England's Sword 2.0

Tuesday, June 10, 2003


At least, I think it's my third post with that title. Anyway, gun rights historian and blogger Clayton Cramer had a great analysis of the state of English law on the subject of armed self-defense in the home on an e-mail list, which he has graciously allowed me to post here:

Unfortunately, British law, at least from what I have read about how the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 was written and is interpreted by the courts, doesn't give any ... benefit to the resident. As the law has practically been used (and as has happened in the Martin case), the law establishes a level playing field between an intruder and his victim with respect to use of deadly force. You can use a gun against an intruder if he has a gun, and gives you reason to believe that he is going to use it against you.

I happen to think this is an extraordinarily stupid law. If everyone was equally strong, in equally good health, criminals didn't rely on unfair advantages (like a concealed handgun or knife), and didn't engage in unsporting behavior like multiple intruders (as was the case with Martin), this sort of Marquis of Queensberry rules approach might be mildly supportable in an academic "Wouldn't the world be wonderful if we could all get along?" sort of way. The problem is that Offences Against The Person Act was written when Britons, even criminals, seemed to operate on a more civilized level.

I think this is right, even if there's room for quibbling at the margins about what the law does and doesn't allow. Remember that British police have never been routinely armed with anything other than a truncheon. The reason for that must surely be that they expected villains to give up and come quietly, and presumably those expectations used to be met regularly. On a side note, I remember reading somewhere about how policemen giving chase to some particularly ruthless (for the time) armed criminals in Tottenham in the Edwardian era borrowed firearms from passers-by to defend themselves. Ah yes, the Edwardian era. Just like Dodge City, wasn't it?

Anyway, Clayton also has a useful survey of the reasons why firearms restrictions were imposed on Britons in the first place. It wasn't because of gunplay in the streets. The title of the piece might give you a clue -- Fear and Loathing in Whitehall: Bolshevism and the Firearms Act of 1920. I recommend it if you haven't looked at this subject before.