Friday, 4 June 2010

The Cumbria Spree Killings & How we are Governed

In Hungerford in 1987 Michael Ryan's murderous rampage through Hungerford left 16 people dead. The resulting legislation banned the Assault rifles of the type he used. In Dunblane, nine years later Thomas Hamilton's spree left 16 teachers and children dead. The resulting legislation banned all handguns, including, despicably, .22 calibre single shot target pistols, of a type which has resulted in NO UK murders ever, and effectively outlawed the sport of target pistol shooting in the UK. This was because of a populist campaign by the Labour party, who used the horror of Dunblane for base party political ends - there was no disagreement between the parties over strenghtening the gun laws, though the Conservatives wanted to avoid destroying an Olympic sport in the UK.

Wikipedia has a helpful list of mass murders, School shootings and spree killings. Countries with tight gun laws feature just as prominently as the U.S.. The most heavilly armed society in the world, Swizerland (where it is illegal to NOT hold an assault rifle and ammunition in your house), is notable by its absense. Illegally and legally held firearms are used for these killings worldwide. Legally held guns are often used in juristictions where it is possible to hold such weapons. Where it is illegal to hold such weapons, by definition, illegally held weapons are used. In the UK, crimes using handguns has rocketed since the complete ban on such weapons. Hamilton, Ryan and Bird all used legally held weapons, but the bodies lying on the streets of Manchester and London are a result of illegally held weapons and these take a far larger toll.

When advocates of ever-tighter gun control laws point to the USA, they are guilty of a cognitive bias called the availabiltiy heuristic: over emphasising readilly available information. Mass murder and spree killing are well-publicised in the USA or Europe, and the reporting covers every minute detail of the event and subsequent investigation. Each subsequent one in the USA reinforces the preconcieved notion that "the USA has crazy gun laws'. Similar events in Finland or Germany are mentally down-played. We will know exactly how many times Bird fired, where he reloaded, how he acquired his weapons, how long he had held them, what ammunition he used by the time this is consigned to the history books. Indeed it will be impossible to avoid such information: it will lead bullitins for the next month or more in the UK, so it will acquire a weight in peoples estimation of importance quite out of proportion to the frequency of such terrible events here. An equivalent shooting in China may be second or third in a news bulletin on the day it happens and be quickly forgotten, just as the unfortunate victims of drive by shootings in British inner cities, many of them simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, are quickly forgotten.

You cannot uninvent guns. In a free society, it is extremely difficult to prevent mad or bad people obtaining them. In this instance, the Heresiarch suggests in a very good blog post that a head injury recieved during an assault on Bird may be the ultimate cause of his "snapping", and that he was an otherwise decent chap. We will never know for sure though exactly why he did this terrible thing.

These events are random and cannot be predicted. They are certainly NOT influenced by the gun laws where they happen. However spree killings in places where concealed weapons are allowed to be carried do not last long. The downside, clearly, is that many more people are shot in accidents where guns are widespread (however pools are more dangerous than guns). Widespread ownership (legal and illegal) means more gun murders too. However even this is not an argument for making guns harder to obtain. All guns do is change the tool used to commit murder. In the UK, we cannot get guns, so in most areas scrotes shank each other instead - the UK has a relatively high rate of knife murders. In the USA these would have been gun murders. This results in the banning of pen knives and multi-tools. This is ridiculous too because anyone can walk into a kitchen shop, and buy a short sword. Are you going to ban Kitchen Knives?

Following Derrick Bird's killing spree across Cumbria and the Lake District left 16 dead, Government and the police has finally worked out that the Gun Laws cannot prevent such acts. People will get the tools nessesary to do their deeds and it is the people who kill, not the guns. Yesterday on the news, the police were not calling for "tougher" gun laws. Instead they talked of "Complex" gun laws that could be "streamlined", but recognised that various calibre hunting rifles (these often have "sniper scopes" as breathlessly described by the BBC) and shotguns are nessesary in rural and farming communities. Some people like to shoot their dinner. Even the Home secretary is saying that a "knee jerk" toughening of the gun laws of the UK is not on the cards, and that it is impossible to protect people from lone madmen.

This is evidence that the Governance of the UK has improved - we are no longer Governed by people whose first response is to think "what will the papers demand that we do?". We are being Governed by people who realise the limits of Government power.

Thankfully, Spree killings are vanishingly rare events and as such make a lousy basis for legislation. The Current British Government seems to acknowledge this fact. Anyone still think Cameron and Co. are just as bad as the last lot?

Elsewhere: The Law West of Ealing Broadway makes the same point. Charlotte Gore deals with Libertarianism and Guns. The Nameless Libertarian too believes such events cannot be predicted.


Mr Ecks said...

A VERY large point in their favour Jackart.

We still have to get past prob the biggest economic mess of modern times tho. I hope they can keep it up.

Simon Fawthrop said...

Good post.

Although a former soldier I'm not necessarily in favour of widespread licensing of hand guns, however I can't help wondering how many of those victims would have survived if a few people in the community had been carrying licensed hand guns.

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John L said...

For very good data on what happens in a country before and after imposition of very tight guns laws look at Jamaica. There is lots of widely available data about Jamaica (and more recently some of the US states that have done the same) which shows that restricting and/or banning guns does not correlate to lower gun crime but results in the exact opposite, generally because the law abiding cannot defend themselves and the criminals are given free reign knowing their victims are defenseless.

Nigel Sedgwick said...

There has been an awful lot in the press, examining the possible motives of this homicidal maniac. I'm not at all sure about how useful that is, given the rarity of such events.

More interesting, how come he was not stopped within 3.5 hours.

I am inclined to agree that unarmed police officers might find that discretion is the better part of valour.

But what about helicopters? What about road-blocks?

The combination of guns and cars cannot surely be one that has not been thought about.

Best regards

Anonymous said...

The problem is though, that WANTING a gun, legal or otherwise, when having no actual need for one, is a sign of being fucking weird.

Simon Jester said...

"The resulting legislation banned the Assault rifles of the type he used."

So... they don't teach the TA what an assault rifle is, these days? That's worrying.

(Hint: Ryan's rifles were semi-automatic only.)

"This is evidence that the Governance of the UK has improved"

Hmmm... even the Labour party would be hard-pushed to press for more gun-control than we've already got.

A better (unrelated) example of improving governance might be that the government have announced they intend to scrap IR35. (To be fair, Mandy opposed it when the Civil Service brought it to him; it took the egregious Dawn Primarsolo to bring it in.)

Malcolm Stevas said...

It is true that Cameron has gone the opposite way from Major, who in summer 1996 was so rash as to say that handguns would be banned - in advance of Parliamentary debate of what would be the 1997 Act...
But mildly cheered though I am by this, it's early days, and in this country it is impossible to exaggerate the power of ill-informed (and often vicious) propagandising by press & politicians, and the susceptibility of government to instant bans - no matter how oppressive, futile, illiberal, counter productive, non-evidential or just plain stupid such bans might be. I am even more reluctant than usual to listen to Saturday's "Any Questions" since it is dead certain that we will hear entirely predictable junk-arguments from the usual suspects saying there should be no guns at all. Such a ban would of course be wildly illiberal, and ensure that only two groups still had guns - the agents of the State, and criminals - but ban proponents don't give a damn about such frivolities as logic, evidence, and liberty.

banned said...

Nothing more to say about guns but, as a licensed Taxi driver, Bird would have been subjected to annual Police checks to assess if he was a 'fit and proper person' to be in that job.
In more recent years he would have to have passed an "enhanced clearance" by the CRB. Did any of those expose this man for the dangerous lunatic he was and will the even more draconian powers of the "Independent Safeguarding Authority" (Vetting And Barring Quango) do any better?

Pen pushing, box ticking nonsense that does nothing except inconvenience the law abiding majority.

Self Defence said...

Check out this site, - the owner was on BBC TBQs yesterday. All the anti gun crowed could do was shout and interrupt.


DC Handgun Info said...

The latest information I have heard (rumor?) was that the gun was a side by side or double shotgun. Is that right? I was shocked to hear that police "shadowed" Mr. Bird for much of three hours, but did not shoot him dead (as they would have done in the U.S.) because the police were unarmed. Please provide more information! Thank you.

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