Submitted by Joel Hall, Firearms UK supporter.
In 2010 the BBC, on their current affairs show, Big Questions addressed the subject of gun control. Graham Showell, at that time a campaigner for more freedoms over firearm ownership and founder of campaign organisation Britain Needs Guns, spoke in defence of his position. Although the debate itself eventually broke down to an emotional argument due to Lucy Cope’s inability to discuss the subject objectively, there were several valid points raised on both sides (although questionable statistics were used by several from the gun control camp, which is another essay in itself). Perhaps the most telling moment was the audience reaction to Showell’s reply after being asked why farmers should have to keep their shotguns and firearms at home, and I would like to forever enshrine this as a “quotable quote”, as it is one of the most precise epithets I have heard during a televised debate:
Sadly, in this instance, Showell was laughed and jeered at, for reasons that were not entirely clear, although the presenter, Nicky Campbell, agreed that it was a good point. And how can it not be? Has British society become so complacent that the very idea of trusting other people is laughable? It certainly appears so, and the chief offender for this lack of trust appears to be the government of the United Kingdom itself.
In October 2014, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) announced that those owning firearms or shotguns would be subject to random police checks on themselves and their guns. There was no known event which led to this decision, as is usually the case. It was simply announced, as was the creation of a hotline for reporting ‘concerns’ about firearms owners. In the event it seemed the police were keen to learn if anyone owning a gun was suffering emotional upset at any time although, as has become common in the modern era, it was insisted that there might exist concerns over links with “terrorism”. Although ACPO soon reversed these decisions, the implication was clear – secretly inform authorities if you have concerns that something may be wrong with someone else. In short, do not simply trust someone.
Of course this is nothing new in the UK when it comes to guns. The 1997 amendments to the Firearms Act 1968, demonstrated an inherent lack of trust towards those owning pistols. In the wake of the Dunblane tragedy, government sought to create draconian rules on the security and storage of privately-held pistols. So much so, in fact that shooting clubs, gun smiths and shooters themselves informed MPs that they would prefer a blanket ban to the proposals which would have crippled pistol shooting in the UK. Prime Minister John Major oversaw the first amendments to the act prohibiting private ownership of “short firearms” except in exceptional circumstances. The exception was regarding those guns chambered for .22lr rimfire cartridges as used in international target competition. Later the same year, the new Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced the second amendment to the act, prohibiting the small calibre pistols as well.
The gun control lobby were ecstatic. The new legislation would prevent the crimes seen at Dunblane from ever happening again. Except that this wasn’t actually the case. Indeed gun crime and specifically crime with hand guns rose quickly in the years following the amendments. Of course, it can be argued that there was no way that criminal use of handguns would decrease over simple legislation as criminals, by definition, do not obey the law. However, there was a deeper meaning to the legislation itself, which may have been lost in translation by media: the government were telling people “you cannot be trusted”. In fact many pieces of legislation passed by the UK government strengthen this message, but this particular case had far-reaching consequences. It also told the public that they cannot trust one another. Indeed, since 1997, there is suspicion of those who have guns, and this suspicion has led to the general public, if not actually supporting actions such as ACPO’s proposals this year, then refusing to object to them, barring a minority, and failing to see why gun owners feel threatened. Indeed it was striking that during that episode of Big Questions; a peculiar set of questions presented themselves regarding Lucy Cope and those calling for more gun control.
Why the insistence on relying on the police and government for protection?
Why the insistence that all arms are held by the government or those working on its behalf?
Why the insistence that trust should be placed in government and police, a small minority of society, and not in the majority?
It seems as if there is a cultural phenomenon which is pervading society. That phenomenon is that despite widespread criticism of various government actions, from expenses scandals, to arguments surrounding immigration, cover ups of alleged child sex crimes, illegal wars in the middle east, the advent of “terrorism” in response to those wars, police mishaps with firearms and rising sexual offences and a high levels of violent crime, many people believe the government can be trusted with dangerous weapons used to inflict suffering, but members of society cannot for peaceful means or to protect themselves.
Add to this, that the police are becoming more heavily armed in the UK, with more firearms officers, police carrying incapacitant sprays and wearing body armour as “protective equipment”, stock-piling weapons and even armoured vehicles while the citizens of the country are not permitted by law to own any object for the purposes of protection of self-defence, and it is no wonder people may feel threatened. Increasingly, people without thinking are going along with the government’s plan and insisting people simply cannot be trusted. But why is it we trust our own government so much? After all, members of the government are simply people, and citizens of the country. Likewise the police and members of HM Armed Forces. Why is so much trust placed in the hands of these people, but denied to us not only by those in power, but by ourselves?
The latest “anti-terror” campaign is aimed at the citizens themselves. “Run, hide, tell”. This is of course a meaningless campaign, as many people would indeed do this if they came up against someone with a bomb or guns in public. But there is no mention of fighting, or standing up for ourselves. Another intriguing complication of this campaign is that the leaflets giving the advice to “run, hide, tell”, do not mention “terrorism” at all, but refer to “firearms and weapons attacks”. Indeed the conclusion that can be drawn from this publicised campaign is that the aim is to heighten collective public fear and mistrust of guns and those who own them, or for that matter anything which constitutes a weapon. The insistence by government that there is something to be scared of and we should be scared is paying off. The fear of the people is creating mistrust among ourselves, and leading to a state where government has the monopoly of force and power. In a so-called democracy! The saddest part of this is that we are willingly going along with it, and the majority are now so used to being part of a culture of this type, that we baulk at the idea of trusting people in case there may be a problem. The government simply tells us what to do, and we follow. This is dangerous. It leads to government becoming so strong that change is impossible, and tyranny can replace democracy without challenge. One could argue this is already happening in piecemeal fashion. As government becomes bigger, now to the extent of encompassing most of a continent under a single government, more and more freedom and power is taken from the people, and laws are becoming ever more restrictive, albeit in mostly subtle ways, while power in consolidated within the grasp of a few.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect is certainly the focus on “terrorism”. In November, there were announcements of tougher anti-terrorism laws, including police being able to force companies to name those using a phone or computer at any particular time, without a court giving its authority. This smacks of the same destruction of liberty seen when “terror” suspects can be put in prison without trial, or indeed evidence being made publicly available. The government it seems, is circumventing the courts to impose its own will on people by force. It is disturbing how little people seem to be worried by this turn of events. And if people believe that life will not become more restrictive they are sadly mistaken. Government has now become so full of its own self-importance that the Home Secretary has announced a plan to rush through parliament bans on UK-based insurance firms reimbursing companies and individuals who pay ransom demands. The supposed thinking behind this is that they will not pay up and so “fund terrorism” if they cannot claim the money back. Of course, where people’s lives are at stake this is not the cold-hearted way in which we work. Our government may not want to negotiate with terrorists, but normal people certainly will to prevent loss of life. And to which “terrorists” will this refer? ISIS? Somali pirates? Common kidnappers who will then be labelled as terrorists? Time will tell. As it will when police use their powers to demand to know who was using a phone at a particular time. How can we be sure it will only apply to genuine terror suspects and investigations? There is nothing preventing the police from using these powers for other types of crime. In fact the “anti-terror” laws themselves are relatively loose in how they can be interpreted. In addition to this, there is such a fear spread of “terrorism” that the government and police are almost unanswerable to anyone, even the judiciary.
But when the “terrorists” strike, it will not be the police or government or soldiers who are first on the scene. It will be the public. The same public we all mistrust and whom the government itself mistrusts. The public will be powerless to prevent any event that might occur, and in the waiting period there will be damage and death. And it could be assumed “lessons will be learned” to the point of further restrictions on liberty. This suggests a second look at the ACPO plans for check-ups on gun owners. What was the overall aim of making this attack on freedoms? Certainly there was no intelligence linking people owning firearms with “terrorist” activity. Perhaps it was to prevent further mass-shootings by people who succumb to mental illness or psychological distress? But then, police are not trained psychiatrists and cannot make such an evaluation based on a home visit or check of a gun cabinet. More likely is to continue to spread the fear and mistrust. Gun owners require check-ups by police? They must not be very trustworthy people. They are people to be wary or even afraid of. Would police announce they were having difficulty with people complying? After all, the police were not given more powers of entry. Perhaps if this was the case they would have? Would it have been a success with police identifying dangerous owners after these checks? This would also have seen the same message delivered, and no doubt led to yet more restrictive legislation or further powers for police to enter gun owners’ homes and seize items.
There are strong messages being sent here from government, both directly and via the media. In fact the media is the biggest tool the government can use in order to oppress people and spread fear. It is an important tool for sending a message. That message is that we cannot trust people, but we must trust the government, no matter how ill-thought-out its plans are or how drastic the mistakes made. Even when the evidence shows that the government are not worthy of the collective trust of the people, or when we know from personal experience or media reports that the government simply cannot protect us while it demands we do not attempt to adequately protect ourselves, that message is still being delivered with all the subtle refinements which are the hallmark of propaganda and control of the public perceptions.
Where is the voice of reason in all this? Where is the one saying ‘enough is enough’ and demanding change? Where is the message that the people are not babies under the care of the government that we do not have to be wary of each other? That we do not have to be afraid because the mistrusting government wants us to be? That it is not the government we must place all our trust in? And exactly what would that message be to the public that would highlight the folly of this whole perverse ethos we have had thrust upon us?
It is right there, behind the jeers, the laughter, the arrogance and the scorn. A quiet voice, admittedly, not one of pomposity or self-righteousness, nor aggressive or assuming. But it is there, and its message as simple as it is enlightened: