Saturday, April 27

Gun Control, British-Style

If you think that gun control is too strict in America, consider the plight of the following poor Daily Telegraph reader whose letter to the editor appears in today's edition:

SIR - Thank you for your attack on the gun laws. What is not commonly realised is the range of these laws.

I own a one-inch Very Light signalling pistol used by my father, Capt F. W. Vaughan, in an action in the First World War in which he won the Military Cross. It has one chamber and fires a single Very Light flare. It has been in my family for more than 80 years.

I am now told that I cannot renew its licence as I have "no good reason" to retain it, and must dispose of it by the end of May.

My obvious reasons for wishing to keep this memento of a brave man are dismissed as merely "sentimental", an attitude that appears to me to insult the memory of everyone who fought and often died in that distant conflict.

Police sources inform me that one-inch flares are no longer obtainable. To effect any sort of discharge from the pistol one would have to obtain black powder, which one could not get without applying for a separate licence.

To classify such a relic with revolvers is nonsensical, and illustrates the pervasive extension of laws that are themselves unsound.

Meanwhile, I understand from common report that Britain is awash with illegal ammunition and highly effective handguns.

Yet more evidence of the value of a healthy, written constitution that constrains overzealous government regulators.

Related aside on the issue of gun control: I am, at best, a fainthearted libertarian (the subtitle of this narcisite was originally "where Burkean conservatism meets fainthearted libertarianism"). Being raised in a society where all handguns were illegal and virtually unknown, I find it difficult to get worked up about the criminalization of handgun possession. Nor have I read enough to take a firm position on the "individual right" vs. "collective right" debate over the 2nd Amendment, although the balance seems to be tipping in favor of the former since Tribe's unexpected endorsement of it. I am, however, naturally wary of any attempt to restrict arbitrarily the freedom of property ownership and I am not convinced that there is a significant enough correlation between legal gun ownership and murder rates to justify sweeping restrictions on gun ownership. National and local cultures are too different to establish a link between homicide rates and either gun ownership rates or the existence of gun control laws solely by comparing those statistics, divorced from the larger cultural context, between different societies . Absent a convincing causal connection, if law abiding citizens want to own guns for display purposes, for target shooting, for hunting or even for self defense, I do not have a serious problem with that. On the other hand, I have no problem whatsoever with prohibiting gun ownership by anyone with a felony conviction or any conviction related to assault--in fact I strongly support such measures. I also support even stricter penalties for violations of existing gun laws and would encourage prosecutors to seek the maximum sentence available for anyone whose negligent use or storage of a gun results in an accidental injury or death or who illegally possesses a gun. Beyond that, I am open to reasonable suggestions for improving gun safety but am not prepared to go to anything like the lengths advocated by most gun control advocates.

UPDATE: If my rather vague and imprecise discussion of this topic does not satisfy those of you who crave hard data, precise legal analysis and take-no-prisoners commentary, I suggest that you surf over to the list of "liberal, moderate, and conservative" gun policy experts and 2nd Amendment scholars "whose research has led them to be skeptical of gun control" that UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh has compiled at Those are the people you want, not me.

P.S. As the last three exams of my law school career (and possibly my nine-year academic career) loom larger with each passing day, my posts for the next two weeks will be a bit thinner than usual. I will, however, try to add at least one new post (some may be quite short) each day for the benefit of loyal readers.