Alex Massie

Guns in Britain and America

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Good news, for once, from Washington as the US Supreme Court looks likely to uphold a ruling that the District of Columbia's blanket prohibition on owning handguns is unconstitutional. Frankly, people, I'm confused. That is to say, I'm confused that there's ever been any confusion over the meaning of the Second Amendment. It all hinges upon the interpretation of the provision that:

"a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick says,

The constitutional question is whether that first clause limits the right to bear arms to a citizen militia, or whether the militia language represents a bit of constitutional phlegm standing between you and your full-throated right to bear arms.

Really? I should have thought it simple: how can you have a militia at all unless the people have the right to bear arms in the first place? Otherwise what will they fight with?  And doesn't it seem unlikely that the Founding Fathers intended for guns to b kept in state arsenals? That being so isn't it pretty obvious -to the point of being simple common sense - that the private ownership of guns shall not be infringed?

Of course I'm not a lawyer and perhaps this is a simplistic view. But, to put it another way, given the lives, beliefs and times of the men who wrote the US constitution it might be a strange interpretation that permitted abortion but banned the private ownership of handguns. As I say, the militia has to come after gun possession not the other way round.

Alternatively, such a ruling would, in Ms Lithwick's view, represent:

the abandonment of every principle of strict construction, federalism, and judicial modesty in which the Roberts Court ever purported to believe.

Meanwhile, in Britain, our own crazy gun laws continue to apply. My brother, for instance, has just had to fork out £40 to have his shotgun certificate renewed. To be sure this only happens every five years, but it still seems a less than pressingly useful apportionment of police time. There's an interview - to demonstrate you're not a nutter - and several forms to be filled in and the whole process of renewal takes six weeks. Why?

It's hard to see how a cost-benefit analysis would endorse this process. Last time I checked there wasn't a real problem of chaps who like to pot rabbits or shoot pheasants going on maniac homicidal rampages in market towns across the country.... To the (limited*) extent that there's a problem with gun crime in Britain I think we may assume that fellows in corduroy and tweed are not the problem.

*Very limited: there were only a few dozen shooting homicides last year. In a country of 60 million people. The hysteria in the press over gun crime is a) entirely predictable and b) typically overblown. The latest nonsense is a crack-down on air rifles. What next? Catapults and pea-shooters?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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