May 20th, 2005.

Weapons of mass destruction.

The other day I was reading the blog of a guy in Texas who was telling the tale about how he and a friend had confronted and detained a young man who had broken into one of their cars while he was spaced out on some kind of drug. After an hour the Police had still not arrived and so they decided to release the young man into the custody of his parents who they had also called.

When the Police did eventually arrive the officer commented that the incident highlighted why it would be prudent for all people in Texas (and presumably other states too) to own and carry a firearm.

Such a story baffles me as an Englishman, living as I do in a country where handguns are flat out illegal and rifle ownership is massively controlled. People in the UK don't have guns, and the kind of incident described in that blog are not uncommon here too. Criminals in the UK rarely have guns too, and with the exception of specially trained and deployed officers, the Police here in the UK do not carry guns either.

Of course, many Americans will rattle on about the fact that 'the right to bear arms' is their right under the constitution of the United States, and that can't possibly be changed. But wasn't it also their right to keep slaves at one time too?

One person commented on the blog that "Americans' right to bear arms is what keeps our government in check. It's not necessary to protect us from modern criminals, but from the government (i.e. formerly the British) taking our land, possessions, violating our rights, etc.. it's really what keeps America's system in check... at least at the moment."

While that argument does indeed have a factual historical truth to it, is it a solid basis for the defense of gun ownership in the face of a shockingly high body count as a result of gun-related homicides every year? And further, that does rather suggest that if the people don't like the rules of the government then they are quite within their rights to start shooting people in office. Something which, it's fair to say, hasn't worked out so well for people like Lee Harvey Oswald and others.

The plain and inescapable truth is that gun ownership within the United States has most certainly not made it a safer place or a more free society. Indeed it would not take much work to present a case that the prevalence of guns within the United States has indeed done quite the opposite.

Those people who feel that buying a life-ending firearm will somehow give them a level of protection are woefully misguided. As anyone who has been the victim of street crime will tell you, things happen so fast that they are usually powerless to do anything. Their attacker takes them by surprise then flees often before they have had time to even process what has happened. Yet there are people out there who believe that they will have more success than the countless others who have gone before them in retrieving their hidden gun, releasing the safety, aiming it, and if need be discharging it successfully without missing their moving target.

Should that situation turn out well they will simply be able to point the gun at their attacker and say something scary in the same tone as Dirty Harry that makes their assailant flee for his life without the weapon even being discharged. Perhaps they may even shoot their attacker dead right then and there, and may God bless America as one lousy good for nothing street criminal is exterminated.

Maybe, though, things won't go quite as smoothly as they do on TV and in the movies. Maybe the victim will draw the weapon and aim it, at which point their attacker does the same (this is America lets not forget). Now all of a sudden we have escalated a mugging into a possible gunfight. The atmosphere is charged with adrenaline and no one, least of all our victim, is thinking straight. All of a sudden we've got a deadly situation where these two people could start exchanging fire, there may well be innocent people nearby who could all get caught in the crossfire, the situation could become extremely ugly in a heartbeat.

A more likely outcome will be that the person will simply become a victim of crime before they have had time to compose themselves into a state where they can quickly formulate a response to the attack. The robber will flee with whatever it is he stole and another statistic is chalked up. If the armed victim was a woman, the chances are that she was carrying her gun in her bag, so there is a high likelihood that the gun has been stolen. So now, unwittingly, that woman has just supplied yet another deadly weapon to the criminal world. A weapon that will be used to threaten and possibly kill people.

The truth is that guns are developed as deadly weapons. They kill, they're meant to kill, and when someone is dead no amount of regret can bring them back.