Thursday, January 22, 2015

The British Perspective on Guns / and Why

I have a good friend, a British chap (formerly British), who, interestingly, was in law enforcement in the United Kingdom.  He has recently become a US citizen; and we’re lucky to have him – a very nice guy.  His name is John; and we’ve had many discussions over the years about law enforcement, crime and the psychology of perpetrators.

John and I have a mutual interest in guns; their functionality as well as their craftsmanship.  John has quite a few opinions on that subject.  And, as a result, he and I have occasionally discussed gun history and gun philosophy as it pertains to the British.  The following is what I recently received from him.  I’m going to relate his comments in two or three posts, because they are rather lengthy.  I hope you will find the comments as interesting as I did.

John:         “To viewers who watch British Police shows on PBS, such as New Tricks, Midsomer Murders, DCI Banks, the most noticeable difference between the UK officers and their US counterparts is the absence of firearms.  It was not always so.
In the Sherlock Holmes movies and TV series, the great detective, essentially a de facto officer who solved cases where Scotland Yard had blundered, would instruct his sidekick, Dr. Watson, to bring along his trusty Webley service revolver as the pair sallied forth to combat the forces of evil.

The London Metropolitan police was first established in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, a Baronet who served terms as Prime Minister.  He had previously, as Chief Secretary in Dublin, established the Royal Irish Constabulary, in 1814.  His philosophy dictated that the police operated solely by the consent of the civilian population and would not be seen as an armed force of the State. Their uniforms were designed to be distinctly different from that of the red-coated soldiers of the day.  Their only weapon was a wooden truncheon. They became known to the public, somewhat affectionally, as 'Bobbies' after their founder.  In Ireland, they were known somewhat less affectionally as 'Peelers.'  By 1857 all UK cities were required to form their own police forces.  Although Sir Robert is lauded for the establishment of the UK modern police force, not everyone was a fan.  Queen Victoria described him as a 'cold, unfeeling disagreeable man.'  In particular, he did not endear himself to Her Majesty when, as Prime Minister, he opposed the awarding of a yearly sum of 50,000 pounds to her husband, Prince Albert.  Sir Robert died at the age of 62 following a fall from his horse.

Civilian possession of handguns in Britain, with the appropriate certificate, was lawful up until the Dunblane school shooting in Scotland in 1996 when an ex-scout master took two Browning 9mm pistols and two Smith & Wesson 357 revolvers into a school and killed 16 children and a teacher before killing himself.  His fire arms possession were under the category of a collector. Within a matter of days, close to half a million people in Scotland alone signed a petition calling for the total ban on civilian possession of handguns.  An official enquiry by Lord Cullen under the Conservative government of the day recommended tighter restrictions on handgun possession but considered a complete ban 'inappropriate.'  Shooting clubs would be exempt and civilian possession of 22 calibre single shot handguns would be allowed.  However, when the Blair Labour party came to power shortly after they instituted a total ban on all handgun possession.  This did not provoke the outcry that even such an attempt would have done so in the US.  Possession of firearms is not considered a right, but a privilege which the State will strictly regulate. The shooting community is a minority with little to no political clout.  Hunting has been mainly limited to the land-owning gentry.  There are not the wide-open vast public lands that exist in the US and Canada. As an aside, long barreled weapons can be obtained by police certificate and come threaded for a suppressor.

The handgun ban does not apply to Northern Ireland where the long years of sectarian strife present their own unique threats. A resident of that province can legally possess a handgun for personal protection - if the police approve, on a case-by-case basis.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary, renamed with the more pc title of the Northern Ireland Police Service, is the one UK force responsible for policing cities and towns which is permanently armed.  Two others, which are armed but with limited jurisdiction are the Ministry of Defence police (MOD) and the Civilian Nuclear Constabulary.  They have law enforcement powers at nuclear plant sites and within 5 kilometres of those sites.  The MOD serve as an armed security and investigative service for MOD property and personnel.  They are also assigned to overseas territories for certain policing duties.  One somewhat odd example being in 2003/2004, an investigation into communal sex abuse of children on the remote Pitcairn Island where Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers of The Bounty, as depicted in three Hollywood movies, eventually ended up on in 1789.  Both the MOD and the Nuclear force can be assigned to assist regular forces upon a request from the Chief Constables of those forces.

In a shooting rampage in Cumbria, the Lake District, in 2010, the nearby Sellafield Nuclear site was closed and the on-site officers called in to assist the local force in tracking down the shooter.  The first responding Cumbria officers were unarmed as no armed force response group was immediately available. The shooter, armed with a double barreled shotgun and a CZ bolt action 22 rifle, killed 12 people   He had firearms certificates for both weapons.  Following the shootings, renewed calls were made for further restrictions on firearm possession, but Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain already had some of the most stringent requirements in the world and further restrictions would not be adopted.”

To be continued…

True Nelson
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