Destruction of the Magazine at Delhi During the Indian Mutiny 1857-58

Gun control — restrictions on gun ownership — was not a common or popular phenomena in Europe until after the First World War. One of the most influential gun control laws was instituted in England and Wales in 1920. It has been the basis for a great deal of restrictions on the private ownership of firearms around the world, both in the Commonwealth countries and in Europe. These restrictions were not designed to protect the public from criminals. Rather, they were designed to protect the ruling class from revolution . . .

Colin Greenwood and Joyce Lee Malcolm are the two foremost scholars on the history of firearms controls in England and Wales. From A Study of Armed Crime and Firearms Control in England and Wales by Colin Greenwood, page 246:

How, then, should policy on firearms controls be affected by the facts produced?  The system of registering all firearms to which Section I applies as well as licensing the individual takes up a large part of the police time involved and causes a great deal of trouble and inconvenience.

The voluminous records so produced appear to serve no useful purpose.  In none of the cases examined in this study was the existence of these records of any assistance in detecting a crime and no one questioned during the course of the study could establish the value of the system of registering weapons.

It was not until much later that Greenwood discovered the purpose of the English firearms registration laws. They were passed to facilitate firearms confiscation in the event of civil unrest or revolution. From Colin Greenwood [The term “Constitutionalists” below means British Constitutionalists]:

Constitutionalists might argue about whether in Britain, Statute law can over-ride the basic principles of the Common Law, but in 1920 the Government of Britain was in fear of revolution and documents such as the. Cabinet Diaries reveal debates about the number of aircraft available for use against insurgents within the British Isles. In that climate, the registration of firearms (other than shotguns) was imposed for the purpose of “ensuring that all arms are available for redistribution to friends of the government”.

Extensive research by Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm buttresses what Colin Greenwood found.    From Guns and Violence, the English Experience, page 162:

Second, the Firearms Act of 1920, which took away the traditional right of individuals to be armed, was not passed to reduce or prevent armed crime or gun accidents.  It was passed because the government was afraid of rebellion and keen to control access to guns.

The British government did not have to invent new law. It already had an example that it had been using for 40 years, in India, as a prophylactic against revolt there.

The British Crown took over the governing of India from the East India Company after the mutiny or revolt that occurred in 1857-58. Immediate restrictions on the ownership of arms were put into effect. Restrictions on the ownership and use of Arms were codified into law in 1877.  From statutoryy-law.knoji.com:

 Before 1857 there was no gun control law in India. Any Indian could own any weapon of any caliber. After the mutiny things changed as the British decided that the time had come to restrict Indians from owning weapons and hence the first seeds of arms control were sowed.

The 1877 law has a several similarities to the Firearms Act of 1920.

1. The ownership of pistols and rifles were immediately reduced to a privilege, which could only be obtained by asking the government for permission. [ED: The 1877 law included all arms. Perhaps the difference is due to the large number of sporting shotguns owned by the British aristocracy.]

2. A reason had to be given for owning the arms.

3. The license could be denied at the discretion of the authorities.

In practise very few Indians were able to obtain licenses to own and use firearms, while nearly all Europeans were able to obtain them easily. I have a picture of famous geologist, a relative on my childrens’ maternal side, with a rifle in an Indian jungle, while he was employed there in the 1920’s.

The Indian arms act of 1877 was successful in controlling proliferation of guns in India and hardly .5% of Indians were issued gun licenses. In a way unbridled owning of guns as protected by the 2nd amendment in the USA never happened. The British were thus successful in keeping the local Indian population unarmed.

It has taken a hundred years of incremental tightening of the bureaucratic and legislative screws in England and Wales to reduce the number of people with permits to 783, 000, of which 582,000 are shotgun licenses. That is about 1.3 percent of the population.

The percentage of English and Welsh who owned firearms in 1920 was small compared to the United States. The vast majority of people did not hunt, and the crime rate at the time the 1920 law passed was incredibly low; far, far lower than it is today.

In contrast, in India in 1857, at least in some cities, most men went about armed. “Everyone,” observed Frayer, “in Lucknow in those days (pre-annexation) went about armed.”

In spite of the differences between the implementation of the acts in India versus England and Wales, the purpose was the same. Protect the rulers from revolt. It appears that gun control in England and Wales was a cultural implant from colonial India.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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30 Responses to English Gun Law: a Colonial Import

  1. The Russian revolution and the death of the Russian royal family scared the crap out of upper class England.

    • In September it will be 98 years since the United States invaded Russia at the port city of Archangel in support of the White Russian faction in opposition to the Reds.

      The Russian revolution and the of the entire Russian royal family was the major part of their fear. The Communist Party had been formed in the US and Britain around the end of WW1. The overreaction of the British upper class and their knee jerk reaction was inevitable. Yes they wanted to avoid the fate of the Russian royal family, but they also wanted to maintain control and mastery over the unwashed masses.

    • Think closer to home – the Emerald Isle to be exact. They’d just had the 1916 Easter Rising and were in the midst of the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921). They wanted to head off any similar happenings in England. At the time of course, the Irish rebels had strong Socialist learnings and hadn’t yet split along religious lines, so the British were a bit worried about who else they might encourage.

  2. The British having lost control of the new world colonies, in part due to weapons, did not wish to see that experiment recreated.

    *In true British fashion, the Piers Morgan types will never cease to exist………

    • It is too bad that a more history knowledgeable person isn’t about to question Morgan on the racist gun control history of his own country. That would be quite a TV show with sparks flying.

  3. It has always been about control. Those in power want to remain in power and will do whatever is necessary to suppress any potential uprising.

  4. I imagine we have all heard from gun-grabbers who say that their armed military removes any need for the populous to be armed. Do you care to know the simple truth about that matter? Suppose a foreign country wants to conquer England. What stops that foreign military from sending about 500 men to every military base in England (at the same time) … and simply marching right in and taking control of all the firearms in their armories, ordnance in their storage bunkers, and fighter jets?

    Since that foreign country has a LOT of resources, they would have had no trouble smuggling a few cases of rifles to some secluded beach where their men, in England as tourists, could retrieve the rifles without the U.K. military having any idea. And I assure you, 500 men with rifles storming a military base with the element of surprise WILL take the base. Once their men take all the bases, that foreign country can then fly in traditional bombers with impunity.

    The only factor in my above scenario that I did not cover was assistance from allies. While it would be pretty easy for a foreign country to immediately take over all military bases in England, it would be much more difficult to do the same to every military base in every NATO country. Which means, once again, England would only survive because SOMEONE ELSE WOULD BAIL THEM OUT.

    • How many bases are in England? If it’s 4 or 5, then a couple thousand guys w/ rifles is a possibility. If it’s 10 or 15, now we are talking about serious logistics, and the number of foreign countries able to do that seriously diminish. Of those countries, which ones would England’s allies (not including the USA) really be able to fight off?

      • You wouldn’t need to take every base, just key points. Airfields and armor parks would be the main target. Secure a place to land your transports with reinforcements, commendere a platoon’s worth of armor and you’re off to a rip snorting start.

  5. The azz kicking we gave them in the 1770’s left quite the impression.
    It’s kind of sad. I belong to a sport shooting group on FB. I believe it originated in the UK. I’ve learned a lot from their postings and asking questions.

      • I belong to seval FB firearms groups with UK members. Their laws regarding what is allowed seem sort of strange. Since semi auto center fire rifles are outright banned, there are no “scary feature” or mag limit bans. There is brisk cottage industry converting AR pattern rifles to straight pull manual action. You have to take a second look to see that the AR15 with a thirty round mag, full tactical furniture and rails has a cut away notch in the receiver and a bolt handle sticking out of the bolt carrier group. Ruger builds manual action Mini 14s for the UK market. They’re basically identical to a stock Mini, but have a solid gas block with no gas port. Handguns get even stranger. Overall length is the determining factor and semi auto center fires are banned, so you see either ten or twelve inch barrels with a rod sticking out of the bottom of the grip pointing backwards with a counter weight on it on semiauto .22 handguns and center fire revolvers, or a revolver with an exceptionally long barrel. Again, Ruger made a .357 Magnum Redhawk with a 28″ barrel for the U.K. market at one time. Not sure if the still do. I believe .357 Magnum is the most powerful handgun round allowed, though I could be wrong about that. Also, suppressors are not only legal, but encouraged. In some places in the U.K. a suppressor is required.

  6. The technology directed towards the empire’s “holdings” will eventually be directed inward and used against the citizens on the empire.

  7. The “Irish Troubles” of the 1920’s were probably a factor in the hysteria of that time.

    The British used the word “Troubles” a lot for their 20th Century wars, it kept the insurance companies from bailing out due to “Acts of War Exclusions”.

    • The “Troubles” have a very special meaning for the Irish, with concerns for England.

      Come to think of it, if ‘2ASux’ is Irish, it sure would explain certain ‘aspects’ about his attitudes about small arms…

      *snicker*

  8. Anyone that thinks the U.S. Government thinking now, is any different then the British is ill informed. Same goal. Also doing it incrementally, dropping the hammer after events that they feel justify their agenda and actions. Britts have always been Subjects to the Crown. We were and shed that Tyranny to become Citizens. We the People will never again be Subjects to a foreign government or our own. History is a Lesson.

  9. Let the UK serve as the example of Christmas yet to Come. A fallen country hanging on in quiet desperation (Credit to Mr. Floyd). It’s subjects paying higher and higher taxes to maintain the ruling class and no longer thinking about the rights of the individual as they replace the car with a scooter.

  10. The Japanese and Germans were doing it before the British Aristocracy passed the Vagrancy Acts in the early 1800s, which were to keep plebs from carrying around the weapons they brought home from the Napoleonic Wars. It’s always been about minimizing the chance of armed insurrection.

  11. Most of the Laws in the Constitution were passed because of the Faults of the Colonial Masters and their greed, Sorta Like today where we have a perverted Justice system that does not prosecute Political Hacks, IRS, BLM. Clinton, Obama etc: My question? if it is such a good plan then why is it the crime rate not Lower, but we all know its not about crime, it is for the Political s of each party because they feel Safer with you disarmed so they can rig the ballot boxes and not have retaliation for their Greed and Stupidity! Think about it Each state has over 100,00 practicing firearms hunters Some more some less, still over 5 million armed men women etc: they surely do not want them to get together and boot their Lame asses out of Office, Lets Rejuvenate Tar And Feathering for Idiot Politicians, oh I’M sorry that is not PC!

  12. If you haven’t read this, please do:
    Les Adams’ – The Second Amendment Primer: A Citizen’s Guidebook to the History, Sources, and Authorities for the Constitutional Guarantee of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Available on Amazon and other book sellers.

    Joyce Lee Malcolm is often quoted in this book. Much of what is discussed here is explained in the first few chapters of his book.

  13. Thank you for the article. If affirms my decision to both own and carry, not just for myself, but also my ancestors who were denied that right by invaders who colonized and looted their country.

    My guess is that while I may have family members who owned prior to me, I have likely become the strongest 2A supporter and certainly the only one who carries (when family lives in IL and MD, it’s a pretty safe assumption). While I wear that as a point of pride, it makes me a little sad that I don’t have the firearms tradition that so many of you enjoy (and some gun control folks take for granted). I’ll never have the experience of inheriting Great-grandpa’s revolver or rifle, unless it’s my great-grandfather-in-law.

  14. On a slightly differently yet related note . . . If you are going to die from an animal attack, the numbers say it will be by snake and in India. Throw in the fact this magical subcontinent literally has lions, tigers, and bears (as well as a whole whole of things can and have killed people) and you have a populous that should be better armed. I am thinking Hindustan of 150 years ago was far worse.

    From about 2 years ago:

  15. OK, so it’s not actually that useful to follow in the footsteps of the class warriors and always equate the rulers of Britain with aristocracy.
    It’s the left of centre class warrior types who are as much to blame for the present situation along with an overwhelmingly urban based media (and society too it must be admitted) and a patient, incremental approach to gun banning coupled with divide and rule tactics.
    But all that said, then an irrational fear of revolution did kick off gun banning here.

    The “colonial” bit isn’t particularly relevant: in a large and fairly decentralised empire then parts of it are free to try different policies and the ones that work get picked up elsewhere.

  16. The entire purpose of law, is to prevent commoners from threatening the ruling class.

    And the entire purpose of public education, the press, the fourth estate, “participatory” government blah, blah, is to prevent the commoners from figuring this out.

  17. Good history lesson. Something which I already know. Not forgetting other countries for centuries that have used arms control against it’s peasents to prevent uprising, or revolt. Japan: The Great sword hunt—during “sharp” changes from the EDO period foward. Originally, peasants could carry daggers “tanto”. And any Merchant class, musicians, educator with at least an honorary aristocratic title could keep and carry a short sword the ” wakizashi.” Or if they had the Samurai warrior title, They could fully keep and bare arms–such as a brace of swords.*(re: Katana ,wakizashi , tanto.)* Of course that drastically changed as Japan headed toward post-modern 19th century imperialism. Also , you have the European Medieval Times. Such as Scotland…And various religious parts of the peasantry that were “Banned” from possessing weapons. *(re: The civil “unrest” between the Protestants and Catholics.)* Also, with the advancement of early firearms technology with invention of the Wheellock pistol. Where an assassination of a royal occurred. Early gun control was put into place by the monarchy to prevent future assassination ,or Revolt by the peasantry or rival aristocrats. So, yeah. Arms control equals People control…

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