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In a previous post, I linked Mexican gun control to the country’s descent into lawlessness. More than a few members of TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia considered my post both simplistic and misleading. Correlation does not equal causation. Gun control is merely one factor amongst many in Mexico’s misery. It is not the factor. I disagree. But I admit that my post failed to make that argument. In fact, it didn’t make any argument. It was the equivalent of that hamster-based car ad: you can deal with this, or you can deal with that. I need to explain how you get from this (the right to keep and bear arms) to that (the collapse of democracy and the loss of liberty). For that, let’s turn to another westernized country where I have more direct experience: the U.K . . .

I lived in England for 18 years. I was in country when the UK effectively and definitively turned its back on its long history of gun rights (dating back to 1181) and banned firearms for personal protection (1988). But I was into cars, not guns. I wasn’t a gun rights activist or an avid shooter. I was a resident alien going about my business. I hardly noticed British subjects’ loss of gun rights, never mind attributing the subsequent rise of socialism and Big Brother to its effects.

In retrospect, I believe that the British government’s removal of gun rights from the electorate was a crucial turning point in their loss of liberty.

Before I argue about the primacy of the freedom-reducing chicken vs. the gun control egg, I want to be very clear: the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the Magna Carta, has seen a steady and dramatic erosion in personal liberty. The right to remain silent is no longer absolute. Political correctness trumps freedom of speech (click here for the latest egregious example). England is now the most surveilled nation on planet earth.

Ten years after handguns were banned, the Blair government created the Anti-Social Behavior Order (ASBO). If you were listening, you could hear liberty’s death rattle. As TTAG’s Chris Dumm writes . . .

With an ASBO, a court can literally make you be quiet on Sunday, say ‘good morning’ to your neighbors, and fine or jail you for cursing or drinking, ‘Contra Mundus’ writs threaten Britons with fines or jail time for uttering or writing the (admitted but embarrassing) truth about wealthy douche-nozzles like footballers, MPs and Russian oil tycoons, but the orders are petitioned for secretly and never published when granted, and you can be punished for violating them even though their very existence is an official secret. Finally, breathtakingly broad prohibitions on ‘hate speech’ go far beyond discouraging the N-bomb or the word ‘queer’.

The average Brit’s argument against worrying about Big Brother is “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Translated into American, “What me worry?” As Edna says in The Incredibles, and yet, here we are. A nation that fought fascism in two World Wars has surrendered its individual rights to demagogues and quangos.

Setting aside the question of why, the how is simple enough: passivity. It’s an insidious disease to which the North Sea islanders are hardly immune. As the Brits are wont to say, “mustn’t grumble.” Gradually, eventually, inexorably, personal passivity leads to complete helplessness. That’s doubly true when it comes to self-defense—and I don’t mean passivity towards the person who wants to do you harm. I’m speaking of passivity towards your “protector.”

Once you surrender your God-given right to self-protection to an outside force, you become dependent on that force for your protection for your life. And the lives of the people you love. Yes, of course: that’s the social compact. We pay taxes, the police protect us. Only the cost isn’t only measured in money.

The only real leverage in any negotiation? The power to walk away. If the government removes your ability to protect yourself, you can no longer “negotiate” terms for the public provision of your protection. You have to take what you’re given. If the police remove your right to silence, or fail to respond to a rape in a timely fashion, or shoot a loved one like a dog during a no-knock raid, what are YOU going to do about it?

It’s certainly true that very few Brits kept or carried firearms for self-defense before the Pistol Act of 1903, when they were able to arm themselves with relative impunity. In truth, it doesn’t take a great many armed individuals to keep the government’s power in check—in the same way that it doesn’t take many armed homeowners to make burglars think twice. Armed citizens have an influence far greater than their numbers suggest.

Part of that is, of course, cultural. An armed British citizen (technically, they’re still “subjects”) represents a relationship between government and governed as much as he or she embodies it. The expression “A British man’s home is his castle” pre-dates 1903, and it had more than a little something to do with the limits of government power. More to the point, it encapsulates the idea that a British man had the right to defend his castle. Through force of arms. Against ALL would-be intruders.

The mere existence of armed homeowners helped create a social dynamic that kept British government power in check. Our founding fathers “got it.” They understood that the British government, any government, only rules by consent if those who consent do so from a position of strength. Sooner or later, disarmament leads to disenfranchisement. Oppression. Tyranny. Hence the Second Amendment.

Like King Henry II, the framers of the U.S. Constitution didn’t expect every single citizen to keep or carry a firearm. That wasn’t the point. They enshrined the right to armed self-defense so that all American citizens could keep and bear arms. If they needed to. To protect themselves when the government failed to do so. Or, indeed, when the government itself threatened their liberty.

In England, now, they can’t. And the government “knows it.” Well, they know they can get away with just about anything in the name of public safety. No, I don’t think the UK’s gun ban was part of a dark conspiracy to steal power from the people; the road to hell, good intentions pavement, and all that. But gun control was the turning point in the balance of power between the UK government and its inhabitants. Gun control opened the door to all manner of government intrusions and police state restrictions. A “tree preservation order” for goodness sake.

You may not wish to connect these dots. You may also argue that, once again, I’m mistaking cause and effect; which may be inseparable. But I was there, watching the nation that practically invented individual liberty continue its hideous transformation into a nation of wimps and whiners, pitiful supplicants before the all-powerful Nanny State. I heard them bitch and moan as violent crime soared, pleading with their government to save them from an epidemic that the gun ban was designed to prevent and control.

It’s the same de-evolution that started in Mexico in the 70’s, when the Mexican government closed down all independent gun stores to forestall armed insurrection, and placed civilian firearms sales under the military’s control. If you don’t think the same slide into lawless/government oppression could happen here, you are both ignorant of our own history—especially African American history—and sadly mistaken. If we lose our unabridged right to keep and bear arms, we will lose our freedom. And that of our children.

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  1. correct. unfortunately passivity is required in all social interactions now. my kids can’t play dodge ball at school. the state of new york banned freeze tag and lots of other games from state liscensed summer camps this year.

  2. The human right to self-defense preceded all other human rights and without it, all the other rights are meaningless. If the right of self-defense is taken away by the state, then it can only be because the state considers the would-be defender’s life to be unworthy of defense. I would not choose live in such a society. Why would anyone?

  3. The last dead tree motoring mag I read is a British motorcycle periodical. It is nicely written and far better than any American magazine, but the consistentlt bemusing part of most editions is the segment on security. Specifically all the ways to secure your bike in YOUR garage. I believe that the level of “hot” burglaries in England runs almost 45%, ours is around 7%, but if the government has been nice enough to disarm the lawful, what criminal won’t take up the offer? England is the country that proves that old bumper sticker is correct.

  4. Quango-An organization or agency that is financed by a government but that acts independently of it.

    I learn something new almost every time I visit here.


  5. An extraordinary essay you’ve given us here Robert. I understand and completely agree with the ideas you’ve presented but I’m clueless why none of my close friends and family “get it”; Why they fail to see that thin wall of personal responsibility and vigilance which is all that separates us from tyranny and government oppression.

    It can’t be more clear. And yet they do little more than nod and smile when I try to explain how fragile our hold on liberty and freedom really is.

    • Yeah, it is puzzling that anyone would put a greater value upon security than upon liberty. It’s tempting to wonder whether tyranny is not the natural state of human existence–whether people naturally call for structure even where that structure imprisons them.

      Since this is a forum for gun issues, it seems appropriate to ask whether people who embrace an armed society embrace liberty, and those who do not do not. How can those who would oppose the idea of keeping and bearing arms square that view with any kind of expectation of liberty. Or have they indeed long abandoned such an expectation.

      Guns may well be the litmus test for liberty. I’d like to hear a convincing argument that they are not.

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