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London Burning


by Blaine Smith, Associate Editor

Though the United States and Great Britain are comparable in many ways, the issue of gun rights has not only colored these countries’ shared history, but it has also sent our nations on two divergent paths, with telling results.

The story of America’s independence from Great Britain is the story of a people armed against tyranny and threats of violence. After witnessing the vital role firearms played in gaining and protecting freedom, America’s Founding Fathers codified the Right to Keep and Bear Arms into the Constitution, and today the Second Amendment stands as relevant as ever.

With increasing numbers of citizens able to arm themselves for protection both inside and outside of the home, and resultant violent crime rates that have steadily declined over the past two decades, the United States has found security in an armed citizenry.

But in Britain the past century has witnessed a steady erosion of the right to arms and self-defense, resulting in rampant crime, a vulnerable and frightened citizenry and, just this past summer chaos and anarchy in the streets.

With its populace disarmed, the nightmare for British subjects has been further protracted as the government—unwilling to offer any substantial protection for those who have been left defenseless—has actively prosecuted those who would attempt to fend for themselves.

Two nations with similar cultural roots; with legal philosophies rooted in the same principles of inherent common-law rights; that have shared common goals, enemies, fortunes and social movements. But remove the ability of the populace in one nation to protect itself—and the results have become downright treacherous.

Case in point: the five days and nights this past August when London burned.

England’s sustained war against self-defense brought it to this point. And while there are those who say such a thing could never happen in the United States—that it is silly to think the government wants to take away guns—consider that there are those here at home working daily to dismantle the freedoms upon which our nation was founded. Many of these same individuals are entrenched in positions of power in the Obama administration.

Should Obama retain the White House in next year’s elections, don’t be surprised when the cadre of gun-haters residing there takes the election results as a mandate to begin the dismantling of the Second Amendment.

At that point, the makeup of Congress will be of little consequence to them. By stacking the Supreme Court with like-minded justices, signing disarmament treaties alongside murderous dictators and leftist governments at the U.N., and even through presidential fiat that avoids constitutional checks and balances, the means for the Obama administration to suspend Second Amendment freedoms are myriad. The machinations to put them into play are already shifting into gear.

“Gun owners are the last line of defense against a future where a burning London is transplanted to a burning city near you,” Wayne LaPierre, nra executive vice president, warned Americans. “In England, there is no NRA to unite the people in an army powerful enough to take back the freedoms lost to some distorted vision of a politically correct, gun-free utopia that has resulted in rampant violence and anarchy in the streets.

“And in America,” LaPierre said, “only the NRA is powerful enough to unite all freedom lovers to go to the polls in 2012 to stop the forces that would destroy our traditions in an attempt to establish the same social policies that have brought England to its knees.”

If there are those who consider the riots in England the noble cries of disenfranchised youths yearning for freedom, consider this: In the first days of rioting, some Londoners were cautiously picking their way among burned out vehicles and looting mobs, attempting merely to make it home, and were accosted by bands of marauding punks and told to disrobe—their clothes, shoes and other personal items were stolen. Left naked and humiliated in the street, they were forced back into the chaos, scared and degraded.

This was no noble cry. Though at first the rioters claimed to take to the streets to protest the police shooting of an armed thug on the supposed “gun-free” streets of London, this did little to hide their true motivation: greed, pure
and simple.

Sadly, from Aug. 6 through 10, 2011, hoodlums in London were allowed to rampage without check, resulting in five dead and more than £200 million in property damage.

In England today, the idea of protecting oneself or one’s property is something that the government is quick to stamp out. And criminals there have taken full advantage.

From the turn of the 20th century to today, the marginalization of law-abiding citizens’ right to protect themselves and their property—a bedrock principle of English common law, mind you—reveals a harrowing trek from a once-proud nation to a society forced to cower in fear of both criminals and the government.

“Whatever became of the Englishman’s castle?” Joyce Lee Malcolm, author of “Guns and Violence—The English Experience,” wrote in the London Times when explaining the devolution of the right of self-defense in England.  “He did not lose the right and means to protect himself at once. It was teased away over the course of some 80 years by governments claiming to be fighting crime, but actually fearful of revolution and disorder.”

“The practical removal of the right to self-defense began with Britain’s 1920 Firearms Act. … Anyone wanting to keep a firearm had to get a certificate from his local police chief certifying that he was a suitable person to have a weapon and had a good reason to have it. The definition of ‘good reason,’ left to the police, was gradually narrowed. Then, in 1969, the Home Office decided, ‘It should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person.’ …

“The 1953 Crime Prevention Act made it illegal to carry in a public place any article ‘made, adapted or intended’ for an offensive purpose ‘without lawful authority or reasonable excuse,’” Malcolm said. “Any item carried for defense was, by definition, an ‘offensive’ weapon.

“At the same time as government demanded the sole responsibility for protecting individuals, it adopted a more lenient approach toward offenders. Sentences were sharply reduced, few offenders served more than a third or a half of their term, and fewer offenders were incarcerated,” she said.

As Chris w. Cox, NRA-ILA executive director, explained, the disarmament of English citizens followed the expected paths, and rendered the expected results.

“First came mandatory gun licensing. Next came a wave of restrictions on firearm ownership. Then came the outright gun ban,” he said. “It has been illegal to own a handgun in Britain for nearly 15 years. As a result, Britain’s violent crime rate has soared.”

Of course crime soared, as the banning of guns delivered a clear message to criminals that society had already surrendered. But while government was waving the white flag, the citizenry would be asked to pay the price of this surrender—a loss of pride, liberty, security, possessions and even lives.

But the gun ban wasn’t an end, it was simply another mark on the roster of freedoms the British government continues to deny the peaceable in not only placating the criminal class, but in seemingly giving them the upper hand.  Criminals in England truly have no better friend than the English government.

At the outset of the August riots, London police commissioners had to actually mull using plastic bullets and water hoses in an attempt to quell the rioting, fearful of the repercussions should rioters be injured.

While London burned—as the shops, homes and automobiles of the law-abiding were torched, their property taken, their lives threatened, several killed—the government’s priority lay with the looters.

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