Britain on the side of the criminals
by Simon Heffer

PUBLICATION: The Daily Telegraph
DATE: 2007.02.17
SECTION: Features
PAGE: 023
BYLINE: Simon Heffer


If you want a gun in Britain today, there are two ways you can go about it. If you are of sound mind and have no criminal record, and somewhere legal to shoot, you can go through a lengthy and intrusive procedure with the police before (if you are lucky) being issued with a gun licence. You can then go to a shop and spend a great deal of money on a weapon that, if you use it for anything other than sporting or pest control purposes in an appropriate place, will be taken away from you.

Depending on how fascist your local police force is, you may also find it is removed if found in the boot of your car while you are committing a road traffic offence, or if another member of your family reveals that they know where the key to the gun cabinet is kept. On no account will you be allowed to own a handgun: and a permit for a rifle, as opposed to a shotgun, is likely to be issued only if you can prove a regular commitment to deerstalking. You will also be subject to occasional surprise visits from the police to check you have the guns you say you have, and have them securely stowed away.

Method number two entails going into a pub in our inner cities, asking a few questions and handing over a wad of notes. Because this easy, cheap, unregulated and bureaucracy-free method of ownership is so possible, several youths have been murdered in recent days, and there will be more.

It is one of the great paradoxes of modern life that since the clamp-down on gun ownership after the hideous massacre at Dunblane in 1996, there are far more firearms in circulation than ever: and most appear to be in the hands of criminals, held without the knowledge of the police. The law actively persecutes licensed gun owners, while apparently letting the unlicensed ones run out of control. The slightest excuse is used to remove someone's shotgun certificate; a couple of years ago, we reported how a pillar of society without a blemish on his character lost his because his 86-year-old mother - an obvious threat to the public - knew where the key to his gun cupboard was. Much police time is spent on inspections, and asking questions of varying degrees of absurdity. When last renewing my licence, I was asked to reveal where I went shooting, to which I could only reply that that largely depended on who was kind enough to invite me. These are manifestly not concerns of those whose shooting estate is run by a council in south London.

The Dunblane massacre was ghastly, but the ban on handguns it provoked has done nothing to lessen the chance of something like it happening again. The only deaths caused by legally held guns in an average year are usually of farmers, bankrupted by this Government's policies, using them to commit suicide. Any nutter who wants to go and slaughter large quantities of people can now, thanks to the laxity of our law enforcement against illegal weapons, easily do so.

In controlling legally held guns - such as the one used to murder at Dunblane - all that is required is common sense on the part of the police. Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer, was known to the police as an oddball who had pictures of semi-dressed young boys plastered all over his house. I cannot recall whether anyone who, knowing this background, was chucked out of the force for blind stupidity, but he should have been.

We all know there are social policies that can be implemented to reduce the chances of youths wanting a gun in the first place, let alone using it. But it does occur to me that, if the police were to devote as much care, time, resources and intrusiveness to checking up on the sale, distribution and ownership of illegal firearms as they do with legal ones, certain parts of this country might be considerably safer than they are.