Most of us don't want people going round shooting each other whether they're the criminals, victims or the Police.
posted by niceness at 8:26 AM on January 8, 2002


A cop with a pistol would be poorly equipped to deal with someone like this

Which is why UK police, when required carry automatic rifles equipped with sniper sights. However we only call them out where needed and they are highly trained specialists, not your avearge cop on the beat. Though as pointed out by asok, even this doesn't always prevent them from shooting the wrong people every now and again.
posted by Markb at 8:33 AM on January 8, 2002


Firstly, as a nitpick, using the word "bobbies" is likely to make every British reader assume you are an American out of touch with British culture.

There's no groundswell of support in Britain for increased gun ownership. I agree with the point of view that the more police and private citizens carry guns, the more robbers will as well. Generally, the best way to deal with a street robbery is to give them what they want and accept the loss. Getting into a fight over a stupid wallet is bad enough. To do it when both sides carry guns is practically suicidal.

I don't even want to get into the point about how many Americans accidently kill or injure themselves or a friend or relative each year, because the argument for gun control is strong enough to not need it.

Sometimes it's funny just how different America and Britain are. We in Britain get bombarded with American culture every day through TV, films and music, but we are increasingly European in our outlook.
posted by salmacis at 8:37 AM on January 8, 2002


Bobbies do carry guns. Dunno what country you live in. They have for several years and can pack some pretty heavy stuff too.

From the BBc article: With so many deadly weapons on the streets of the UK's big cities, the next question seems to be whether Britain's famously unarmed police officers should carry guns as a matter of course.
posted by Rastafari at 8:38 AM on January 8, 2002


The only police officers to carry guns in the UK are armed response unit officers, called in by their colleagues if they suspect the use of firearms. Regular PCs do not carry guns and are not trained to do so.
posted by Markb at 8:44 AM on January 8, 2002


Yes, most of our police only carry pistols, and a shotgun in the cruiser. If heavier firepower is needed, they call the S.W.A.T. team.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:45 AM on January 8, 2002


That Charlton Heston, what a pussy - he can give it but he can't take it. Over here we fight 'man-to-man!'
posted by niceness at 8:48 AM on January 8, 2002


I was doing my research using the Home Office numbers, and I'm not getting them to jive. *sigh* I see quite a few incidents of firearms being used in crime, but there is a strict statistical interest in weapons used but not discharged, used as a blunt object (!), and fired. Fired is broken down into slight, serious, and fatal injury.

But, I can't get the numbers to generate: violent crime using firearm in any form, murder by weapon/act used, and crime by type of firearm (further breakdown by issued certificate or unlicensed).

I'll be back with you soon on this, I promise.
posted by dwivian at 8:53 AM on January 8, 2002


Hand gun deaths in the UK are rising but still in the, low hundreds per year – in the US it’s verging on genocide.

Handgun deaths in the UK are very low, but murders are not -- most common mode of murder in the UK is using a knife. Ugh. messy.

The rate of murder in the US is 5.5 per 100k; not low by any means, but far from genocide. The risk of death by swimming pool is greater than murder. Death by heart attack even surpasses murder (barely, though. Makes me wonder if someone left off a decimal in the report I'm reading from the CDC. Kinda scary, that).

In 2000, UK Home Office reports 846 homicides, of which 253 are considered murders. I can't break it down by firearms (and with such low numbers am loathe to apply the 10% figure, as it could be heavily skewed). In the US, FBI UCS shows 15,517 murder/manslaughter (non-negligence), with 60% being firearm related (again, loathe to make assumptions as to how that 60% is distributed).

But, from basic statistics, it can easily be shown that one is 12.91 times more likely to be murdered in the US than in the UK (sorry, dlewis, but you grossly underestimated your risk in the US).

The problem we're looking at is a simple one -- should the UK police (gardai, for the .IE types [*grin*]) start an arms war with the criminal underground? The quick answer is...

no.


If the entire populace was armed, the criminals might think twice. The police, however, are only as much a threat as they always have been. If you're willing to toss the gun when you get caught, you're at no further risk; but having it virtually guarantees that you'll get what you were after in the crime you elected as your profession. So, the risks are -- should you worry about getting caught, or getting rich? And, if getting rich, what means scares people the most -- a strong arm, or a side arm?
posted by dwivian at 9:29 AM on January 8, 2002


Anything on crossbows? they're pretty popular these days. Machetes too.
posted by niceness at 9:38 AM on January 8, 2002


So legal private handgun ownership is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. Hunting rifles and shot-guns remain legal with the appropriate licence.

No, private handgun ownership in the UK is impossible unless you are 1. a criminal or 2. wealthy. Let's look at this as the class issue it is also. In the US, virtually anyone can afford and legally own a handgun - in the UK only the wealthy and politically connected can legally own a handgun.

Hand gun deaths in the UK are rising but still in the, low hundreds per year – in the US it’s verging on genocide.

Interesting choice of words Niceness, especially considering you had just asked somebody else if they were being sarcastic! I'm happy for you that you feel your "quality of life" is better with the strict gun control, you live in the right country for that. Being that I own four handguns (in addition to many more long guns) and am an avid target shooter, my "quality of life" would be somewhat lessened by such measures. My "quality of life" also has never been negatively impacted by ANY firearm and I fail to see how controlling them would make any improvements.

Now human beings, on the other hand, suck for the most part and impact my life negatively every day. They also are responsible for ALL unnatural deaths - maybe we should just ban them?
posted by RevGreg at 10:05 AM on January 8, 2002


RevGreg:
You're absolutely right, it is a class issue - maybe what I should have said is that in the US gun deaths are verging on genocide amongst the less well-off and non-white.

As for 'humans not guns kill people'. I'm sure this has been done to death on mefi way before I came here. If you use that argument you can excuse just about anything including smack, crack and anthrax.
posted by niceness at 11:49 AM on January 8, 2002


Guns don't kill people. Bullets do.

My dad said this, and said that the 2nd Amendment doesn't outlaw heavy restriction of ownership of bullets...

He's a Democrat, of course.

I, on the other hand, believe that Guns don't kill people. Spontaneous Induced Disassembly kills people. Guns are just a symptom.

I'm a lunatic, of course.

Guess that niceness isn't interested in doing a few lines of anthrax?
posted by dwivian at 12:06 PM on January 8, 2002


The problem we're looking at is a simple one -- should the UK police (gardai, for the .IE types [*grin*]) start an arms war with the criminal underground? The quick answer is...

It's none of the .IE types business, they have their own country (i.e., .IE) and their own armed police force.
posted by vbfg at 12:08 PM on January 8, 2002


My "quality of life" also has never been negatively impacted by ANY firearm and I fail to see how controlling them would make any improvements.

I think I can express that better. I fail to see how change in a country with a long standing culture of guns would make things better. Similarly I fail to see how change of gun control laws here would make things better. I can easily see that the UK idea of the way ahead (which I'm all in favour of) implemented in the US would be terrible, with similar consequences here with the situation reversed.
posted by vbfg at 12:16 PM on January 8, 2002


niceness said You're absolutely right, it is a class issue - maybe what I should have said is that in the US gun deaths are verging on genocide amongst the less well-off and non-white.

Sorry, niceness, but I'm going to have to ask you to back that one up with facts.

Where are the numbers to back up this statement?
posted by hadashi at 12:23 PM on January 8, 2002


Shoots drink out of stavrosthewonderchicken's hand.

Twirls gun, re-holsters, smirks.

Stupid Chicken.
posted by David Dark at 2:12 PM on January 8, 2002


I'm curious: what do they mean by 'black-on-black' violence?

I know that in the US you can reduce your chance of being killed by a gun by around 50% by not killing yourself, you can reduce it by around another 50% by neither buying nor selling illegal drugs, and you can reduce it by around another 50% by not being African-American. I'm curious if the same trends hold true in the UK.
posted by jaek at 3:57 PM on January 8, 2002


maybe what I should have said is that in the US gun deaths are verging on genocide amongst the less well-off and non-white.

genocide - The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.

I'm sorry but "genocide" is a highly inaccurate term to use here - it is neither systematic or planned no matter how much of a conspiracy theorist you might happen to be. Interestingly, if we're going to follow this highly reactionary chain of thought, not only are the deaths largely lower income and non-white, so are the perpetrators. According to the Department of Justice "blacks are six times more likely to be victimized and eight times more likely to commit homicide than are whites". So instead of genocide can we just refer to this as "neighborhood watch" and/or "civil war"? It is also interesting to note also that over 75% of handgun deaths are caused by persons too young to legally posses firearms (bottom of page.)

I'm sorry but if you break the statistics down further for the US you'll that the highest firearm homicide rates are in areas like DC or New York and the lowest rates are in areas like where I live. DC and NYC both have banned handguns entirely. Where I live the law for handgun carry permits is "will issue" - which means that if I have no history of violent crime the state MUST issue me a permit within 30 days of my request and I am permitted to carry it concealed (it MUST be concealed) anywhere except hospitals, banks, government buildings and establishments serving alcohol. I rarely carry but I can do so legally if I feel the need. Any one attempting a robbery or violence around here is taking his own life in his hands!

You also need to read around the DOJ site to find out that homicide rates have plunged in the last 10 years. You can also find out that firearms as a weapon of choice have decreased in all groups except inner city drug gangs where they have exploded - which could be seen a product of the culture that is being marketed to these individuals which, once again, is not the fault fo the legitimate, law-abiding gun owner now is it?
posted by RevGreg at 4:46 PM on January 8, 2002


Approximately 14 percent of the police officers in the United States who are killed in the line of duty are shot with their own weapons.

That's a pretty significant number of officers, yes?

I also understand that (in australia) police are supposed to enter potentially violent situations unarmed, because of the risk of being shot with their own weapon.
posted by eoz at 4:58 PM on January 8, 2002


I'm skeptical about claims that guns or gun control laws cause or prevent crime. If you switched the laws of say Wyoming (which presumably has relatively liberal gun laws and low crime) and Chicago (which has fairly strict handgun control laws and high crime), I doubt actual crime or gun crime levels would change much in either place. IMO every second spent arguing about guns is wasted: given the right conditions and incentives, crime will happen, high-powered weapons or none. Poverty and easy profits in the illegal drug trade are the conditions and incentives which breed crime. I don't have a solution for poverty, but we can end the perverse incentives created by the illegal drug trade very simply: legalize.
posted by mlinksva at 5:32 PM on January 8, 2002


Revisiting this thread for the first time since I posted, and was castigated elsewhere for my half-serious, half-ironic, half-pissed comment.

I'm pleased to see David Dark took my comment in the sense it was intended. Black humor, but humor nontheless.

Cheers.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:51 AM on January 22, 2002


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