National Cultures and GUN Cultures

John at The England Project wrote a post back in January on Who Broke (Our) Gun Culture and How Might We Get it Back? Kim du Toit commented on it at the time, and John had a follow-up post in which he relates that fellow English blogger Lurch at the aptly named Gun Culture strongly disagreed with John’s premise that only an increased interest in the shooting sports could revive England’s gun culture. Lurch stated:

I believe that sporting shooting is doomed in the UK and no amount of good behaviour will change this. The recognition that self defence is the most basic human right that there is and that a firearm is the best tool for this is the only thing which can possibly save private firearm ownership. Not just in the UK but across the globe.

John has a much more recent post up that somewhat illustrates Lurch’s position.

I wrote on the topic a while back in my post Fear: The Philosophy and Politics Thereof, but I’ve got more to say, now. John’s premise, in his own words is:

I do not yet believe in the liberalisation of gun laws to the extent that all and sundry should be able to have them for self defence.

…this is not because I do not believe in the principle of self defence or that guns (often hand guns) are not the best tool for the job. On the contrary, I believe in the use of lethal force where necessary to protect ones own life, family, friends, strangers and, if necessary, property. My inability to “go the whole way” on this issue is based on what I believe is the un-preparedness of our society for a more liberalised approach to firearm ownership.

What I do not believe in is that all have the right to firearm ownership unless it can be proven that they are not suitable and I am not just talking about criminals or those with recent or serious criminal records. Actually, that’s not quite true (and this is the point where I would get a little evasive and shady if we were to be chatting about this down the pub) I think that people do have the innate right to have guns for self defence but I do not believe that, in general, the population is prepared for it.

He goes on to say:

…the thing that is central to my current position of practical prejudice is that gun culture is not about guns; it is about peoples attitude to guns, and more importantly, their respect of firearms in general and their ability to treat and use guns in a responsible manner. The gun culture that permitted wide ranging license free gun ownership in this country without significant and disastrous consequence was one of understanding. People understood firearms. They grew up in households that had always had them. They were taught from an early age how to treat them and use them. They were fully aware of what they could do and were fully prepared to take on the responsibilities of what firearms ownership entailed.

This culture was a learnt one. It required a continuity of ownership and the sharing of knowledge over each generation. There were no public training videos, no TV ads, no school indoctrination on the responsibilities of firearms ownership and yet the culture was there. It was there because children learnt it from their parents and/or from other adults. The culture was maintained and passed on and persisted and it allowed for common gun ownership without disastrous affects. In general, everyone (except criminals) benefited from it.

Then the state broke it. By degrees.

Gun culture was strangled to the point where continuity was lost and it is because of that loss that my full support for the liberalisation of gun ownership in the general populace is not forthcoming. I blame the state.

I’ve studied and written a lot about England’s experience with guns and gun control because, for one thing, England is “Mother Country” to America, and for another, it acts as a very useful petri dish to examine the actual results of truly draconian gun control in an otherwise nominally democratic society quite similar (but not identical) to our own.

First, let me say that I’m in complete agreement with John that “the state” is responsible for the destruction of the good gun culture in England; the one of responsible gun ownership, land stewardship, sportsmanship, self-defense and self-reliance, but this might not have been possible had the English and the Americans shared more in our general culture than we do. I’ve quoted before both Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and St. George Tucker’s American Blackstone on the topic of arms and the law. Sir William wrote:

THE fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.

This was written about 1765. (Emphasis is mine) St. George Tucker, a mere 40 years later wrote:

This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty. . . . The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.

(Again, the emphasis is mine.) There was some short-term reversal of the English tendency to want the general population disarmed. In 1900 the Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil said he would “laud the day when there is a rifle in every cottage in England.”

That didn’t catch on, obviously. As I reviewed in England Slides Further Towards Bondage, the good English gun culture was essentially destroyed over the course of the 20th Century:

(In) 1903 England passed its first gun control law. A minor one, simply requiring an easily acquired permit to purchase a handgun, and restricting the age of purchasers, but it was the first toe over the slippery slope. In 1919, in fear of anarchists and communists, England passed its first sweeping gun law – as a crime control measure – even though crime involving firearms was rare as hen’s teeth. You could only have a handgun or a rifle if you showed “good reason” to have one. (Sound familiar?) So much for “a rifle in every cottage” being a laudable goal. The descent had begun in earnest.

In 1936 short-barreled shotguns and fully-automatic weapons were outlawed – not regulated as they are here, outlawed. The reasoning? Civilians had no “legitimate reason” for owning them. Another slide down the slope. The reasoning had changed from the government needing to show reason for the restrictions to the people needing to show reason to exercise the right, to government telling them that there was no acceptable reason.

In 1936 the British added a “safe storage” requirement for all handguns and rifles. (Sound familiar?)

In 1946 self-defense was no longer a “good reason” to have a firearm. The slope got steeper.

In 1953, carrying a weapon for self-defense was made illegal. Any kind of weapon.

In 1967 the law was amended to require a license to own a shotgun, and jury trials no longer required a unanimous decision.

In 1982 reloaders and blackpowder enthusiasts were made subject to police inspection without a warrant to ensure “safe storage” of the reloading materials. In other words, agents of the government, without a warrant, could come into ones home at any time, without warning.

In 1988 all semi-auto and pump-action rifles were banned. By this time there weren’t many rifle owners anyway, but that didn’t matter. The personal property of law-abiding subjects was, once again, made illegal. And they were all registered – that is, the ones belonging to the law-abiding.

In 1996 all handguns were banned. And they were all registered… Well, you get the point.

Also in 1996, carrying any kind of knife was made illegal – unless you could prove you had a good reason for having it. The presumption of innocence was gone.

Since then there have been increased penalties for imitation guns, toy guns, and air guns. I fully expect there to be a law passed prohibiting extension of the index finger with one’s thumb held at a 90º angle to it in the classic gun-like shape, or the pointing of a Chicken McNugget in a threatening manner.

As I said before:

Am I suggesting that this has been some nefarious plan all along to strip the British of their rights and bind them into slavery? No I am not. I’m suggesting that this is a cycle of human behavior – long recognized – that we should be paying attention to and trying to break. We know what government does: it acquires power at the expense of the governed, for good reason or bad. And it does it slowly, almost imperceptibly, because we never believe that each “next step” is leading where we’ve been told it always leads. “Not this time,” we think. “We know better.”

Yeah?

Ask the English.

How long before we follow them?

But there’s considerably more to this than just gun control. As the cliché goes, it isn’t about guns, it’s about control. Let’s look at some of what’s going on in England today, since they are acting as a liberal/pacifist petri dish. First we have this story from The Guardian:

In one video clip, labelled Bitch Slap, a youth approaches a woman at a bus stop and punches her in the face. In another, Knockout Punch, a group of boys wearing uniforms are shown leading another boy across an unidentified school playground before flooring him with a single blow to the head.

In a third, Bank Job, a teenager is seen assaulting a hole-in-the-wall customer while another youth grabs the money he has just withdrawn from the cash machine.

Welcome to the disturbing world of the “happy slappers” – a youth craze in which groups of teenagers armed with camera phones slap or mug unsuspecting children or passersby while capturing the attacks on 3g technology.

According to police and anti-bullying organisations, the fad, which began as a craze on the UK garage music scene before catching on in school playgrounds across the capital last autumn, is now a nationwide phenomenon.

And as the craze has spread from London to the home counties to the north of England, so the attacks have become more menacing, with increasing numbers of violent assaults and adult victims.

In London, British Transport police have investigated 200 happy slapping incidents in the past six months, with eight people charged with attacks at south London stations and bus stops in January alone.

Here’s another:

COPS are hunting a man in connection with a vicious “happy slap” attack on a night bus.

Andrew Greenwood, 28, was set upon by thugs in an unprovoked assault on the top of a N176 double decker driving through Camberwell. Cops believe the man featured in this e-fit stood by and filmed the February 19 violence on his camera phone so the sniggering yobs could play it back later.

The sickening footage is then likely to have been circulated among other mobiles or on the internet, in a violent craze dubbed “happy slapping”.

Mr Greenwood, who works for Victim Support, was beaten and kicked so badly he needed hospital treatment for a fractured eye socket.

The e-fit suspect is black, in his late teens, with a stocky build and a broad nose.

He had what was described as a “street slang” accent, was wearing a bold red cap with a distinctive box shaped peak, and was holding a silver flip phone.

The other five gang members were black and dressed in sportswear.

Police want to hear from anyone who saw the attack or who wants to report other “happy slap” incidents.

This isn’t a big departure from the kind of behavior I posted about back on the 9th of this month. And why are they doing this? Because they’re not afraid. They’re not afraid of the police, and they’re damned sure not afraid of their victims. And why aren’t they afraid of their victims? Because they know that their victims are disarmed, and powerless to oppose them even if they’re willing. (Though fewer and fewer appear to be willing.) They know the rules won’t be enforced on them, but they will be enforced on the otherwise responsible adults who they drive over the edge. Examples: Bill Clifford, Martin James, Maureen Jennings, Linda Walker, and most recently, Richard Bottley. “Yobs” can get away with pretty much anything with very little fear of punishment. For example, from this story:

A POLICE officer has been appointed to work in St Albans secondary schools in a bid to combat youth crime.

The Youth Crime Reduction Officer has been visiting schools to gather intelligence, and develop ways of beating crime, truancy and drugs.

PC Paul Allen is working in schools across the district with pupils who risk ending up on the wrong side of the law.

He is also involved in developing acceptable behaviour contracts and anti–social behaviour orders for youths.

All well and good, right? Um, no:

He also intervened when a pupil caused £500 worth of damage to a piano at his school.

The pupil was excluded from school for three days, leaving a mark on his school record, after speaking to the police officer about the consequences of his actions.

PC Allen said: “A common perception among pupils is that damage or bullying is not a criminal offence.

“Often by just explaining the consequences and the fact that their actions are criminal is enough to curb their behaviour.” The police officer claims many youngsters do not realise when they are breaking the law and believes that early intervention is essential.

By my handy-dandy currency converter, £500 is approximately $950. And the kid’s punishment was three days suspension?? What does he have to do to get five days vacation? Deck a teacher? Oh, yeah. He learned a lesson there!

If you want more evidence, read this story about how a teacher secretly filmed unruly, violent, and uncontrollable students in several different schools in England. And then think about that 5 year-old kid in St. Petersburg that the cops handcuffed. (At least they didn’t need their new AR-15s). As the teacher put it,

Teachers end up walking on eggshells, and when you do that, you cannot discipline a child.

The same is true for parents and for other citizens, so kids run wild without fear of discipline. I’m afraid we’re slowly following England there, too.

As I mentioned before, I recently picked up Abigale Kohn’s book, Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures. The preface of Kohn’s book starts off:

From the 1970’s on, the American print media has carried out an all-out war against gun owners. They are labled “gun nuts,” “gun fanatics,” “the lunatic fringe,” “sickos,” and “terrorists.” Gun owners are laughable, contemptible, “a handful of middle-aged fat guys with popguns.” Editorial after editorial calls for stronger gun control, ranging from licensing and registration of all guns to outright bans on handguns. The New York Times publishes “The Scourge of Guns” and “Addicted to Guns,” straightforwardly indicting guns and gun owners for America’s high rate of civil violence. Not to be outdone, the Washington Post publishes editorials entitled “Good Parents, Bad Kids: And Far Too Many Handguns” and “Illegal Guns and the District,” arguing that “turning off the supply of handguns from around the nation” is the only effective way to reduce gun violence in the nation’s capital and across the United States.

On the other side of the country, a columnist in a major West Coast newspaper pens a piece about the Second Amendment Sisters, a pro-gun women’s organization formed largely in response to the Million Mom March, which favored gun control. Entitled “Pistol-Packin’ Polyester,” the columnist describes the Second Amendment Sisters as “bored, under-educated, bitter, terrified, badly-dressed, pasty, hate-spewin’ suburban white women from lost Midwestern towns with names like Frankenmuth all carrying firearms and somehow thinking they’re aiding the species.” Only slightly less inflammatory, another West Coast contributor argues that America’s gun culture is responsible for the “tyranny of danger” and “omnipresent threat of death” in contemporary American society.

She goes on at length. But one of the things Abigale Kohn discovered when she studied America’s “gun culture” – the good one – was this:

One of the reasons that some shooters are so opposed to allowing more stringent government regulation of gun ownership is that they believe that being able to own guns is synonymous with being recognized as a full-status person in the eyes of the state.

Which is correct. However, she continues:

In fact, historians have long recognized that the vast majority of individuals living in colonial America did not have legal sanction to own guns: the ability to “keep and bear arms” was a right afforded only to white, propertied, adult men.

Which is somewhat true, though I advise that she interview Clayton Cramer on the facts of just how many people other than property-owning white males actually did have guns in the colonial period. Anyway, continuing:

In relation to the broader question of what constitutes a good arbiter of personhood and political status in any given society (historically and contemporarily), shooters argue that legal access to guns is a particularly powerful statement of how the state recognizes the power and status of the individual.

These symbolic associations resonate even today. Shooters implicitly believe that the symbolic associations between guns and personhood so deeply entrenched in the American cultural and political cosmology are still meaningful and important.

Yes, we do. But that belief has been stripped from the English, by and large. She says elsewhere in the book:

Over the years, Americans have used their discussion of rights to articulate their vision of citizenship – of what being an American actually means in terms of legal rights and political status. But the question of the right of individuals to own guns is particularly contentious. Critics of the concept of gun rights have often asserted that such a concept illustrates the ultimate in selfishness: the triumph of the individual gun owner’s desire for guns over the basic community safety and security.

And I’d argue that is the position that England has taken that has lead it to become the gun-control poster-child of the industrialized nations.

And in fact, many shooters do see their guns rights as a basic right conferred on them as American citizens. Some even believe such gun rights may add to problems of public safety.

But most shooters see gun rights as a means to confer safety to individuals and social groups; gun rights enable individuals to protect themselves and their family, their community, and even their nation. The issue is not so much that gun control supporters believe in public safety and shooters do not. The difference is in how public safety should be achieved. Shooters believe gun rights allow them to promote collective as well as individual safety. In their minds, a lack of individual gun rights means that only government agents and criminals would remain armed, and citizens would be vulnerable to both.

And I certainly concur with the sentiment. A large majority of the posts I put up here echo that. But it goes beyond mere ownership of guns. It goes well beyond John’s characterization that “(gun culture) is about peoples attitude to guns, and more importantly, their respect of firearms in general and their ability to treat and use guns in a responsible manner. “ What is involved is personal philosophy, and what that philosophy means to the overall culture.

Kohn notes several traits common to America’s gun culture: responsibility, toughness, individualism, independence, clear moral codes, patriotism, and dedication to tradition. None of these are desireable in a collectivist, relativist society. It seems obvious that if such a society is to be achieved, it is the gun culture that must first be destroyed. If one studies English history, the beginning of the destruction of their gun culture dates back to the rise of Communism in Europe, and the fear of the ruling class that the ruled would rise up in arms in a revolution. And if one asks John, or Lurch or anybody over at Samizdata, they’ll tell you that the relativist/collectivist Left has pretty much taken over the English government, and apparently with the willing cooperation of most of the population. It seems that anyone in England exhibiting any of these traits is liable to be hammered down by society, or by the government. And it seems apparent that we here are trying to follow that path, except that our gun culture is experiencing a resurgence.

Our gun culture is, in my opinion, essential to the overall “American culture” that has made this nation the powerhouse that it is. Responsibility, toughness, individualism, independence, clear moral codes, patriotism, and dedication to tradition are all bulwarks of that culture, and are all embodied by the people who make up “the gun culture” of responsble gun owners. The question in my mind is, “can we maintain it?” Or will we too eventually be overwhelmed by the voices of the Left who tell us that what we believe is selfish, short-sighted, bigoted, cruel, racist, unfeeling, etc., etc., etc.?

I concur with Lurch that, short of a miracle, England’s shooting sports are doomed and that further, there is almost no chance that England will restore its historic right to self defense. The last gasp of that was the recent attempt by the UK Telegraph to get a law passed acknowledging a right to defend oneself in ones own home. That effort failed. I was not surprised. England has slid too far down the slippery slope. I think that if we are to avoid the same fate, we must say “this far, no further,” and work to recover what we have lost.

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