So the UK has some of the tightest firearms licensing regulation in the world, apparently surpassed only by Japan. Yet we still have a reasonable level of firearm related crime, predominantly using illegal weapons. With the unfortunate events of this week we’ve very quickly seen calls for increased control over the availability and storage of firearms and ammunition and indeed basing a decision on hearsay, rumour and opinion. I think that we need to be mature about our decisions, and avoid ill thought through knee jerk reactions based on an emotional appeal. We’ve already seen that following Dunblane and perhaps we should learn the lessons from that.
My position is that we should simplify and ease the regulation, accept that any system has a failure rate and our current once a decade level is actually pretty good. We can never legislate away all risks, and as a society we need to be mature enough to accept that unexpected things happen. We have a much bigger problem with illegal firearms and by reducing the governance burden on legal firearms we make policing resources available for other duties.
Many of the arguments conflate the availability of illegal weapons with controls on licensing, conveniently skipping over the point that illegal weapons are not licensed. Some are imports, some are stolen and some are conversions. Illegal weapons aren’t generally used for killing sprees, but used for armed robbery, drug and human trafficking related crime.
So what do we know so far, Bird owned legal weapons, it’s not currently in the public domain what his rationale for owning these was. We can speculate, but the key point is that he had licenses. There may have been reasons why the license shouldn’t have been granted, but that will only come out after a review of the case. What hasn’t come out thus far is whether Bird was a sport shottist, and given that absence it would appear that his likely justification would be agricultural working or pest control.
Some of the arguments question why a taxi driver would need a shotgun and a rifle, the conclusion to be drawn from this argument is that shooting sports, either target or fieldsports, either aren’t an acceptable pastime for a taxi driver, or shouldn’t be allowed at all. Most of the arguments are that shooting sports shouldn’t be allowed at all, on the basis that we have the exceptional incident such as this. It’s quite telling that there have only been three of these incidents in 23 years, making this a fairly weak position hence an appeal to emotion rather than analysis of the level of incidence or behavioural dynamics.
Calls for increased controls now impact on agricultural and pest control use as well as sporting use, so I would argue are more likely to lead to people trying to circumvent the rules more, rather than put up with the extra hassle. So the impact would be to criminalise legitimate users. Suggestions have been having the weapons in a controlled environment, such as a police station, to be drawn when needed, or keeping the ammunition in a controlled environment. Either of these increases the time taken to do anything, and would inevitably breed an audit culture where each time the weapon is drawn out a justification has to be presented to the officer behind the desk. A government that is seeking to reduce state interference in the lives of the individual doesn’t really have a clear argument for increasing the load.
There are arguments presented to remove firearms controls completely, while it’s an understandable purist libertarian position I’m unconvinced by the supporting arguments. Essentially it’s presented as if the individual on the shooting spree could be taken down by some random passer-by who happens to be carrying a weapon. The argument doesn’t hold water, maintaining a credible level of competence to take down a man-sized, moving target is hard work. To reliably take him down would involve getting within 10-20 yards, and that makes one a target. The risks around said passer-by becoming a casualty, or taking out another by-stander are quite high, and the chances of success quite low. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to achieve that level of competence on a routine basis. Other arguments are more pragmatic in nature; Charlotte Gore makes an interesting case,
I have a liberal objection to classing some sports as ”acceptable” and some ”unacceptable”, I will state, in the interests of complete transparency, that I used to be a competitive shottist. I shot target rifle and pistol as well as service rifle and pistol. I represented my Command, Plymouth, my Service, the Royal Navy, and the country. The main reason I stopped was lack of time to train, I had to be on the range at least three times per week, one of those being a ”fire and movement” session.
Some would, I’m sure, use this as a reason to discount my views.
We do not need an increased level of firearms licensing control, we do need to address the numbers of illegal weapons available and an ill thought through response to the events in Cumbria this week will not help in delivering that. We need to accept that some people will end up injured or killed, but we also need to compare that with the number of deaths for other reasons, both intentional and accidental. Life bears risks, without risks, we might as well not be here.