Foreign Affairs

Disarmed Britons Helpless Against Rioters

A leading Second Amendment scholar was interviewed about the loss of gun rights in the United Kingdom and the early August riots there by “Guns & Patriots” on Aug. 13, four days after returning from Great Britain.
 
“The Labor Party immediately jumped on the riots and blamed them on the austerity budget cuts of the Conservative Party,” said Prof. Joyce Lee Malcolm, who teaches courses on common law and the Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment, at George Mason University Law School in Fairfax, Va.  “But, they pulled that back because it became quickly obvious that it was sheer hooliganism.”
 
Malcolm, who is the author of several books, including To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right and Guns and Violence: The English Experience, said she and her husband were having a holiday in Scotland, so while they were not in the English cities experiencing mayhem, she was able to follow the events in the British media in real time.
 
“While I was there, the riots spread from London to Manchester and Birmingham, so there was a lot of copycat criminality going on,” Malcolm said.  “People were shocked.”
 
Lenient on Criminals
 
But, they should not have been shocked, she said.  For the last 90 years, British society has lost its ability to defend itself or to allow its subjects to defend themselves.
 
“I will say one of the reasons for the incredible rate of violence there is that they treat criminals very leniently, they don’t like to incarcerate them,” Malcolm said.  “It is very expensive and they believe prisons ought to rehabilitate them and get these people back on the street in short order.”
 
An image of the mayhem that stays with her is the police in riot gear standing in front of a mob, while the press praised the police for bravely remaining there, taking the rocks and bottles hurled at them,  said.
 
When the Home Secretary returned from holiday, she at first refused to allow the police to use water cannons on the crowds, Malcolm said.  “She did not even allow for a curfew.”
 
Malcolm said, “There was a man who tried to talk to the thugs, and he was just beaten up by them.  As he was being beaten, there was a police officer standing there, who did not intervene because he was waiting for backup.”
 
The man was taken to the hospital and he could not be identified because he was so severely battered and because the thugs stole his wallet, she said.
 
“If that had happened in America, that policeman would have had a gun to stop the horrors from taking place in front of him,” she said.
 
The premise of an increasingly limited right to bear arms in Britain is the idea that professional law enforcement will handle the situation, not the citizen, Malcolm said.  This idea is the reason subjects under attack are to call out for passersby to call the police—not call out for help.
 
Similarly, passersby are expected to pass by, and not help, she said.  This is a full 180-degree switch from the common law obligation to come to the aid of another called “misprision of felony.”
 
There are outrageous cases such as the American woman who was arrested for defending herself with a pen knife, she said.
 
One man, after seven burglaries to his house, shot two intruders.  He killed one and wounded the other, she said.  When the police arrived, they arrested him and he was convicted of a gun crime.  When the wounded thief got out of jail, he successfully sued the man for damages.
 
“They are very strict about law-abiding people not having guns,” she said.
 
The first major step in British gun-control came in 1920, when a government concerned about the millions of battle-stressed combat veterans returning home, created a process that required the police to certify that the subject had a good reason to own a gun.
 
It was not until the 1960s that it was revealed that the British government had been secretly tightening the allowable reasons to local police until it finally eliminated self-defense as a valid reason, she said.
 
“You can’t have a handgun.  They banned them in 1998 and the people who had them had to turn them in,” she said.  “It was useless.  Within five years of the ban, handgun crime doubled.  You can have a long gun, but it has to be kept in a safe that is bolted to the floor or held at a gun club.”
 
In 2006, a law was passed that banned all realistic toy or replica guns.
 
“In my book Guns and Violence, I mentioned an instance when a homeowner held with a toy gun two burglars who had broken into his home,” she said.  “When the police arrived they arrested him first.  Then they charged him with terrorizing people with a gun—a toy gun.

Sign Up