I don't like to pick on England. I wish England was the strong, vibrant, vigorous ally of the past. But it isn't so. It used to be that England and America were two countries separated by a common language; but to that separation add a common law for England's criminal justice system has become truly bizarre. Besotted with liberal coddling, England's criminal procedure laws seem designed to punish victims instead of criminals.
The Powerline has a column by historian Joyce Malcolm who comments on the recent mass disorder in London.
In some respects, not all mind you, America has been traveling this same path for years. In Heller v. District of Columbia the right to keep and bear arms was re-affirmed. This was an incredibly important decision for it maintains the right of American citizens to defend themselves. Not so in England.
The most amazing thing about the reaction of English MPs to last week’s terrible violence was how surprised they were. For a country whose criminal law is invariably sympathetic to offenders, nearly always harsh on their victims, and unwilling to pay for adequate policing the surprise is that they were surprised.
In another article posted in Ricochet, Rioting for Fun and Profit by Paul A. Rahe, the author makes the following observation concerning the state of English laws:
Since at least 1953 the English government has insisted that citizens depend on the police for protection and not try to protect themselves. The Prevention of Crime Act of 1953 prohibited anyone carrying an article in a public place with the idea it could be used for protection if they were attacked. If discovered they are charged with carrying an offensive weapon.
Since 1964 self-defense has not been considered a good reason to keep a handgun, even if for those who lived in a remote area. Then in 1998 all handguns were banned. Toy or replica guns are also illegal. A man was arrested for holding two burglars with a toy gun while he contacted the police.
More recently knives with points have been made illegal. A list of prohibited weapons, possession of which carries a 10-year prison sentence, includes not only machine guns but chemical sprays and knives with a blade more than three inches long. An American tourist from Arizona who protected herself from attackers in the subway using her penknife was arrested for carrying an offensive weapon.
The government does not permit even someone who is unarmed from acting forcefully when attacked if his or her assailant is harmed in the process. If a citizen is attacked in the street he is to flee. If a citizen is attacked in his home he is not to injure the attacker beyond what a court later considers a reasonable use of force. If a citizen harms his assailant he will be accused of assault, or, as the cases cited above illustrate, murder or attempted murder should the attacker be killed.
Whenever someone accuses us of being overreactive to the infirngemnet of our rights no matter how minor, remember England. Erosion is a slow process but in the long run it destroys whatever it touches.
There are two dimensions to the British story. First – although what we call the right to bear arms had its origins as an English right, guaranteed in the 1688/89 Declaration of Rights and Bill of Rights – that right was gradually abrogated in the course of the twentieth century. Second – although the right to self-defense, the right to defend one’s person and property when the authorities cannot in a timely and effective fashion provide protection – is a natural right and had always, until recently, been recognized as such in Britain – that right, too, was abrogated in the course of the last century.