I’m having a bit of a quandry at the moment. I’ve just read that the US Supreme Court have struck down a ban on handguns in Washington D.C. as unconsititutional (See BBC News article here and Washington Post article here) and i’m not entirely sure what to think. On the one hand, the Englishman in me remembers the terrible shootings in Hungerford and Dunblane and the ban on handguns brought in by the new Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997. On the other hand I know that although Britain is now known as a country with strict gun controls these laws have existed for less than 100 years. Both the US Constitutional right and the British constitutional law (we don’t need a constitution as I previously discussed here) come from the same legislation, the 1689 Bill of Rights brought into law by William of Orange (See BBC News article on Britain’s changing gun laws here). As stated in the Bill of Rights:
Whereas the late King James the Second, by the assistance of divers evil counsellors, judges and ministers employed by him, did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom;
By causing several good subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when papists were both armed and employed contrary to law;
William of Orange revoked King James old law and enacted a law:
That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;
So I have a quandry, I think that guns are dangerous in the wrong hands. I know that if all guns could be effectively banned and destroyed the opportunistic gun crimes, and firearm incidents, would be greatly reduced but I am not unrealistic and I appreciate that criminals will always be able to get guns if they really want to. Where is the balance? I feel Britain has become legally bogged down under some of the current legislation, and the current spate of gun crimes using either reworked imitation firearms or fully automatic submachine guns shows that the existing legislation isn’t working. Guns are still getting through and the only people who find it hard to own them are the people who were probably safe to own them in the first place! On the other hand, I live in northern Virginia where handgun purchases have become tougher since the Virginia Tech Massacre but these new restrictions do not really prevent anyone from owning a gun.
In my neighbourhood I know most of my neighbours have at least one gun. That said most of my neighbours wear a variety of uniforms (or specific lack thereof) and I feel much safer knowing that they do have these weapons since they know how to use them, and how to keep them safely. I’ve never seen a gun in our neighbourhood even though I know they are there. That said, I’ve discovered live ammunition in the carpark of my previous employer and still cannot get used to seeing every police officer and most security guards in stores carrying handguns. Would banning these weapons make any difference? Will the change of the law in D.C. make any difference to the recent spate of murders and gun crimes? I don’t know the answer, but it keeps me thinking and as this Gallup Poll shows, I don’t think the law will change anytime soon…