After a surprisingly difficult trip involving a cancelled flight after a two hour delay on the tarmac (followed by a great conversation with U.S. Airways that ended with me telling them, “Just give me my property and my money back, and I’ll drive there,”) and a spontaneous road trip punctuated by a tire blow-out caused by…well, no real reason I can discern…I managed to stagger in to the National Firearms Law Seminar this morning. So far, I’ve heard two very interesting lectures from George Mason Professor Joyce Lee Malcom and attorney and scholar Stephen Halbrook. The general outline of the story is probably familiar to those who have been around the block in the gun rights community, but there were a few salient points worth noting . . .
Professor Malcom spent some time talking about the legal history of firearms laws in the United Kingdom, and how it’s a cautionary tale. Interestingly, she described that in the 19th century, while the British police were disarmed, the public was unfettered in its ability to possess and carry firearms. Police, when pursuing criminals, would sometimes commandeer weapons from the citizenry when needed.
During World War I, H.M.’s Government acquired quite a bit of power over firearms that it was reluctant to let go of after the war (never let a crisis go to waste). Professor Malcom mentioned fears of Bolshevism in the post war era. I wonder if what we might term ‘imperial blowback‘ might also have been concentrating their minds).
Starting in 1920, the Brits passed a firearms control act which required registration. And registration required people to have a ‘good reason’ for possessing a firearm. The Home Office (which controls local police in the UK) started ratcheting back what qualified as a “good reason” (in a confidential memorandum, naturally). Living in a remote area was sometimes sufficient reason. Being a member of the government (naturally) was another.
She then detailed a bit that could easily have been written by RF for one of his “this is what happens to a disarmed populace” posts. In 1987, a massacre occured in the British town of Hungerford, perpetrated by a deranged man armed with an AK 47 variant, an M1 Carbine, and a Beretta 92FS pistol. Seventeen people were killed. Since both the citizenry and police were disarmed, the perpetrator was allowed to run wild for a number of hours (Prof. Malcom said eight; the Wikipedia entry suggests it was closer to five) before finally being cornered by (armed) police in a local technical college.
In the subsequent debate that resulted in more stringent gun control laws, the MP for Hungerford reportedly praised the police for their “rapid response” to the crime. You read that correctly.
Steven Halbrook gave a very interesting talk about some current and pending litigation, and the “massive resistance” that some lower courts are engaging in to resist the implications of the Heller and MacDonald cases. I hesitate to write about anything legal without reading the cases (that’s the lawyer in me talking,) but his discussion of firearms in common use for lawful purposes by law-abiding citizens (the test from Heller) made one point that really stuck out to me.
In the 1920s, there was a movement to ban handguns in the USA. One of the arguments proffered at the time by its advocates (remember, this is pre-National Firearms Act), was that handguns were not needed…because sawed-off shotguns would be a much more effective tool for self-defense than a handgun.
I suppose consistency isn’t something that we should expect from the anti-gunners, eh?