Depending on the State for Your Safety

I’ll have more (much more) to say about this later, but I found this column by Dave Kopel interesting, as I have been studying the UK’s approach to gun control for quite a while, specifically the legal attitude concerning self-defense. So color me unsurprised when Dave followed up on the article with this feedback from someone who’s been there:

“I’m an alumna of Pepperdine University, a school which proudly owns a house/campus on Exhibition Road, literally across the street from the Imperial University, in the middle of South Kensington, right near Harrods, Hyde Park, the Albert Hall. Within two days of arriving for our first semester in London, our relatively small [American] class (37 students, 10 men, 27 women) was visited by a local police officer to instruct us on living in London. Her first question was to the women, ‘How many of you brought mace?’ Three girls raised their hands. She told us we couldn’t use it, shouldn’t even carry it, it was illegal.

That’s correct. Mace, teargas, and pepper sprays have been outlawed since passage of the 1953 “Prevention of Crime Act.” This made it illegal to carry an “offensive weapon” without being able to demonstrate a need for it. Offensive weapons included knives, pointed objects, and firearms, along with chemical sprays. In other words, you had to apply to the government and get their permission in order to carry anything with which to defend yourself. In 1953, remember.

“Had any of us brought any other type of weapon, such as a knife? Several of the men in our group indicated that they carried pocket knives. She told us to leave them at home too.”

As mentioned above, carrying a knife for self-defense was made illegal (without permission from the State) in 1953, but what constituted a knife? That question was rectified with the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 which defined what an edged or pointed weapon was thusly:

“…any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except a folding pocketknife.” and “This section applies to a folding pocketknife if the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 3 inches.” So, if you carry a very small pocketknife, you’re OK, right? Are you going to take that risk? Small folding lockback? Illegal. Yup. Lockbacks are not considered to be “folding knives.” Carpet knife? Illegal. Boxcutter? Illegal. Leatherman? Illegal. Unless, of course you can prove in court that you had “need,” i.e.: that you used in for work and that you had it on you in conjunction with your work. Woe unto you if you stop by the pub on the way home with anything considered illegal on your person or in your car.

What happened to the English common-law assumption of innocence? It’s turned on its head here. You have to prove your innocence, because the law assumes that if you have something that can be used as a weapon, you intend evil.

If you’re interested, the British Knife Collectors Guild has a site covering the specifics of the laws there. To continue:

Then she instructed us on how to properly be a victim. If we were attacked, we were to assume a defensive posture, such as raising our hands to block an attack. The reason was (and she spelled it out in no uncertain terms) that if a witness saw the incident and we were to attempt to defend ourselves by fighting back, the witness would be unable to tell who the agressor was. However, if we rolled up in a ball, it would be quite clear who the victim was.

“The feeling I got was, in London, it is not permissable to defend oneself. I also understood that this police officer thought Americans were more likely to be agressive and/or cause more damage to a potential attacker. She was warning us for our own good. I have to admit, she did not make me feel particularly safe.”

Yup. Depend on the State to protect you. You’re not qualified to protect yourself. It would sound like a Monty Python piece if it weren’t true. As Joyce Lee Malcolm has documented, England’s anti-self-defense laws have resulted in violent crime rates considerably higher than we have here.

Update: HAH! Glen Reynolds comments on this, too. But I didn’t see it until AFTER I had my post up. (How does he read all this stuff?)

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