Strict Liability
November 15, 2009 4:04 PM   Subscribe

A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for "doing his duty". Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.

There's already some predictable outrage. English legal bogger Jack of Kent has a slightly more nuanced view:

If the facts are indeed as reported, the CPS should not have prosecuted Mr Clarke. The CPS should only prosecute when it is the public interest to do so. (And one should always be skeptical of newspaper reports of any court case). But on the narrow point as to whether that possessing a shotgun - and taking that shotgun through the streets (even if to a police station) - should be unlawful, then I think it should be.
posted by Jakey (133 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Once again we see, Brazil was a documentary.
posted by mikelieman at 4:10 PM on November 15, 2009 [22 favorites]


That'll teach him.

To never, ever again treat a cop as if he or she were a rational human being.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:14 PM on November 15, 2009 [41 favorites]


Truly Kafka-esque.
posted by bearwife at 4:15 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hopefully the judge is at liberty to give him no time. I can't believe this shit was papered, to be honest, but I often can't believe that certain charges are papered these days. I also don't know shit about how British criminal procedure works, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:20 PM on November 15, 2009


I will quote Jack of Kent too:
In a statement read to the court (but not it seems tested in cross-examination), he claims he found the shotgun in his garden and he claimed further that by taking the shotgun to the police station he was simply performing his civic duty.

This may or may not be correct.
I am not certain of what exactly happened and I'm hesitant to comment on anything as a result.

Commenters in this link also express questions.

I would be hesitant to point the finger at anyone in this case, and I'd express mild surprise at anyone that takes one side or another prematurely and without all the facts.
posted by edd at 4:21 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Given that the "predictable" link goes to a blog called "Constantly Furious", I'd say predictable is exactly the right adjective for the outrage.
posted by The Bellman at 4:23 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


And here's something he was acquitted of. The outrage-fest on Twitter subsided a bit after that.
posted by imperium at 4:24 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


This story is written strictly from the perspective of the defendant and his lawyer, leading me to be a bit skeptical of whether all the relevant facts have been emphasized.

Even from their description, it appears that this guy called the police to ask if he could "could pop in and see" the chief, with no further info, then went down to the station and pulled a loaded shotgun out of a bag. Frankly I can't blame the police for being quite a bit freaked out by that series of events. I'll go with the Jack of Kent blog entry and say the guy probably shouldn't have been prosecuted once all the facts became clear, but I can certainly see the other side on this one.

All that said, I have no love for strict liability crimes and most particularly strict liability "possession" crimes. Whether it's drugs or firearms, there's always some reasonable, harmless reason that you could be in possession of the item, and strict liability offenses can ensnare even the most pure-hearted person, pretty much by definition.
posted by rkent at 4:26 PM on November 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


He phoned the Chief Super at the local nick and "asked if I could pop in and see him". That would've been the time to mention that he was going to be bringing a shotgun with him. As he doesn't mention the cartridges, but does make a point of claiming it was pointing at the wall, it suggests the gun was loaded. So, he walked into the local police station with a loaded shotgun. I get a strong feeling the Surrey Mirror isn't telling us the whole story.

Or you know, what rkent said.
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:28 PM on November 15, 2009


Things are a little slow at Law & Order UK.
posted by bwg at 4:28 PM on November 15, 2009


Regardless of the 'full story', it's not claimed in any way that he threatened anyone with the gun, or that he attempted to use it.

Have the British gone fucking insane?
posted by Malor at 4:31 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Malor: Guns are illegal in Britain. There's no get-out clause for not threatening anyone with one or attempting to use it. I'm not allowed to keep one in my cupboard under some condition I don't get it out.
It's not fucking insane. What might arguably be insane is if he was attempting to turn it over to the authorities in a sensible manner, but that's not the basis of your comment as far as I can see.
posted by edd at 4:35 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, he was charged with posession Malor. That means he had it, noting to do with using or threatening.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 4:35 PM on November 15, 2009


Jack of Kent says: During that walk he could have been mugged or had an accident.

Mugged? He's sporting a sawed-off shotgun. That may not have been much of a problem for that soldier.
posted by heyho at 4:36 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Have the British gone fucking insane?

No, but people wandering the streets with loaded shotguns make us a bit, you know, jumpy.

(My guess, having known the odd ex-soldier, is that it didn't mysteriously turn up in his back garden, and they're prosecuting him for having it for a lot longer than his lawyer is letting on).
posted by Leon at 4:37 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where is it claimed that the gun was loaded?
posted by vorfeed at 4:40 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


To never, ever again treat a cop as if he or she were a rational human being.

Gonna have to advise actually treating cops like they are rational human beings. Gonna have to advise that everybody treat everybody else like they were rational human beings.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2009 [15 favorites]


Gonna have to advise actually treating cops like they are rational human beings. Gonna have to advise that everybody treat everybody else like they were rational human beings.

Until proven otherwise, at least (which at least one side of this story involves)
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:45 PM on November 15, 2009


This reminds me of an ethical conundrum This Guy I Know has. One morning This Guy I Know and his roommate were awakened by the sound of fire trucks. They went to the scene of the fire and watched the action for a while. Perhaps in an attempt to impress This Guy I Know, the roommate stole a fireplug wrench from the firefighters.

This Guy I Know had no use for such a thing, and hung it on two nails on a beam in his basement. Later, This Guy's girlfriend created a fanciful sign for such a strange looking tool, and the Guy put it on a peg beside the tool.

Later on The Guy and his roommate had a falling out, and the girlfriend is gone too. The Guy knows that he has to return the tool to its rightful owners, and the fire station is just down the his street.

Believe it or not The Guy is a moral sort of Guy, and it pains him that he will probably have to lie to the firefighters when he returns the tool, so as to avoid admitting to possessing stolen property.
posted by Tube at 4:46 PM on November 15, 2009


Compare and contrast. I do think there's more to this one, of course, I have no evidence whatsoever.
posted by Leon at 4:46 PM on November 15, 2009


Yes, this is upholding the letter of the law in violation of its spirit. If there is no defense against the law for this, then the law is unjust and wrong, and must be overturned by the courts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:47 PM on November 15, 2009


In next week's episode he finds a dead body in his garden and takes it round to the police chief's house when he pops in for a little chat.
posted by dng at 4:47 PM on November 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


I just came up with a theory.

Baddie with a gun in his house hears through the grapevine that the police are going to come and arrest him for having it.

Decides to cut them off at the pass and turn it in thinking he will avoid prosecution.

Since the police already don't like him they make sure to follow the letter of the law guaranteeing him some jail time.

Pure speculation but given that he assaulted a tax officer with a broom handle, definitely within the realm of possibility.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 4:50 PM on November 15, 2009


No, I'm not. I'm trying rather hard not to find your comments incredibly offensive.

I explained that "What might arguably be insane is if he was attempting to turn it over to the authorities in a sensible manner, but that's not the basis of your comment as far as I can see." and there's better ways to do it than phoning up the police and not telling them you intend to turn over an incredibly illegal and very dangerous item. Like phoning them up and telling them exactly what the situation is and letting them collect it from where you found it, potentially not disrupting the crime scene while you're at it.*

Simply saying "Well, he wasn't threatening anyone" is a poor response, and does not justify calling me insane.

*This may have turned out not to have worked out right in certain other cases, and I wouldn't argue that, but in the one I've read about the person reporting the weapon was not prosecuted.
posted by edd at 4:50 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gonna have to advise actually treating cops like they are rational human beings.

The problem there, Ironmouth, is that in my experience (and, it seems, that of Mr. Clarke) they neither return the courtesy nor meet the expectations.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:51 PM on November 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


To those arguing for the fucking insanity of arms possession laws in the UK.

Until he got to the police station, he was some bloke on the street carrying a sawn-off shottie and cartridges in a plastic bag.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:53 PM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


From my experience the arms possession laws in the UK are pretty well known, law of the land you could say. I don't feel much empathy for the defendant here.

Being from the US, I did feel some outrage at first, but this is just silly.
posted by snsranch at 5:00 PM on November 15, 2009


Fiasco da Gama:"To those arguing for the fucking insanity of arms possession laws in the UK."

I don't think anyone is arguing that a country banning firearms is insane. It may not be what we do here in the US, but that doesn't make anybody else's collective choice regarding firearms wrong.

What is insane is that this fellow (a former soldier, no less, so it's not as if he's never handled a firearm) finds an illegal weapon and then is arrested, tried, and convicted of possession of said weapon after turning it over to the police.

If there was proof that he had intended to come into possession of said firearm at some point in the past and then changed his mind after acquiring it, that would be a completely different matter. As the story is told, he did not seek out the firearm, thus the understandable outrage.
posted by wierdo at 5:03 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Have the British gone fucking insane?"

I don't think so, Malor, at least it's not a 'new' thing. It's been an incremental process - something seems like a good idea (IE gun registration) and it gets implemented w/little to no objection. Then some asshole shoots up a kindergarden, and that sparks a call for confiscation. It seems like a good idea - then the culture changes so that the mere possession of anything that could be considered a weapon (guns, knives, bats, screwdrivers) is apparently a confirmation of malign intent.

Which leads to folks doing the right thing (finding a gun and shells, and turning them into the police) going to jail. He was screwed from the get-go - if he had the police nip around and gather the goods, he'd likely have been charged since it was on his property and he didn't have a licence. There seemed like no way he couldn't run afoul of the law, if the facts as presented are relatively accurate.

You have people writing laws, expanding on them, expanding on the expansions, realizing something isn't necessarily covered by current law and writing something to apply to that specific provision - then widening that to get something else (which is similiar) covered... and eventually you get to a point where everything not explictly permitted is completely forbidden. The law of unintended consequences takes effect, and things that would have been acceptable (and likely gotten him a thanks and a handshake) 50 years ago become completely illegal.

(Makes you wonder what shit's like for folks who carve wood as a hobby - do they have to have a licence to own the knives and chisels? And how long is it going to be until computers and printers require licensing by the government?)

But it doesn't happen overnight - it literally takes decades.
posted by JB71 at 5:06 PM on November 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


Perhaps outrage should be bottled up until more than one side of the story is told, eh?
posted by wilful at 5:07 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have much of an opinion about this, because I don't feel like the whole story is known. But I really don't understand this "pure liability crime" business. If someone unbeknownst to you sticks a little revolver into your backpack, then as you're walking around, the police notice that you have a gun sticking out of your backpack, and arrest you.....then you are guilty of a crime? Because your possession is the only thing that matters, not intent to possess? Someone explain this to me?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:07 PM on November 15, 2009


What a bunch of goofy shit.
posted by nola at 5:08 PM on November 15, 2009


'convicted of possession of said weapon after turning it over to the police.'
Ceasing to commit a crime does not absolve one of guilt. Someone on Twitter compared it to not being guilty of murder after turning over the body. Ridiculous, but there is a point to such an extreme analogy.

'As the story is told, he did not seek out the firearm, thus the understandable outrage.'
Well, that's the core of it isn't it? How does the story as told relate to the truth?
posted by edd at 5:09 PM on November 15, 2009


As the post on Jack of Kent makes clear, there are lots of facts missing from this that make it hard to know what to make of it as it stands.

Although section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968 has been mentioned on blogs as the relevant offence, I think it is possible the charge was actually made under section 5 of the same act, which is an absolute prohibition of possession of certain types of weapon without special licence. A sawn-off shotgun would qualify under that offence. This IS a strict liability offence, on the basis that Parliament has decided that possession of such a firearm is something that is absolutely to be prohibited. It carries a minimum sentence of 5 years and is indictable only (ie goes straight to Crown Court) so would fit the bill.

However the case will have had to go through a number of hoops to get to this stage. The police had the option to use their discretion and not arrest or refer to charge. Home Office guidance to the police makes clear (p.124) that people handing in firearms without realising their illegality should not be pursued. After that the police then hand the case file to the CPS for charging advice: they have to test whether a prosecution is in the public interest before proceeding with a criminal charge. (This in addition to an evidential test to assess whether there is evidence on the balance of probability that the suspect arrested is guilty). Some of the factors that would lead a prosecutor decide not to proceed with criminal charges can be found here (from the CPS website). Without knowing more of the facts, it is impossible to say why the CPS decided to proceed.

There are also exceptional circumstances where a minimum sentence may not be impose - other CPS guidance alludes to this but doesn't say what they are. So it is not certain he will get 5 years, either. The case has been adjourned for sentencing in a few weeks time, so again at this stage it's hard to say where it may end up. That page however does sum up strict liability quite well (from a judgement in a firearms case):

"It is nevertheless necessary to focus attention on the importance of these provisions and their intended impact for sentencing in cases involving gun crime even at a lower level of seriousness than those which arise in the present case. They confirm, if confirmation were needed, that possession of a firearm, without more, and without any aggravating features beyond the fact of such possession, is of itself a grave crime, and should be dealt with accordingly."
posted by greycap at 5:11 PM on November 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


There is a missing link for that Home Office guidance I mentioned - here.
posted by greycap at 5:11 PM on November 15, 2009


It certainly seems likely that key details that led to this outcome are not represented here. That said, I GREATLY dislike the idea of strict liability crimes for most things. This case kinda touches on that a bit, although I am willing to admit that there could be more involved than we are shown in that article.
posted by Stunt at 5:17 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Minor differences between the US and UK, and how we handled our father's gun. When my father passed away this summer, one of the first things my sister and I did was search for my father's rifle. He hadn't lived in his house for five years, and some of the windows didn't even have locks (longer story). So, we find the rifle, and, having an extreme distaste for guns, we call the police, let them know we've got a rifle, and could they come and pick it up.

The officer comes to the house. We've got the rifle, with the bolt removed, on the table, with the ammo in boxes next to it.

Big difference between the US and UK? The officer clearly liked the gun, wished he could buy it, but due to potential conflict of interest issues, can't do so, and suggests that we sell it to a gun shop, which we do, and get $40 dollars for a rusty old .22.

Of course, the fifteen minutes I waited in the gunshop for them to check the gun were some of the longest fifteen minutes of my life. Why a gunshop in Kalamazoo sells .50 caliber sniper rifles, I'll never know. It was located within sight of the bumper sticker rack, more than half of which featured the confederate flag. Kind of a blue state/red neighborhood thing, I hope.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:17 PM on November 15, 2009


Suppose you just showed up at the police station with a tub of Anthrax, a tube of Semtex, Or a chunk of weapons grade plutonium? What do you think would happen?

The problem is that the British seem to treat guns about the same way, since we treat them differently, the story seems confusing.

Anyway, about this story I can see both arguments.

*shrug*
posted by delmoi at 5:18 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can understand why the police and (to a lesser extent) the CPS wanted to push this up the chain --- you can imagine public outrage at a man wandering the streets with a shotgun without consequence. I don't see the problem with them asking the Court to determine the appropriate penalty.

In the ordinary course, the court has power to find the charge proved and dismiss it, or to impose a good behaviour bond or something of that nature. But in this case, a law-and-order government has legislated a minimum five year gaol term, and that is the problem. When you remove judicial discretion, injustice will result.
posted by robcorr at 5:19 PM on November 15, 2009


The newspaper uses the "ex-soldier" thing to make it seem like he's a reliable, above board member of the public. I'm very dubious and I don't think everything important that was said in the courtroom is being reported.

But an, uncharitable, reading between the lines...
The ex-soldier angle is being used in his favour (Rememberance Sunday was a particularly big thing this year - so his lawyer goes for the sympathy). But he didn't serve very long (26yrs old) and I wonder why/how he left the army?

I would like to know is in what mental/emotional state this guy was in when he went to the police station with the gun.

Also do the local police know him personally and why do they know him - he knew the name of, at least, one officer: why? Do the police know him as someone who regularly is involved in violent altercations?
posted by selton at 5:23 PM on November 15, 2009


You know, if I find an illegal weapon in my garden, I'm going to do one of two things: 1) Call the police without touching it at all, and let them deal with it; 2) Bury that mother somewhere on the property and go about my business. Almost certainly #1, but I can think of some situations where the hassle might lead me to the latter.

One thing I'm not going to do is pick it up and carry it into the local precinct house.
posted by maxwelton at 5:37 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Suppose you just showed up at the police station with a tub of Anthrax, a tube of Semtex, Or a chunk of weapons grade plutonium? What do you think would happen?

They give you a medal for being a hero and bringing that shit in off the street?
posted by nola at 5:37 PM on November 15, 2009


This is interesting. There is a very old concept, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which pretty much is saying that the innocent not be punished. Absolute liability in a lot of ways goes against that - it says that the act itself, the actus reus, is enough to prove "guilt" in context.

The development of strict liability comes from R. v. Woodrow [15 M. & M. 404 (Exch. 1846)] in England, when the possession of 'adulterated' tobacco was criminalized without requiring a mens rea because "the public inconvenience would be much greater, if in every case the officers were obliged to prove knowledge. They would be very seldom able to do so."

Here in Canada, which is very similar, it's pretty much exclusively used for administrative crimes - things like driving without a license, or many anti-dumping laws. The argument for it is based on two concepts:
1) When the protection of society is such that the only way to get the standard of care wanted from the people targeted is to give them no way out whatsoever. Think of ground-water poisoning laws - there shouldn't be a way for the polluter to say "I didn't INTEND to pollute." They polluted, and that's it.
2) Administrative efficiency. Suppose the Crown had to prove guilty mind on every person who drove without a license. What a waste of time, and almost everyone would get off.
This is accepted because, well, a conviction for this kind of breach is not the same as a "real" criminal offense.

However, there's a bit of a conflict when it comes to penal time. Canada has the Charter, which is the equivalent of the Bill of Rights in the states (roughly), and has the guarantee not to be deprived of "life, liberty, and security of the person" except in accord with the principles of fundamental justice.

And so, the Courts have ruled1 that imprisonment cannot possibly be acceptable when the offense is one of strict liability, because you don't get a chance to defend yourself.

One more reason why England needs a written constitution.

1. Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 486.
Yeah I'm not in the mood to do my criminal readings, so I'm hunting down references in the textbook for metafilter.

posted by Lemurrhea at 5:40 PM on November 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


What I'm wondering now is about that broom handle episode: sawed-off broom handle?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:45 PM on November 15, 2009


Geeez, only in Texas. Ohwait.

THANKS BRITAIN
posted by 23skidoo at 5:47 PM on November 15, 2009


Selton: Yes, he's already been in court over an alleged attack on a traffic warden. He is "known to the police", as they say. It's much to early to pass judgement on this, but my current theory is that he thought he'd have a little bit of fun at the police's expense by turning up to their shop with a sawn-off in a bag but -- ha, here's the funny bit! -- he was untouchable because it wasn't his and he'd called to say he was coming with a nice surprise! Oops.

Of all the possible ways of dealing with this situation, in this country, he chose the worst of all. It's so knowingly stupid that it leads me to suspect that he knew what he was doing; he just didn't expect the consequences.

I mean, really. The thing is verboten enough to be treated as a big bag of heroin or a grenade. You don't pick them up and go for a wander with them, you leave them where the hell they are until the police arrive. If you're pro-police, you do it because they're the people to handle these things. If you're anti-police you do it because you want to minimise any potential risk of you being linked to them -- you don't want to disturb any forensic evidence, for example.

Sure, I get that the idea of treating a sawn-off like other serious contraband is unusual to Americans, but it must be understood how unusual guns are here. I've seen two in this country in my life, I think, and never a sawn-off. They don't appear in your back garden, and if they do, you call the cops. You don't call in a teaser then show up with a loaded gun. That gets you arrested.

(None of that means that the consequences should be a five-year minimum, though. The biggest idiocy in this story is that we've taken away judicial discretion. )
posted by bonaldi at 5:48 PM on November 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've always wondered - if I find illegal materials on my property, should I inform the police and risk possession charges, or quietly destroy them and tell no one?

Guess this answers that question.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:48 PM on November 15, 2009


I wonder why their government wants to take away the citizens' guns.

I wonder why they have assault rifles, the citizens none.
posted by four panels at 5:50 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's almost nothing in the public domain so far about this case other than a very sketchy court report in a local newspaper and a hysterical blog post based thereon.

Local newspapers in the UK are without exception absolutely fucking terrible. The previous concerns raised about posting Mail and Express stories apply to them a million times over. Their modus operandi is to only tell one side of any given story (usually local hero vs evil government bureaucracy), in order to create drama out of some otherwise mundane event. They'd have nothing to write about otherwise.

So I'd pay no attention to this story until it's reported by an actual news source.
posted by cillit bang at 5:55 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love the criticism from Americans here. See, my preconceptions tell me that some dude openly carrying an illegal firearm into a police station in many parts of the US would be shot dead as soon as he produced it, never mind getting to put his case in court.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:56 PM on November 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


I wonder why their government wants to take away the citizens' guns.
Because we had 42 gun homicides in the land last year, and that's still not none.
posted by bonaldi at 5:56 PM on November 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


Gonna have to advise actually treating cops like they are rational human beings.

The problem there, Ironmouth, is that in my experience (and, it seems, that of Mr. Clarke) they neither return the courtesy nor meet the expectations.


Oh man, I TOTALLY know what you mean there. This one time, my buddy and I were hauled in by the cops for some bullshit possessions charge, and they offered me a deal where if I ratted him out, I'd go free and he would take the charge, and they said they made him the same offer. So, I knew we could both keep quiet and cop to a misdemeanor, but I figured, "There's NO WAY this asshole's going to sweat it out when he could screw me over [neither returning the courtesy nor meeting the expectations, as you put it]" so I PRE-EMPTIVELY turned over on HIM. Yeah, we both ended up doing some serious time for that...
posted by albrecht at 6:01 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem there, Ironmouth, is that in my experience (and, it seems, that of Mr. Clarke) they neither return the courtesy nor meet the expectations.

I cannot imagine the value of confronting a police officer. If there's a problem report them. Its entirely logical to not angrily engage any stranger.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2009


The best thing he could have done is bury it for the time he needs it to fight those who would imprison him for possessing it.
posted by Balisong at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love the criticism from Americans here. See, my preconceptions tell me that some dude openly carrying an illegal firearm into a police station in many parts of the US would be shot dead as soon as he produced it, never mind getting to put his case in court.

Your preconceptions are wrong.
posted by killdevil at 6:20 PM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


But in this case, a law-and-order government has legislated a minimum five year gaol term, and that is the problem. When you remove judicial discretion, injustice will result.

I disagree. Allowing judicial discursion simply means unfair outcomes. If two people commit the same crime, one judge might sentence one to 30 days of probation and another judge might sentence the second to 5 years hard time.

What they should have done is write the law in a sensible way. But what they wanted was the ability to arrest people who they think might be doing something bad, just like how they can charge you with DUI if you're near your car and have the keys in your hand. The real crime with a gun is shooting someone or threatening someone with it, and the real crime with DUI is driving drunk. But they wanted to be able to convict people they thought might be guilty of those greater crimes, so they came up with these laws.

A sensible law would be that you wouldn't be guilty of a gun crime unless they could prove that you intentionally had it in your possession, rather then simply finding it somewhere. But then you couldn't get convictions of people they "knew" were guilty either.

They give you a medal for being a hero and bringing that shit in off the street?

Come on, seriously? You think if someone just showed up with those things the cops wouldn't want to know everything about this person and why they might have come across them?
I cannot imagine the value of confronting a police officer. If there's a problem report them. Its entirely logical to not angrily engage any stranger.
What are you talking about? Who says "excepting police not to act rationally" means "confronting" them? Whoever said anything about "angrily engaging" the police? I think when people say "don't expect the police to be rational" they mean "don't expect the police not to do everything they can to screw you over, whether or not it seems like a rational thing to do."

No one said anything about "confronting" the police. If anything, the idea would be to avoid them and minimize your contact with them.
posted by delmoi at 6:24 PM on November 15, 2009


Just for the record. I've been pulled over for a headlight out on my car. The cop asked if I had any weapons in the car. I said I had a loaded 9mm pistol in my bag. I asked him if he would like for me to hand it to him. He said, "no, I'll get it myself." I exited the car, he took it out, did a background check on it. It was legal. The way I was carrying it was legal. He handed it back (unloaded), and said I was free to go. I had to fix my headlight.
That was all.
posted by Balisong at 6:27 PM on November 15, 2009


This Guy I Know just returned Engine Thirteen's wrench. The firefighter said "thanks."
posted by Tube at 6:33 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I remember being told at some point that in the US a postal service mail box (you know, the blue ones) was supposed to be a recommended place to anonymously turn over firearms. Not that I can imagine you could fit a shotgun, sawed-off or not, into the mail slot . . .

Disclaimer: This recommendation may not be in fact accurate or welcomed by postal service workers. I have never found a gun or any firearm, so I have never tried it out. If anyone finds any reasonable citations one way or the other I'd like to see them, personally.
posted by that girl at 6:38 PM on November 15, 2009


I cannot imagine the value of confronting a police officer.

I absolutely agree. Mr. Clarke's mistake (if, in fact, there is any merit to this story in the first place) is that in attempting to take a dangerous weapon off the street he ended up inadvertently poking the bear because OMG HE SCARED A COP and we all know where that gets you: jail. Or, depending on the precinct, dead, with a planted gun your hand.

To clarify: I don't think one should run around pissing off cops. I think one should avoid them, never rely on them, never trust them, and never underestimate their ability to mess your life up for any reason or no reason. And if he goes to jail for this, that's the lesson he'll learn.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:40 PM on November 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


In 2008, Clarke successfully appealed a conviction for assault. I'm curious whether that case may've influenced the police department's logic in this conviction.

Surrey Mirror (2008):
Man accused of attacking DVLA inspector with broom walks free

A man accused of beating a DVLA inspector with a broom handle as walked free from court after claiming his alleged victim had exaggarated the incident.

Inspector Hayden Hart had claimed he was attacked by Paul Clarke, 26, as he patrolled Wood Street, Merstham, checking parked cars for out-of-date tax discs.

The inspector said he was clubbed repeatedly by his attacker, who warned him: "If you come near my vehicle again, I'll break your f****** legs."

But Mr Clarke, of Wood Street, Merstham, walked free from the Crown Court at Guildford after winning his appeal against conviction for assault by beating at Redhill Magistrates Court on March 12 this year.
[more]
posted by prinado at 6:47 PM on November 15, 2009


Is anyone else strongly reminded of Bill Hicks' bit re: "Hooligans" vs. the Bloods/LA Riots/British crime by this whole thing?
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:47 PM on November 15, 2009


He sure made a lot of wrongs to make one supposed right. The gun could have been evidence in a crime scene, he should have known he was making a mistake as soon as he picked it up, loaded or not. Carrying it through town should have been his next clue... what happens if he gets into an accident and someone finds it? What happens if he got robbed after he told the cops he was about to visit them?

More importantly, his army training should have told him to let it be and let the experts deal with it, just like UXO or a conspicuous find on the battlefield.
posted by furtive at 6:51 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I remember being told at some point that in the US a postal service mail box (you know, the blue ones) was supposed to be a recommended place to anonymously turn over firearms.

yeah, because people at the u s postal service NEVER misuse firearms
posted by pyramid termite at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2009


yeah, because people at the u s postal service NEVER misuse firearms

yeah, because that actually happens all the time and isn't blown out of proportion by the 24-hour news media who aren't trying to scare the everloving shit out of people for ratings
[0 . . . . 5 . . . . /10]
burying the sarcasm needle on this thread
posted by Mikey-San at 7:03 PM on November 15, 2009


Shouldn't that go to 11? Or 12?
posted by JB71 at 7:06 PM on November 15, 2009


Obviously it should go to HAMBURGER.
posted by rifflesby at 7:38 PM on November 15, 2009


He sure made a lot of wrongs to make one supposed right. The gun could have been evidence in a crime scene, he should have known he was making a mistake as soon as he picked it up, loaded or not. Carrying it through town should have been his next clue... what happens if he gets into an accident and someone finds it? What happens if he got robbed after he told the cops he was about to visit them?

Definitely. There are an awful lot of cultural differences surrounding guns between the US and the UK, and this highlights one. If can't think of a person I know who wouldn't call the police immediately if they found a gun dumped in their backyard. You would only go touch/approach it enough to make sure it's a gun, then just leave be. The kind of person who would pick it up and carry it to the Chief Constable is a very weird person indeed. Guns are rare enough in this country that you might even call the police if it was an heirloom in your attic - most people have no experience of handling guns.

I suppose the best equivalent for the US might be, um, human body parts? I really don't know, but you have to imagine just how much of a "the police need to deal with this" situation it is. His solicitor argued that the police never told people not to pick up a discarded gun and take it to the police station, but I'm not surprised it didn't work. Most people simply wouldn't, and even the advice for people to discard of their own legally-held guns is to phone ahead and inform the police what you have and what you intend on doing.
posted by Sova at 7:55 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Possession (of a firearm in this case) really IS 9/10ths of the law.

(Seriously, the definition of possession seems quite critical here).
posted by unSane at 8:06 PM on November 15, 2009


This smells fishy. The "zero tolerance" law is absurd on its face, but there's gotta be more to Clarke's story. Namely why in the hell he would be motivated to bring a gun to a police station in a nation that severely frowns upon the whole having-a-gun thing.

And when you figure out the "why", you've got a thriller to write.
posted by zardoz at 8:06 PM on November 15, 2009


The real crime with a gun is shooting someone or threatening someone with it, and the real crime with DUI is driving drunk.

DUI is already a liability crime. The "real crime" is the vehicular manslaughter etc.
posted by fleacircus at 8:10 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I represented a guy who lived with his elderly mother. She had her deceased husband's military gun mounted on the wall. He was charged with violating his probation by having a firearm in his residence. The police seized the weapon.
posted by flarbuse at 8:15 PM on November 15, 2009


Oh God. OK. I read this story with a slight ripple of panic, because something happened to me in 1993 and maybe had it happened in 2009 my life would have changed for the worse. All this is true. Here goes. Apologies for typos, I've had half a bottle of wine.

I was 14. When I was 14, I was the least streetwise teenager out of a host of unstreetwise teenagers in my leafy, crime-free suburb of west London. If my "street wisdom" had been an actual street, it would have been a nice cobbled garden path in an Enid Blyton frontispiece with a honeysuckle archway and a big drooly Irish setter called George. Pixies would dance in the lavender, hummingbirds would sip from foxgloves and nobody would have even heard of a gun, or an explosion, or The Wire, or anything like that.

But anyway, one spring day when I was 14, my batshitinsane best friend from the next suburb over had just come back from a family holiday in Sri Lanka. He offered to meet me in the teachers' parking lot after school. He had a present for me, he said. From his holiday. I was going to like it, he said. It was special.

Fine. I turned up. Crouching behind a wall, he unzipped his grubby, slightly smelly, rucksack, and pulled out a fist-sized, oval, black object. There was a glint of metal at the top of it. "This is for you," he said. "I found it my grandmother's garden. It's yours now. Whatever you do, don't tell anyone."

It fitted in the palm of my hand. The first thing I noticed is how heavy it was, and ugly.

The second thing I noticed is that it was a hand-grenade.

"Wha, wh-why have you given me a hand-grenade?"

"Dude," he said. (He did, seriously, say "dude.") "It's just a fake hand-grenade. I found it my grandmother's garden. The Tamils, when we fight against the Singalese, we throw them into the tanks so they panic. Then they shoot them when they try to get out. One of the grenades must have just been thrown back and I found it at my nan's house in her garden. So just relax. Put it on your shelf, dude. I'm pretty sure it's fake anyway. Don't touch the pin. Gotta go."

Thanks.

I now didn't really know what to do in this situation, having just been given a potentially explosive device, used by a terrorist group in a warzone. So I stuffed the grenade into the pocket of my school uniform, crossed the road, and waited for the public bus to take me back home, slightly unbelieving of what was weighing down my left pocket.

I... me... I have a hand-grenade! I felt a small, brisk, thrill that I couldn't help enjoying. I'm the only one waiting for this bus with a hand-grenade! If I took this out of my pocket, I could make everybody scared! This was a heady thought for a nerdy teenager whom the popular kids ignored at school.

I fingered the sides of the grenade in my pocket, gripped it, and played with the pin, The grenade was rock hard, and smooth. The pin had a circular loop, which felt ridged, but the small metal spike through the top felt alarmingly fragile. In my mind, in my head, I practiced what it would feel like to take out the grenade, pull out the pin, and run away. I dared not, but it felt good. I hardly even noticed my bus arrive.

Sitting on the back seat, as school kids do, I admired the bulge of my left pocket on the empty seat beside me. I was still riding on my rush of teenage power. A crowd of people left the bus at the tube station. A bigger crowd of people got on, and I shuffled to make room. I was looking out of the window, then, somebody sat on the grenade. Oh shit! I pulled my coat towards me, but nothing had happened. The bus was still here. I was not in small pieces with my parents weeping over my scattered limbs.

The powerful feelings then started changing slightly to giddiness. Then, the giddiness suddenly switched to fear. What happens if somebody finds me with a grenade in public? I could go to prison! I've got to get rid of it, somehow. Is it real? I don't know! It still feels real! It's really a grenade, from Sri Lanka! The are bombs there, and my friend is insane, maybe it's real, it was in a tank, it's still a weapon because it scares people! Help! I shouldn't have this! I've got to get help!

Then, I realised where the bus would stop next. The police station.

I stood up, rang the bell, paced to the front of the bus with the weight in my left pocket trailing behind me, and pushed my way off, probably past an old lady. (Sorry, old lady.) I ran up a flight of stairs to the reception. There was no queue, so I was buzzed in. I was running on a combination of adrenaline, hormones and fear. I produced the grenade, sweatily fumbled it onto the startled receptionist's desk and said. "A--a--friend gave it to me. Can you take it? I don't want it."

"Ohmygod!!" she squealed, and then her training kicked in and she was silent. She looked at me and saw a bespectacled child in private school uniform who hadn't even been in a police station before, nor worked out the finer points of shaving yet. She calmly took a breath. "Eeerm, I'm going to have to get someone to look at this. Would you wait please?"

She calmly got up and walked out the door.

I was shaking, a little. I'm probably going to get arrested here. I just pulled a hand-grenade out in a police station. The horrible black object was attracting attention from the other people walking through the reception. They were sneaking gazes at it. Were they talking about me? Why am I here with a grenade?

"Hello sir," said a policeman suddenly. He had a goatee, was about thirty, and was very tall. He looked at me, saw a hand-grenade and a trembling dweeb who hadn't combed his hair that morning, and also immediately realized what was going on. (Say what you like about British police, but I think they probably go through some kind of mind-reading training.)

"Let me have a look. Eh," he said, pulling the pin out. I stared. "I don't think you've anything to worry about here. It's just a fake. But, you know, you should probably get rid of it, just in case." He put the pin back in.

"Can't you, er, take it?" I gibbered. "Please."

"We can't do that for you I'm afraid. But it's probably a good idea if you just keep it out of the way or throw it out, just so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands, you know? Be seeing you, sir."

I took the (slightly wet) grenade back into my pocket. Dazed, I got on the next bus. They didn't even ask for my name, did they? Wow. OK. Why wouldn't they take it?

On my way home from my local bus stop, I walked through a park. I passed a group of local ten-year-old boys, talking about how it was so great they had started smoking because it made them run faster. "Hey!" I called. "Take a look at this. It's from Sri Lanka!" They flocked around me, fondling it as I gripped it tightly with both hands. "I'll give you five quid for it," one said. "Nah. Get your own," I replied.

I got home, put the kettle on, and stuck the grenade in a never-used drawer underneath some never-used towels in the never-used spare bedroom. My parents never found it. I wonder what they would say if they knew.

The grenade only came out one more time: the last day of school four years later. In those forty-eight long months, I had grown increasingly pissed off with my school, stressed, hormonal, alienated, and upset. I despised the place. And now, I thought, this time people will take me seriously. I'll show them.

I stood outside the common room filled with people I didn't like, open the door, shouted "I'VE GOT A GRENADE!", pulled out the pin, and lobbed it in.

And you know what? Nobody even looked up.

Slightly embarrassed, I snuck through the door and bent under the sofa to retrieve the grenade. Useless piece of crap. Wouldn't have worked in a tank.

Later that day, I threw the grenade into a river, along with my school uniform.

My batshitinsane ex-friend is now running a small local chain of tapas bars.
posted by randomination at 8:29 PM on November 15, 2009 [248 favorites]


To clarify: I don't think one should run around pissing off cops. I think one should avoid them, never rely on them, never trust them, and never underestimate their ability to mess your life up for any reason or no reason.

Until you need one.

Seriously, I can't think of worse advice than to treat an entire class of public servants not as individuals, but as a monolithic group which under no circumstances should be trusted or relied upon. Indeed, I can't think of worse advice about any group of people.

The police are public servants and people. They aren't some monolitihic group that is completely the same in every situation. Treating them as such is simply terrible advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 PM on November 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.
posted by CarlRossi at 10:28 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah Britain and its gun laws. Nice. C'mon over the pond, we all have carry permits.
posted by caddis at 11:06 PM on November 15, 2009


More importantly, his army training should have told him to let it be and let the experts deal with it.

Who the fuck calls and asks for a meeting with the chief constable -- who he asks for by name to turn in something that they've found? A normal person who was dumb enough to carry a shotgun that they'd found would either call it in in advance, or they'd hand it in at the front desk. The fact that he'd asked for a meeting with the chief constable suggests he was being a bit of a prick.

I wouldn't have the first clue what the name of our chief constable is.

The best thing he could have done is bury it for the time he needs it to fight those who would imprison him for possessing it.

Or fight those who try and vaccinate his kids, or put fluoride in the drinking water, right?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:08 PM on November 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Well, Ironmouth, we'll agree to disagree, then. And perhaps it would be bad to construe my opinion as advice. We're all shaped by our own histories, and I guess your history with those valued "public servants" in blue is more positive than mine. And maybe I am indulging in stereotype. But when I see a badge, I don't see a person. I see a gun, a taser, a billyclub, and a can of pepper spray, along with the legal writ to use those tools of public service and a whole group of buddies on the other end of the radio ready to help get the story straight when the public servicing ends and the ambulances are called. I'll admit it's a personal failing. I should be more open-minded and less judgmental. I look forward to meeting the police officer who'll change my mind. None of the blessedly infrequent interactions I've had with law enforcement, as both a victim of crime and as a "criminal" have provided compelling reasons to change my opinion yet.

I'm bowing out of this thread because this is becoming a derail onto my personal soapbox, an issue I've already spilled much ink on in other threads, and one about which I tend to become rather fighty and unpleasant. So, sorry for the derail. If you'd like to take it to MeFiMail, Ironmouth, I'd be happy to respond.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:42 PM on November 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


Guns are rare enough in this country that you might even call the police if it was an heirloom in your attic - most people have no experience of handling guns. I suppose the best equivalent for the US might be, um, human body parts?

Hi! Hello! If it's not too much trouble, could people in this thread stop assuming that everyone in the United States grew up cradling a six-shooter while nursing, and that as such, we cannot possibly comprehend that other cultures have different attitudes toward weapons possession?

I'm a born-and-raised American. I think non-navy passports look weird, I prefer our definition of "public school," and I literally have to restrain myself from giggling every time I see the word "gaol." That said, I, like a good chunk of my countrymen, did not grow up around guns. Hell, I've never so much as touched one.

I am perfectly capable of understanding that Clarke should have made a phone call or two before he picked a random weapon up off of the ground and walked it into a cop shop. No heuristic "human body parts" necessary. Thanks.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:58 PM on November 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.

I find it hard to believe there's anyone in the UK who was raised there who isn't aware a sawn-off shotgun is at the serious end of

C'mon over the pond, we all have carry permits.

Really? Does it cover waving around sawn-off shotguns? In a police station?

And, frankly, even if it does, you can keep your concealed carry with your astonishing murder rates.

Hi! Hello! If it's not too much trouble, could people in this thread stop assuming that everyone in the United States grew up cradling a six-shooter while nursing, and that as such, we cannot possibly comprehend that other cultures have different attitudes toward weapons possession?

I'd love to, but I can't hear you over the sound of the arrogant cultural imperialists screaming USA USA USA USA USA in every thread about LOLFOREIGNERSARESHIT lately.
posted by rodgerd at 12:20 AM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


delmoi: I disagree. Allowing judicial discursion simply means unfair outcomes. If two people commit the same crime, one judge might sentence one to 30 days of probation and another judge might sentence the second to 5 years hard time. What they should have done is write the law in a sensible way.

Ah, the programmer's response. If our statutes were drafted to take into account every possible combination of circumstances, intentions, actions, results and antecedents, they would be impossibly complicated. The world does not efficiently reduce to a neat if/then/else tree. No two outcomes should be identical, because no two cases are the same.

Give judges discretion, and hold them accountable with a system of appeals and precedents.

(Disclosure: I'm a prosecutor.)
posted by robcorr at 12:22 AM on November 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


Oh, and I'm not saying there shouldn't be a statutory defence available. I'm just saying that every mandatory defence will resut in injustice, whereas a bad law with a proven-and-dismissed option available to the judge is a pretty good safety valve.
posted by robcorr at 12:54 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gah, mandatory sentence. (Typing on my phone.)
posted by robcorr at 12:56 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some legal questions:

1) If the court hadn't taken up the case, or had found differently, would the precedent have significantly weakened strict liability, going forward?

2) What are Clarke's rights as regards appeal? Given the law as it stands, would it even be worthwhile for him to do so?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:59 AM on November 16, 2009


(As goes the first question, it looks like enforcement is increasing, but that exceptions are still made to the rule—and as such, could have been in this case?)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:11 AM on November 16, 2009


What is the world coming to when a man with a history of violence can't visit his local cop shop and pull a sawn-off out of a bag unannounced without the moaning minnies getting their knickers in a twist at what was patently a jolly jape? This is obviously the central civil liberties issue of the twenty-first century and prima facie evidence that the UK is a police state.
It puts the whole future of sub-Guy-Ritchie blagger films in serious doubt, but bar that surely no good can come of it.
posted by Abiezer at 1:12 AM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


just like how they can charge you with DUI if you're near your car and have the keys in your hand.

No, they can't.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:26 AM on November 16, 2009


The best thing he could have done is bury it for the time he needs it to fight those who would imprison him for possessing it.

He should have a gun in order to protect himself in the event that someone tries to stop him having a gun?

The whole 'guns to protect individuals against their corrupt governments' thing, whilst dangerous, paranoid and at least two hundred years out of date, does at least make sense in its own terms, but if the primary right you're trying to protect is the right to have a gun, doesn't the whole argument start to seem a little circular? To scale this up: Iran wants nuclear weapons so that it can scare off the nations and international bodies seeking to disarm it of nuclear weapons. Cue escalating spiral of tension leading to cataclysmic shooting match. (It may also want nukes in order to wipe Israel off the map – I never claimed this would be a watertight metaphor.)
posted by him at 1:30 AM on November 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


My interactions with the Oakland police department have been nothing but positive. I harbor no illusions that this isn't for any reason than because I'm white. In fact, the reason that the (black) people who committed the crime against me were able to beat the rap because of really reprehensible police behavior.

I treat all police officers as if they're lunatics with guns. I might be wrong most of the time, but I'm right some of the time, and that keeps bullets out of me.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 1:53 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Twitter feed of the journalist who wrote the Surrey Mirror article.
posted by edd at 2:24 AM on November 16, 2009


I'm a born-and-raised American. I think non-navy passports look weird...

As much as I generally hate this type of thing...FTFY ;-)
posted by i_cola at 3:27 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is the world coming to when a man with a history of violence can't visit his local cop shop and pull a sawn-off out of a bag unannounced

It's political correctness gone mad!

Also, conjecture tells me that Mr Clarke may have a problem with authority. From my vast experience of meeting one ex-squadie who left the army early, these people always have a problem with anyone in authority, be it traffic wardens, bus drivers, police or social worker.
posted by asok at 3:48 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


just like how they can charge you with DUI if you're near your car and have the keys in your hand.

No, they can't.
In the UK, one can be charged for being drunk in charge of a vehicle. Broadly speaking, the described circumstances of "near your car and have the keys in your hand" fit that. It's not quite the same offense as driving under the influence though.
posted by edd at 3:55 AM on November 16, 2009


Ah Britain and its gun laws. Nice. C'mon over the pond, we all have carry permits.


But Kinder Eggs are illegal in America. And so is proper haggis. I'm not giving up everything I hold dear, like offal and horrible plastic toys, just so I can have a gun.
posted by dng at 4:56 AM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was so confused and I thought "Since when is it illegal to handle a gun?" Oh. This is the UK. That makes way more sense.

I'm not sure if this is an "I'm an American and this site has a lot of American news and so I made a stupid assumption" situation or if the post was unclear or both.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:25 AM on November 16, 2009


(And yeah, the More Inside and tags clarify this, so yeah, I'm just talking about the post as it appears on the front page itself.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:26 AM on November 16, 2009


edd: Guns are illegal in Britain.

Slight derail, but it's worth pointing out that this isn't strictly true. Shotguns and a number of types of rifle are perfectly legal in the UK (I've personally shot .22 lightweight sporting rifles and .38 gallery rifles in this country), so long as you hold a valid licence, store them correctly and get them inspected regularly.

Sawn-off shotguns, on the other hand, are very much illegal, because the only reason you'd ever saw the end off is to make them concealable, and the only reason to do that is to make them easier to use in a crime. I find it very difficult to believe that Clarke, an ex-soldier, was unaware of this fact. For that reason, and because of the number of stages this had to go through before it even reached a Crown court, I'm very much in the "more to this than meets the eye" category.

That said, mandatory minimum sentences are pretty much always a bad idea, and I really hope there's at least some scope for this to be reduced/removed entirely on appeal - if he really is being imprisoned for nothing more than handing in a gun, even if the way he went about it was less than ideal, then that is a Bad Thing.
posted by ZsigE at 5:35 AM on November 16, 2009


Also: You can buy Kinder Eggs in the US (I've seen 'em!) but I think the toys have been removed. AAANNNDDD there is legislation against them in Germany on the grounds that kids could mistake the toy for candy. Just goes to show you can never be too careful!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:38 AM on November 16, 2009


ZsigE: Fair point, I overgeneralised the situation there.
posted by edd at 6:17 AM on November 16, 2009


caddis: Ah Britain and its gun laws. Nice. C'mon over the pond, we all have carry permits.

Yet another convincing reason to stay the on this side of the "pond".



Jimmy Havok: "just like how they can charge you with DUI if you're near your car and have the keys in your hand."

No, they can't.

Yes they can. Just like you can be charged with manslaughter for dropping a cucumber, or electoral fraud because some policeman thinks your shirt's too small, or absolutely anything for any or no reason whatever. Good luck getting a prosecutor to actually take the case, though - the charges would just be dropped.
posted by Dysk at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2009


grapefruitmoon: I was so confused and I thought "Since when is it illegal to handle a gun?" Oh. This is the UK. That makes way more sense.

I'm not sure if this is an "I'm an American and this site has a lot of American news and so I made a stupid assumption" situation or if the post was unclear or both.


"Guildford Crown Court" should've tipped you off that it wasn't the Federal United States of America. Also, was there any good reason to assume this pertained to the US at all?
posted by Dysk at 6:33 AM on November 16, 2009


"Guildford Crown Court" should've tipped you off that it wasn't the Federal United States of America. Also, was there any good reason to assume this pertained to the US at all?

There are towns named Guilford in the US, and Guilford Crown could well be a variation for all I know. (I grew up next to a Guilford, FWIW.)

And like I said, this could just be me and there might not be a good reason to make the assumption, but it felt unclear.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:43 AM on November 16, 2009


Guilfor Woowar
posted by cillit bang at 7:03 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not giving up everything I hold dear, like offal and horrible plastic toys, just so I can have a gun.

With a gun, you can get your own offal. You're on your own with the horrible plastic toys, though.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:10 AM on November 16, 2009


me & my monkey: haggis is made from sheep offal. While owning a gun does make you capable of hunting sheep, it doesn't make it any more legal.
posted by Dysk at 7:28 AM on November 16, 2009


While owning a gun does make you capable of hunting sheep, it doesn't make it any more legal.

Perhaps, but if I see someone shooting and disembowelling sheep, I'm not going to get in his way.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:56 AM on November 16, 2009


I'm sorry, I've seen the movie Hot Fuzz and you can't convince me that every supposedly docile complacent English village-dweller is not a homicidal maniac packing multiple firearms.
posted by Ber at 8:12 AM on November 16, 2009


Ah, the programmer's response. If our statutes were drafted to take into account every possible combination of circumstances, intentions, actions, results and antecedents, they would be impossibly complicated. The world does not efficiently reduce to a neat if/then/else tree. No two outcomes should be identical, because no two cases are the same.
I didn't say that the cases will ever by identical but it's important that fairness be maximized, and leaving things up to judicial discretion makes that impossible. More importantly, penalties should be reasonable in the first place. But here we have a situation where a grandstanding politician wanted to make a point, rather then create a nuanced law.
just like how they can charge you with DUI if you're near your car and have the keys in your hand.
No, they can't.

I'm pretty sure they can in the UK, which is where this took place. Every jurisdiction is different.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2009


If our statutes were drafted to take into account every possible combination of circumstances, intentions, actions, results and antecedents, they would be impossibly complicated.

I should point out that to an outsider, they already are impossibly complicated.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:31 AM on November 16, 2009


Sawn-off shotguns, on the other hand, are very much illegal, because the only reason you'd ever saw the end off is to make them concealable, and the only reason to do that is to make them easier to use in a crime.

Sawn-offs are great for hunting big game. With a sawn-off, those animals never see it coming.

You don't have big game in the UK? We have big game everywhere here, which is why we encourage every American to carry a concealed sawn-off, which is mandated by our Constitution. You never know when you'll need to hunt big game.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:36 AM on November 16, 2009


Just like you can be charged with manslaughter for dropping a cucumber

True. The claim has the same sort of validity as a claim that a burglar can sue you if he trips and injures himself while robbing your house. You can sue for anything. However, you can't win.

I looked around for cases of people being charged with DUI while outside their cars, and every case I found involved good evidence that the person charged had been driving previous to the arrest.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:37 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Guns are rare enough in this country that you might even call the police if it was an heirloom in your attic - most people have no experience of handling guns. I suppose the best equivalent for the US might be, um, human body parts?

Hi! Hello! If it's not too much trouble, could people in this thread stop assuming that everyone in the United States grew up cradling a six-shooter while nursing, and that as such, we cannot possibly comprehend that other cultures have different attitudes toward weapons possession?


I don't know, some of you have weird enough views of dollar coins and washing lines, can't be blamed for assuming...you know?

Seriously though, it's good that you understand that other countries have different cultural views on guns. But I can read other comments in this same thread that show some people just don't get it. If my point wasn't for you, the, um, it wasn't for you.
posted by Sova at 10:40 AM on November 16, 2009


Also: You can buy Kinder Eggs in the US (I've seen 'em!) but I think the toys have been removed.

That's not a Kinder Egg. It's an abomination
posted by dng at 10:58 AM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


best equivalent for the US might be, um, human body parts?

It would probably be a bomb, actually. Most people don't have any experience with it and are concerned that handling it could kill them and others.

That being said, there is certainly a large group of people who would phone in a gun if they found one, rather than pick it up and carry it themselves. If anything, people here are afraid of being incriminated in anything. Don't touch it, call someone else and let them deal with it. No personal responsibility = no accountability. Kind of sad I think, though probably not for the the reasons you'd expect. It's just that when you can't trust most people to try to do the right thing (or know enough to do the right thing) then the best solution is to make people call some public servant, pass off responsibility, and go their own way without having actually done anything.
posted by scrutiny at 11:31 AM on November 16, 2009


That's not a Kinder Egg. It's an abomination

Well, yeah, I agree. No one buys them for the chocolate. That stuff is horrid.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:32 AM on November 16, 2009


This feels like one of those really dumb situations that didn't need to happen at all if the players involved really thought about what was going to happen;

ex-soldier: *calls police station* "Hi, my name is Paul Clarke. I live at [address], and I've just found that someone discarded a firearm in my back yard in a black plastic garbage bag. It looks to be a cut down shotgun with some loose shells, and I didn't want anyone making off with it, so I've secured it at my location, but I was hoping you could send an officer over to pick it up and have it appropriately confiscated. I've done my best to ensure that I didn't remove any fingerprints on it so I don't know if anyone will want to run those kinds of tests, but it's here whenever you'd like to retrieve it..."

I mean, there is still certainly room for the cops to be dicks here, but no one can accuse him of illegally transporting it or pulling it out in the police station.
posted by quin at 12:58 PM on November 16, 2009


Jimmy Havok: "I looked around for cases of people being charged with DUI while outside their cars, and every case I found involved good evidence that the person charged had been driving previous to the arrest."
Here's just one I found: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article498790.ece - guy was asleep in a parked vehicle. As I said, it's not technically DUI, but it's certainly an offence.
Also, just because people haven't been charged, or because people haven't been convicted, does not mean something is not a crime.
posted by edd at 1:40 PM on November 16, 2009


I had a friend get a DUI for sleeping in his car...of course, he was parked on the side of the freeway at the time.

Interesting that the charge in that UK case was "Being in charge of a motor vehicle with excess alcohol." That's a lower level charge (DR40) than "Driving/Attempting to Drive with excess alcohol" (DR10), with a lower maximum fine and penalties. It may have been intended to cover just the sort of situation that my friend was in, where the police couldn't testify that he was driving, but he was in a location he had to have driven to.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:37 PM on November 16, 2009


Seriously, I can't think of worse advice than to treat an entire class of public servants not as individuals, but as a monolithic group which under no circumstances should be trusted or relied upon.

I don't think the idea here is that cops aren't individuals. I'd bet even BitterOldPunk would admit they're like most people doing their job, some good, some just having a bad day, some ground down beyond caring, some actually pretty corrupt. The problem is that you don't know which one you're dealing with beforehand and that law enforcement generally has the power to ruin your day and severely complicate your life. Wariness is in order.

The other thing that it's not always even a matter of the character and mood of any individual officer. You've seen the Matrix movies, right? You know how the agents can pop into anybody at a given moment in order to enforce the constraints of the system? It's not just an interesting plot device. It's a pretty apt metaphor for how society often works. Sometimes you have individuals, just people, making their own judgments about how to treat others. Sometimes you have a system pressuring people to operate as a piece of it and enforce its constraints. I think the best cops manage to find a personal balance between the two, but it's entirely possible that their training, the culture and current policies of the force they're a part of, political pressure, and any number of other social factors will push them to act in ways that aren't very humane. They're not unique in this respect, this happens to customer service grunts and corporate executives. They are somewhat unique, however, in the special dispensation they receive with regard to authority and force, and the combination can be disastrous. So, again, wariness is in order. They're individual human beings, and worth being extended that basic respect, but they're also agents of a system that is dangerous by design and imperfect.
posted by weston at 2:51 PM on November 16, 2009


If you're asking "why would a person think this was a good idea" then the answer is probably
1. He was a soldier, accustomed to handling firearms as a matter of course--not thinking of them like nuclear waste or the physical manifestation of pure evil like a lot of non-US civilians do. He just saw it as a wayward piece of equipment that he was perfectly capable of handling safely and that the natural thing to do was take it directly to the person who would be responsible for putting it in its proper place and
2. Merstham is a small village with 2 post offices and 4 pubs. The sort of place where everyone knows everyone, or at least knows someone who does. In the 3-pub, 1-post office village I used to visit often, people would occasionally walk into the pub with a rifle or shotgun (in a proper discreet case of course) and just ask to put it behind the bar.

He probably either thought there was nothing wrong with him walking in to surrender as he did, or that he'd get a bit of a reaction but nothing more than a cop he knows by name yelling at him on the day, and laughing about it the next week.

If the story, as reported, is true. I agree with what was said here about the reliability of local newspapers.
posted by K.P. at 2:57 PM on November 16, 2009


When I moved into my flat there was an old, rusty machete in the garage that the old lady who'd lived here before had used to hack down shrubs in her garden. It hadn't been used for years. It hung in the garage for a few years and I always felt a bit uneasy about it. I had no use for a machete but I didn't know what to do with it. A bit of wire wool, a cleanup with WD40, a whetstone and it'd be a deadly weapon again.

Then I read in the local paper about a knives amnesty the police were having. You could take any knife, shiv, axe or machete into the police station, hand it in, no questions asked, and they'd destroy it. So I got it down from the garage (its edge was still worryingly sharp), wrapped it up in bubble wrap, then brown paper, wrote 'caution, sharp blade' on it in big black letters and put it in the boot of the car, intending to take it to my local police station.

Now I live right on the border of the outer London boroughs, and so, later that day, I found myself close to a large police station that was part of the Metropolitan Police, a different force to my local one. I assumed they'd still have the same knife amnesty, so I went in with the machete, waited for probably half an hour for someone to see me.

A woman police officer eventually deigned to speak to me, and she could not have been less interested. She told me to dump it in the rubbish bin in the street outside. A machete. In a package that said 'caution, sharp blade' on it. In a London borough where stabbings were reported in the news every week, often with fatalities. WTF? She said if I put it back in my car I would be arrested for carrying a weapon. WTFingF?

As she was apathetic to the point almost of appearing catatonic, I decided to risk it, and took the machete away with me. I drove straight to my local police station, not part of the Met, where they were happy to take the machete for destruction and saddened but not surprised at the Met's reaction.
posted by essexjan at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


she was apathetic to the point almost of appearing catatonic

Probably because those knife-amnesties are (and it's no big secret) a big BS PR-stunt.

The firearms amnesties might be of use if you accept the problematic assumption that the pool of available firearms (old sporting guns, antiques, and smuggled-in-weapons) is small enough that removing some would have some effect on violent crime.

But if you look at the photos of the bladed weapons that are handed in during those knife-amnesties, you just see a big pile of kitchen knives, a small number of machetes, and a few really scary looking items that are probably more functional as costume pieces or collector's items than as actual weapons. And at the end of the day, anyone over 18 can buy another one over the counter (at most being asked for ID to prove their age). Anyone under 18 can just swipe one from their parents' kitchen.
posted by K.P. at 3:27 PM on November 16, 2009


So I got it down from the garage (its edge was still worryingly sharp), wrapped it up in bubble wrap, then brown paper, wrote 'caution, sharp blade' on it in big black letters and put it in the boot of the car,

A machete might be a staple in horror movies, but honestly, there isn't any need to treat one like it's an unstable explosive. It's just a biggish, usually fairly dull knife (where "dull" is a specific value as compared to, say, a good kitchen knife.)

It's just an object, and to be honest, not a particularly dangerous one at that (Jason Voorhees not withstanding), fearing it like it might jump out and chase you down the street simply forces you to be afraid of really mundane things.

(Now, as gardening implements go, if you were talking about a brush axe you might have a point.)

Plus, now that you've gotten rid of it, how are you supposed to defend you house from one menace that is your garden shrubs? They are something to be feared, I mean what with the eating children and all...
posted by quin at 3:51 PM on November 16, 2009


Other question: Given the tight laws surrounding handguns, how well publicized are UK policies towards reporting or collection? Are their posters or PSAs asking people to call Crimestoppers to report weapons? (I'm thinking of something along the lines of these.)

1) We have the usual toys in our Kinder Eggs here in the states. Years back, you could even find the extra cool (and chokey-part laden) German ones. Wish they still sold those—it's not like the chocolate could go worse, right?

2) Whether or not the comments above were intended for me, there's an inherent contradiction in assuming that all Americans are the same (or deserve the same treatment) because some Americans are bronco-busting gun nuts who have preconceived notions about the rest of the world. It gets in the way of those of us who are making a good faith effort to learn something, here.

posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:55 PM on November 16, 2009


there isn't any need to treat one like it's an unstable explosive

I don't think there was any suggestion of that, or that it would chase you down the street. The copper's attitude aside, her suggestion that it be wrapped and labelled seems considerate to the garbos who were going to deal with it later.
posted by robcorr at 4:14 PM on November 16, 2009


But here we have a situation where a grandstanding politician wanted to make a point, rather then create a nuanced law.

That's an apt description of mandatory minimum penalties.
posted by robcorr at 4:16 PM on November 16, 2009


Given the tight laws surrounding handguns, how well publicized are UK policies towards reporting or collection? Are their posters or PSAs asking people to call Crimestoppers to report weapons?

Well, our version of Crimestoppers is pretty well publicised, so I imagine that might be an option. The police generally don't run specific guncrime campaigns, though, probably on the grounds that there aren't a lot of guns around, and if you do find one it's automatically very exceptional circumstances.

A few minutes of Googling brought up this page from the Metropolitan Police, which spells out pretty clearly (although 3/4 of the way down the page, for some reason) that the first thing you should do if you unexpectedly find a gun is to tell the police and DON'T TOUCH IT - not because of licensing issues, but because it could be dangerous to handle it.

Frankly, it looks (from the evidence we have, which is of course potentially suspect) as though our Mr Clarke simply didn't think things through at all - maybe it just didn't occur to him that hey, maybe it would have been a good idea to tell the nice policeman that I'm about to wander into his office and dump a lethal weapon on his desk.
posted by ZsigE at 4:21 PM on November 16, 2009


The copper's attitude aside, her suggestion that it be wrapped and labelled seems considerate to the garbos who were going to deal with it later.

I'd already wrapped and labeled it (out of consideration for anyone handling it) before taking it into the police station. What astonished me was that the policewoman thought it was acceptable to put something clearly identifiable as a large bladed knife into a public garbage bin (an open can with no lid on it) outside the largest police station in the area where the foot traffic is hardly likely to be made up of the borough's most upstanding citizens.
posted by essexjan at 5:14 PM on November 16, 2009


Man, this Guy Ritchie movie sounds even worse than the last one.
posted by electroboy at 6:12 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I turn in a sawed-off, my body is hauled off (to the clink)
posted by porn in the woods at 6:21 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I turn in a sawed-off, my body is hauled off (to the clink)

If not the morgue.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:22 PM on November 16, 2009


Seriously, I can't think of worse advice than to treat an entire class of public servants not as individuals, but as a monolithic group which under no circumstances should be trusted or relied upon.

In the UK a few years ago the Metropolitcan Police (ie the force responsible for almost all of Greater London) was labelled as having a culture of institutionl racism, defined in the MacPherson Report as "the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin", which tends to suggest trusting the institution as a whole could be a risky business if one was from a minority. The report was the result of the Met's failure to properly pursue the murderers of a Stephen Lawrence. The same force was also responsible for the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.
posted by biffa at 2:57 AM on November 17, 2009


Jack has a highly informative follow-up. Required reading.
posted by edd at 1:21 PM on November 19, 2009


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