Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Friday, December 03, 2004
More about guns, home invasion and the murder of John Monckton. John B of Shot by Both Sides writes:
John Monckton's death is an unimaginably (for me at least; fortunately nobody close to me has ever been murdered) horrible event.

This link came up on about the third brief attempt (I was initially looking for Victorians, but Victorian stories tend to be online less, for some reason) at a Google search for people murdered in their own homes by burglars before the gun laws were tightened: link

At the bottom of the page, you can find Ernest Westwood, murdered by a burglar at home in 1948, and Eli Myers, murdered by a burglar at home in 1961. They are the only two examples cited of the various murderers hanged at Leeds jail post-WWII in an article about hangings at Leeds jail, and neither murder has been excerpted by the writer because of the circumstances or unusualness of the crime.

I don't have access to any pre-war newspaper archives at the moment, but time that I've spent looking at them in the past has left me with the strong impression that murder-by-desperate-idiots-for-domestic-robbery has always been among the commonest causes of murder by a stranger, not a rare event that (although terrible when it happens) signals the breakdown of society, or one that it's particularly plausible to blame on gun laws.

The specific post in his blog is here.

My first move has to be, obviously, an admission that he is absolutely right to say that my claim "this did not happen" is insupportable. It was hyperbole written in anger.

My anger hasn't gone away. I'll be angry about this for years. But I am no longer overcome by anger. My reconsidered version of the statement is: this happened much less when Britons were free to own guns for self defence. And, more controversially, this would happen much less if Britons were again free to own guns for self defence.

In my post I referred to home invasion. This is a type of robbery which requires that the householders be present in order that they may be intimidated into bypassing alarms, opening safes etc. It is not the same as burglars attempting to act by stealth and then being surprised by householders. I cannot discover which description fits the two cases cited by John B. Nonetheless the two crimes almost certainly were considered unusual since they ended in the perpetrators being hanged. (According to this, while the death penalty was in force, over the twentieth century the proportion of convicted murderers who actually suffered the death penalty varied between 1 in 8 and 1 in 23.)

Nearly all types of crime have greatly increased over the twentieth century, armed crime particularly so (Number of armed robberies in London in 1904: four), and I certainly do partly attribute that to the gun laws.

That said, I don't think the outlawing of guns is the prime cause. Off the top of my head, my opinion is that the causes of the increase in crime are, in order of importance: (1) Social mores/family/parenting breakdown due to welfare; (2) prohibition of drugs; (3) ease of escape due to availability of cars; (4) reduction of deterrent effect due to reduced chances of criminals being caught; (5) loss of the right to self-defence; (6) reduction of deterrent effect due to the end of the death penalty and the general relaxation of severity of laws - and, finally, floating in and around all these like a fog so that I can give it no ordinal number, moral relativism.

There is plenty of scope for arguing about my suggested order - another time. For burglary and home invasion, (5) moves right up the rankings, probably to first place. According to Telegraph article by Joyce Lee Malcolm 13% of US burglaries take place when someone is at home. The equivalent figure for Britain is 53%. The Guardian gives a very similar figure of 51%, an increasing number of whom, it says, are "confronters". As even Dan Rather admits, burglary is more common in the UK than the US. If one house in ten had a gun, being a "confronter" would be much more dangerous. If the newspapers carried regular accounts of householders acquitted or even commended for killing or injuring them it would be much less desirable to commit that sort of crime. Reality is very different. In May the Telegraph carried this account of the Brett Osborn case. Osborn was watching television with friends when Wayne Halling, a complete stranger, barged into his home and started attacking one of the women there under the drug-fuelled delusion that she was his ex-girlfriend. Halling was high on cocaine, was covered in blood from having smashed windows along the street with his bare hands, and seemed impervious to pain when the other people in the house - including a pregnant woman - tried to force him off his victim. The only thing that stopped his rampage was when Osborn stabbed him, fatally, with a steak knife. For this Osborn was jailed for five years.

John B would perhaps argue that Wayne Halling was what he calls a "desperate idiot". So he was, and I doubt that any deterrent would have had much effect upon him. But, returning to Mr Monckton's murderers, accounts strongly suggest they were robbers for gain. They chose this form of robbery because when the householders are in then all the alarms and locks in the world don't matter. I don't know if they specifically knew about the Brett Osborn case when beginning their journey up the Monckton's path but I am sure that they were aware of the stream of cases (of which Tony Martin's is the most famous) in which householders have been prosecuted for defending themselves.

This "After dinner discussion" by Chris Lightfoot has informative graphs of murders in Britain during the twentieth century. It also is plain wrong when it says this:

"In any case, handguns -- the most convenient for shooting people -- have only been controlled relatively recently, and the 160,000 handguns surrendered under the 1997 Firearms Act were enough to arm only about one in 250 of the adult population, even if they had been distributed uniformly (they weren't, since many gun enthusiasts preferred to to have several...)."
Handguns have been controlled since 1903. Further Acts came in 1920, 1937, 1968 and 1997 - all of them followed by increases in gun crime. Eventually someone might start to wonder whether this strategy is working. One can argue whether the point at which right to self defence was lost came in 1946 (when the Home Office said that protection of self or property would no longer necessarily justify the issue of a FAC) or in 1969 (when it said that self defence definitely would not justify issue.) See this article by Richard Munday or the comments to the Samizdata post that started this for more. Whatever, there is no doubt that it was well and truly gone by the 70s. When I owned pistols in the early eighties they were required to be kept in a locked cabinet making them useless for self-defence. At any time over the last thirty years writing "self defence" in the place in an application for a firearms certificate where you give your reason for wanting a gun would have ensured you never got a certificate, ever.

Finally, although I see no reason to doubt John B's sincere horror at the murder, I am bemused by his statement, hyperlinked to Perry's post, that it is "understandable to jump to conclusions about the appalling state of society, and use them to justify whatever your own personal cause may be." He makes it sound as if the link between the murder and Perry de Havilland's oft-stated belief that the state will neither protect you nor allow you to protect yourself is arbitrary and contrived.

It is neither. Perry did not jump to conclusions when murder came practically to his very doorstep; his conclusions on that subject have been broadly the same in the several years I have known him write and talk about crime and self-defence. He didn't ask or want to have his point made in this ghastly way. But now that it has it would be absurd not to think that what he once knew from theory he now also knows from bitter personal experience.