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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2002 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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England's gun-control experiment has backfired | In Washington, they're still just talking about war.

Out in the D.C. suburbs, some creep has already declared it. So far, five of the dead were killed in Maryland, home of some of the most restrictive gun-control laws in the country.

If we were watching a bad horror movie, and not a real-life tragedy that has millions of defenseless citizens cowering in their homes, who do you think the sniper would turn out to be?

An Al-Qaida terrorist? Too obvious. A psychotic right-wing CEO of a failed telecom? Too clichéd. America's last living Nazi fiend? No longer plausible, even in Hollywood.

In a bad movie, the sniper would work for one of Maryland's gubernatorial candidates, who represent both sides of the suddenly very relevant election issue of gun control.

Played by Angelina Jolie, she would be an anti-gun nut trying to scare voters into supporting the evil candidate who backs Maryland's strict gun-control laws. Or - and this is a stretch even for Hollywood - maybe she could be a pro-gun nut trying to show voters how Maryland's strict gun laws have left them defenseless.

The real sniper is turning out to be stranger than anything Hollywood could dream up. Meanwhile, gun ownership has suddenly become a hot election issue in Maryland, a state that looks gun-loving compared to Great Britain. According to Reason's November cover piece, "Gun Control's Twisted Outcome," Great Britain - where handguns were banned in 1997, even for the Olympic pistol shooting team - is Gun Control Heaven.

Few Americans know it, but for more than a century Great Britain has been pursuing a stringent strategy to get all guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, under the theory that criminals will have less of a chance to get or use weapons.

It was a brilliant theory, writes history professor Joyce Lee Malcolm. But Malcolm says giving her country the toughest firearm restrictions of any democracy on the planet has only created a more dangerous society.

Criminals, as usual, are laughing at gun laws. Britain's crime rates, already rising steadily since 1954, soared after the 1997 ban.

America's murder rates are still higher, but your chances of being mugged in London are six times greater than in New York City. And England's once-hilariously low rates of assault, robbery and burglary are far higher than ours.

Malcolm explains how Britain's leaders have gradually taken one of the top tenets of English common law - the right and duty of personal self-defense - and given it a legal toss. English citizens now are expected to look to bobbies for their own protection from criminals. And by law, they are unable to defend themselves or their property with guns or anything that could be used or even construed as an offensive weapon.

As Malcolm shows, shooting a burglar in your bedroom will land you in jail. So will stabbing a robber with the sharp point of a walking stick. So will using a toy gun to detain burglars until police arrive.

Reason's thoughtful, eye-opening piece is something Charlton Heston would agree with unconditionally. But you don't have to belong to the NRA or have a sniper in your back yard to be disturbed by it.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald