Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Why should ...?

One of the questions asked about the ownership of guns was ...
"Why should a taxi driver want a gun?"
Simple answer - because when people aren't doing their day job they are doing something else, even if it's only sleeping. Okay, yes, perhaps that's a flippant response but it's true.

Mrs R is more than aware that the current 'discussion' is about why anybody should want to have a gun, of any sort, because guns are dangerous and guns kill - and one man did dreadful things in the Lake District with legally held weapons. QED - so some say. And they say let's ban guns, permanently, for ever - because the unspoken bit is that normal people don't use guns.

But Mrs Rigby disagrees, and so do lots of other perfectly normal, rational and law-abiding people. She's going to try to explain why, and then offer a question or two in return.

Years ago, it seems like a lifetime away, there were people in this country who enjoyed taking different sorts of pistols to a club and firing ten, twenty or more rounds of ammunition at bits of paper. They did it to see how close together they could group their shots, and had competitions to see who was best. The winners of those in-club competitions were often chosen to compete in inter-club competitions, and some of them even went on to represent their country at even more important competitions - such as the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games.

British shooters always did quite well in these competitions, even though they wore weird-looking gadgets on their heads and had fancy sort of custom-made grips for their pistols, and managed to win gold medals. They were patted on the back and told how good they were, how dedicated to their sport. We were pleased with them because they helped Britain get quite high up the international medal tables.

Overnight, all those years ago, many of not-medal-winning people had their private interest - their sport - outlawed by the then Labour government, and had their means of 'having fun' made illegal. In short they were criminalised in a knee-jerk legal sledgehammer in response to some nutter having done awful things with a gun. The events of last week show that even sledgehammers sometimes miss their target, because sometimes 'targets' do unpredictable things.

As a result of the legislation some shooters handed their carefully maintained and carefully secured guns to the police, knowing they would be melted down and made into manhole covers. Others took their guns to France, some stayed there permanently. They did this because their sport meant so much to them, and because their weapons were too valuable to be melted down.

Britain is due to host the 2012 Olympics. The list of Olympics sports still include various shooting disciplines, perhaps because the Olympic movement acknowledges that shooting is a skill that requires patience, dedication and lots and lots of practice to be any good. It's probably why the military still acknowledge 'marksmen' as being particularly skilled, so skilled that they get their own special weapons and more often than not, their own very special tasks and a special badge to wear on their sleeve.

As already mentioned, Britain has always done quite well at shooting and according to Wikipedia is ranked 6th in the overall Olympic tables - a cumulative score dating from 1896. Britain has won 12 gold, 15 silver, 16 bronze medals. It might not seem many, but has to be compared with those higher up the table and, ignoring the whopping medal roll of USA, second is China with 19 gold, 11 silver, 12 bronze. These medals cover the sporting disciplines of using air pistol and rifle, .22 pistol and rifle, and shotgun/clay.

The 2012 Olympics shooting events are due to be held in a temporary arena at Woolwich Arsenal, much to the dismay of Sportsman's Association and the National Shooting Centre at Bisley - where the Commonwealth Games shooting events were hosted in 2002. It was pointed out that a
shooting fans will get "nothing in return" if the temporary venue is used ...
Tessa Jowell is reported to have said that
... the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich would be used because they "allow us to deliver the compact Games we promised in 2005".
Compact maybe, but Mrs R thinks it's a whopping waste of money to build
... a 7,500-seat structure that will be taken down after the Games have finished, with the cost ranging from an initial quote of £30m to the latest estimate of £42m.
Anyhow, the venue may actually be the least of the worries, because although the 2012 Olympics website extols the virtues of shooting, and says
Shooting is a fun way to learn discipline and responsibility. In the UK, more than 350,000 people currently practice the sport, with equal numbers of boys and girls entering competitions.

If you want to get involved, British Shooting is a good place to start.
There is a problem, because our gun laws are quite complex and very, very strict. The laws are ...
... so stringent that Britain’s Olympic gun team has been forced to train for the London 2012 Games overseas.
These very strict laws cause other knock-on problems too, as the Guardian reports (20 May 2010):-
London 2012's shooting event is heading for chaos because of Britain's draconian firearms legislation for athletes from European countries. Some European teams have been unable to compete at a clay pigeon World Cup event in Dorset this week after failing to lodge original certificates of firearms permits with UK police long in advance.

Without having that paperwork in their possession several athletes would be in breach of their national laws to hold their firearms at home. They have also been unable to travel after they waited four to six weeks for the documentation to be handled. Indeed, in order to guarantee German athletes' participation, that nation's administrator was flown in to the UK by tournament officials – at a cost of £1,500 to the event – with a sheaf of athletes' documentation for on-the-spot processing by police.
"This situation has arisen with only 350 competitors. It would take the Metropolitan Police a year to process the 2,000 people at the Olympics.
That seems to be a heck of a lot of people and legally held weapons to be arriving in one small corner of London, and Mrs R has no idea if it's accurate, but considering that there are
... 15 events in all: five in each of the three Shooting disciplines – Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun.
In each of these disciplines three events are for men and two for women.
Gold medals : 15
Athletes: 390
Presumably there will be support staff and technicians who also need to be registered and licensed.

There are also the Modern Pentathletes
Events: Fencing, Swimming, Riding, Combined Run/Shoot Event
Gold medals : 2
Athletes: 36 men, 36 women
Maybe the Fencers will also need to be Police checked?
Gold medals : 10
Athletes: 212
Stepping sideways for a moment it's interesting to look the winter Olympics sport that also includes shooting. The Biathlon - a gruelling cross country race, carrying a rifle. This 'sport' was developed from the cross-country training enjoyed(?) by Norway's military.

So, when you look at all that, is it really odd that somebody so ordinary as a taxi driver might have been licensed to use a firearm? Nobody seemed to mind too much that a myopic plasterer had thought it was a good idea to learn to ski. Shooting, and wanting to be good at it - is a sport, an interest, a skill, that's all.

Some people, in post-Labour Britain, are very quick to make value judgements based on their own narrow interests and lifestyles. Anybody who might want to do something, anything, that's outside their experience is open to derision. Their interests and activities challenged as being 'odd' or even 'elitist'. And if what they do is too odd (or too elitist) for the ignoramus with an opinion? Well, it should be banned - naturally.

So in pandering to populist opinion, and seemingly hating anybody who wants a bit of freedom of choice, it isn't really a surprise that the BBC's HYS had a write-in about Britain's gun laws, asking the question Are [Britain's] gun laws tough enough? Naturally the very first comment is from somebody very much 'on message' who says
Why did a man that lived in a terraced house in a village have a licence for a shotgun and a rifle? I should have thought that the minimum requirement would be to be a farmer or landowner and thus be able to justify using these weapons as part of pest control
Maybe neither that individual nor the BBC are aware of the London2012 message which, to remind you, says that "In the UK, more than 350,000 people currently practice the sport" - and they do so safely, and within the strict confines of the law.

And that's why Mrs Rigby has to ask a question. Taking all things into account, and assuming we can't legislate for the unpredictable - why shouldn't a [not rich] person who lives in a terraced house in a [rural] village have a license for a shotgun and/or a rifle?

She asks this alongside media reports of teenagers in inner city high rise flats having illegal machine guns, pistols and sawn-off shotguns that they use so frequently that deaths from using these weapons rarely hit the headlines other than in the local paper.

Also, if Britain's very strict laws (which were supported by almost all political parties prior to the incident in the Lake District) are so effective then how, for example, could this have happened - on 29th May 2010?
A man has been charged in connection with a triple shooting in east London that left one man dead and two injured.

A 36-year-old man died during the incident in Newham during the early hours of 29 May.

Kevin Powell, 34, unemployed, of Harlesden, west London, was charged with the attempted murder of a 26-year-old and possession of a firearm.
Perhaps, maybe, the BBC and the person who left the previously quoted message on HYS could try to explain why an unemployed man living in lovely Harlesden, with its' "Jubilee Clock which commemorates Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee." and "... its vibrant Caribbean culture" needs a firearm, of any description because it's unlikely he is either a farmer or a landowner. Or wouldn't those rules apply?


Sue said...

To be honest, if I were a cab driver, I'd feel more secure carrying a gun. I'm an advocate of legalising the carrying of guns in a similar way that they do in some of the United States.

People are less inclined to break in your house or attack you if they think you may be capable of protecting yourself!

I used to live in Newham as a teenager. I could go out at night and feel safe in those days. Now, it's 98% immigrant and a sh*tpit!

It makes me so angry.

Mrs Rigby said...

Sue - absolutely agree with re-legalising carrying guns, with very strict penalties for breaking the rules.

Mrs R wouldn't, however, be a taxi driver - it's a bit too risky.

We do need to 'reclaim the streets' from the thugs and louts who make them unsafe.

DerekP said...

A better question would have been 'Why the hell don't criminals obey our increasingly tougher gun laws?'.

That's not a discussion the Beeb wants though, no matter how illuminating it may be.

The BBC 'news' is so heavily 'on-message' that it has become propaganda, as the Beeb "are very quick to make value judgements based on their own narrow interests and lifestyles", hence 'Are gun laws tough enough?' (begging the answer) rather than the more objective 'How effective are our gun laws?'.

Most of us have no experience with guns so TV, especially the BBC, are responsible for manipulating the public's understanding of guns, gun use, and gun crime. One witness to the Cumbria incident ignorantly describing the .22 rifle as a sniper rifle almost visibly made the TV crews moist with anticipation of them repeatedly using the unsubstantiated 'sniper rifle' description.

Providing a perspective of deadly threat posed by MRSA, illegal guns, licensed guns seems a bit beyond our news media though.

Of course, it is rather difficult to push propaganda if people can speak together against it. So the BBC did away with the voting on HYS because they didn't like the results (how NuLiebore must have envied that!), and instead preferred to ensure critical arguments would be lost within a pile of on-message rubbish - (a Beeb implementation of 'Ha! Let the proles try finding the good stuff in there').

The Beeb needs root and branch reform - otherwise it will remain the media arm of NuLiebore.

Anonymous said...

I've always been concerned about the number of taxi related crimes and the latest incident in Cumbria only serves to underline the lax laws we have regarding taxis.

If the last government had been really serious about public safety they had ample time to deal with taxis, and I would now even go one further and say that buses should also be banned.

Now is the time for the new government to make a stand for the man in the street. Taxis MUST be banned and their trade stopped before any further harm is done.

Mrs Rigby said...

@ DerekP - 'Why the hell don't criminals obey our increasingly tougher gun laws?'

... and why don't the Police enforce them?

@ Anon - *chuckle*