Gullible Gunners

I wrote earlier about the Tony Martin case. Martin shot a fleeing burglar in the back and left him to die. He was convicted of murder (reduced to manslaughter on appeal). Pro-gunners such as John Lott, Glenn Reynolds and John Derbyshire have written about the Martin case, apparently unaware of the facts that showed that the killing was not in self defence, and proceeded to make bogus claims that self defence was against the law in Britain. Claims which they have never bothered to correct.

Last week this story appeared in the Scotsman:

A man who stabbed to death an armed intruder at his home was jailed for eight years today. Carl Lindsay, 25, answered a knock at his door in Salford, Greater Manchester, to find four men armed with a gun. When the gang tried to rob him he grabbed a samurai sword and stabbed one of them, 37-year-old Stephen Swindells, four times.

Now, there are two possible explanations for Lindsay's conviction:

  1. The jury knew more facts that those which appeared in the brief story and these showed that the killing was not in self defence.
  2. Self defence is illegal in the UK.

The reaction from bloggers was swift and extensive. At the time of writing, Technorati reports 61 blogs linking to the story, all going for explanation 2, none even considering the possibility that the killing was not self defence.

John Derbyshire called it the "Outrage of the week". Glenn Reynolds expressed disappointment "at this barbaric infringement of human rights". John Lott reckoned that it showed that there wasn't a right to self defence in Scotland (apparently he thinks that Manchester is in Scotland). James Taranto said that Lindsay should have instead been "hailed as a hero". Jerry Scharf claimed "Self defence outlawed because it deprives criminals of their livelyhood". Michael Demmon called it a "moronic sentence". Dean Esmay called the Brits "bloody well insane". Dozens more bloggers expressed similar sentiments.

However, when more details emerged, it became likely that explanation 1 was the right one and the killing was not defensive. Lindsay was actually a drug dealer, and more importantly, Swindells had been stabbed four times in the back while fleeing. The reaction to this was mixed. Commendably, some updated their original posts and corrected their mistaken conclusions. Esmay and Demmon fall into this category. Some just ignored the new information. Derbyshire, Lott and Scharf fall into this category. Taranto adds an update that mentions the drug dealer part but doesn't mention the more important fact that Lindsay literally backstabbed Swindell. Reynolds updates and mentions the new information, but instead of correcting his original opinion insists that it doesn't really make a difference---just like in the Martin case, he is sure that the UK does not allow self-defence and all evidence to the contrary is ignored or discounted.

I guess we'll see if these bloggers have learned from this and are less quick to jump to incorrect conclusions the next time a similar case comes along.

Update: Glenn Reynolds has added another update where he writes:

Matt Rustler notes that while the English shooting may have been good or not, it's not clearly a bad call based on the additional available evidence.

True, but the additional evidence does not contradict the original story in any way. That is, it wasn't clearly a bad call based on the original story either.


More like this

Rather nice of you to mention that there have been other documented cases of people being punished for self-defense in the UK that garnered them the reputation they have. It would also be nice if you'd note that as soon as many of us heard that the story was more complex, sometimes within an hour, we immediately posted updates.

Those of you who are paranoid and fearful about guns seem to have a need to stereotype those of us who don't share your fear and loathing. We're rather used to it, but we make note of it when we see it, and it's what your'e doing here. Not unusual, but worth noting.

Dean, as far as I am aware, the other "cases of people being punished for self-defense in the UK" are like this one and the Martin case -- with key facts missing from the versions that pro-gunners tell. If you had read my post more carefully you would have noticed that I praised you posting an update. And it's funny the way you accuse me of stereotyping you while stereotyping me as "paranoid and fearful about guns".

The original story -- "original" from my point of view, at any rate -- made it sound as if 1) the stabbing had occurred inside Lindsay's apartment; 2) the attackers had forced their way inside (I'm actually still a bit hazy on that); 3) the robbers had been actively attacking or at least threatening him at the time. (It was sloppy reading, in part, that lead me to those conclusions. But considering the amount of company I seem to have had, I have to put some of it down to sloppy writing, too. These little details are very important aspects of the case.) A killing under those circumstances would be practically a prima facie case of self-defense. Stabbing a man four times in the back, seemingly outside your home, after successfully driving him off and while he's running away from you (which is how later reports imply the incident occurred) is not prima facie self-defense.

Last night I added additional discussion of the matter here.

I haven't read your discussion of the Martin case. I'll be interested to do so.

As Dean notes, there have been numerous cases of the British courts charging people for defending themselves. The law there seems to be one based on "proportional response" - e.g., stabbing someone who isn't armed with a weapon is "excessive force." So is bashing them over the head with a brick. There are many of these cases, and they've lead us to the conclusion that private citizens in Britain had best not resist attack, or face prosecution for usurping the authority of the State in its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. My primary objection to the news story was that it reinforces that conclusion. If you are a reader of that story, ignorant as to the details, in combination with all the other similar stories of people prosecuted after defending themselves, the message is "don't resist, you'll go to jail."

In many jurisdictions in the U.S., the presumption is that anyone invading your home is an immediate threat to you and yours, and any level of response including use of lethal force, is justified. Tony Martin, for example, would have gotten a pass in South Carolina or Texas, and probably would not have been indicted in most other jurisdictions - even though as I have said before, he apparently set up an ambush and he used a weapon he was not legally entitle to have. His case was further exacerbated by the knowledge that his home had been burglarized multiple times and that the police had been completely ineffective in stopping the burglaries or in capturing the perpetrators.

In this case we have a bad guy (drug dealer) who was attacked by three other bad guys, one of whom was armed with a handgun (illegal in England, you know.) He fought back with a 12" blade, a weapon not known for its long-range capabilities. The question, then, would be was the man he stabbed retreating to get a safe firing position, or was he retreating to get the hell out of Dodge? And how could the defender know?

Juries in Britain are not allowed to make determinations like that. It seems to be immaterial in their case law. From the reports, the jury in the Martin case did not want to convict Martin of murder, but they were given essentially no choice, and AFAIK they have no ability to exercise "jury nullification" either.

Yes, the law only allows you to use reasonable force in self-defence. Which is not at all the same thing as not letting you defend yourself effectively. I have some pages from a book that explains this here.

Lindsay stabbed Swindells "in the hallway" after he fled. Presumably this is the hallway outside his flat, so he could have just slammed and locked the door. The jury knew the details and could have decided that it was self-defence if they felt that it was justified. In the Martin case, I think it was legal maneuvering by the defence that removed the option of the jury convicting of manslaughter. I think they were hoping that the jury would let him go rather than see him punished far too severely (life) for what he had done.

Taken from the first page of your link (excellent resource, BTW) I find the following:

One of the most important limitations on the use of weapons is of course that they cannot be carried or used to injure other people.
Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 provides that a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, and the question of reasonableness is subject to the amplifications contained in such cases as R v McInnes and R v. Palmer. It has been held that "if a jury thought that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had done only what he honestly and instinctively thought was necessary, that would be most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken."
It has been long established (prior to either the Criminal Law Act 1967 s 3 or AIDS) that a woman may take the life of a man attempting to rape her, though she may not generally carry a weapon to achieve this.

So, you can't carry any weapon with which to defend yourself, on the presumption, it seems, that possession of any weapon implies offensive intent. Yet a jury is allowed to take into consideration your mental state during an attack to decide on the "reasonableness" of your - unreasoning, "instinctive" - response to said attack. Further, if you are a woman, there is a presumption that lethal force in resisting a rape is justifiable, but the woman is prohibited from carrying any weapon with which she could exercise lethal force against a male assailant who is probably larger and stronger than she.

From this, Clayton Cramer states that he thinks it would be doubtful that a woman escape prosecution for using a gun against an assailant unless said assailant were armed with a knife or a gun. Actually, as I read it, she wouldn't be prosecuted for using a gun, but she would be prosecuted for having it in the first place, the presumption being that the gun was an offensive weapon no honest citizen should carry.

Don't these laws strike you as just a wee bit schizophrenic?

What about Mark Barnsley and Saptal Ram. There cases appear at least at first glance a bit different to the Martin and Lindsay cases.

Also importantly, the law may state one thing and the way that the police and the courts interpret it in a given set of circumstances is another. British weapons law tends to be quite subjectively interpreted.

Thus, self-defense in England may be technically legal. In practice however, you may get into serious trouble for defending yourself, particularly if you use a weapon. Yet, depending on your physical stature and the circumstances, using a weapon may be your only effective option. Do people still have a right to free speech if they are only allowed to write with quill pens? I think that most of us would think not.

David Kopel has written a Hamline Law Review article titled:

All The Way Down The Slippery Slope:
Gun Prohibition In England And Some Lessons For Civil Liberties In America

In particular, see VIII. The Campaign against Self-Defense

His conclusion is that self-defense in England, while technically legal, is effectively dead.


Today, as a result of Parliament's 1967 abrogation of the common law rules on justifiable use of deadly force, should a person use a firearm for protection against a violent home intruder, he will be arrested, and a case will be brought against him by the Crown Prosecution Service.

I think your arguments would be more persuasive if you could actually come up with a case that supports the postion that self defence is not allowed. For example, I looked up Saptal Ram and found this page which shows that his "self defence" involved stabbing an unarmed man in the back. The court of appeal said:
"The evidence of the weapon used by the appellant and the stab wounds in the back were quite inconsistent with self-defence as was the evidence of his aggressive behaviour and words."

You just can't use any weapon in your defense. You have the right to be a victim, essentially.

Wasn't there a member of Parliament recently who got in hot water by checking out a noise he heard because he was carrying an air-rifle while he did it? Had he not been a government official, I'm quite certain he'd have done time.

The appearance is that, as I said, the government guards jealously the legitimate use of force. Proles should not overstep their restrictions.

And what of Mark Barnsley's case? I haven't found much, but all of it seems uniform in that he was attacked by a group of drunk kids, but he was the one that went to jail for eight years.

Because he admitted to possessing a knife.

A right to "self defense" without a corresponding right to use a weapon in self defense is worthless and should be called as such. This is like saying that the Taliban allowed for freedom of religion - as long as you were a Sunni Muslim.

If you can only use your fists in self defense, then the weak will fail against the strong, and the one will fail against the many.

I suffered a back injury last year. I am an otherwise healthy young man, but I can assure you that while my injury healed, I was in no position to defend myself with physical strength. And even as a fully healed and physically fit man, I cannot prevail against more than one attacker. My wife, and most women, cannot prevail in physical combat against most men. Weapons are the equalizer. That is why they are so essential to self defense. Imprisoning people for possessing the means of self defense while acquiting them of the act of self defense is hollow and fraudulent.

All the stuff I could find out about Barnsley was from supporters, so all we have seen is the case for the defence. If that's all there was to it, a jury would never have convicted him. I imagine things would look different if we saw the prosecution's case. Maybe it was a miscarriage of justice, but I can't tell whether it is from waht I've seen.

Do you find the law prohibiting honest citizens from carrying any weapon suitable for self-defense, while the law ostensibly allows you a right to defend yourself somewhat schizophrenic?

The jury is supposed to take your "instinctive" response to being attacked into account, but if you use a weapon in your defense you're immediately assumed to have had it for offensive purposes. Am I misunderstanding the (il)logic here?

And how is a woman to exercise her presumed inherent right to lethal force against a rapist if she's denied any means with which to do so? What weapon is she left with? Foul language? Mean thoughts? Rapier wit?

Kevin, you seem to be equating self defence with guns. This is doubly wrong. First, guns are far more frequently used for offensive purposes than for defensive ones. And second, guns are not the only means for self defence.


I disagree with you that guns are more frequently used for offensive purposes than for defensive ones. However, that is a larger sociological subject and is irrelevant to the question of whether a law-abiding citizen should have the right to keep a gun for self-defense. A gun that you know how to use is simply the most effective means to defend yourself. Period. This is especially true if you are not a strong young male. And yes, there are other means of self defense, but they are nowhere near as effective. They may be suitable in some circumstances (and should be used if they would resolve the situation peacefully), but they often fail in many circumstances. Prohibiting a citizen from possessing the most effective means of self defense negates the right.

And yes, I know and believe that you are not a gun-banner, but trust me, the hard core of the gun banners in the States - the ban 'em all type - are also very anti self-defense. They see the use of deadly force as exclusively the prerogative of the state, and the use of deadly force by citizens as immoral and unjustifiable. This is the core of the debate - that it just can't be allowed that people be able to *** shudder *** shoot other people, not matter what the circumstances

As is customary with each election season in the US, we are starting to see the usual politician double-speak: "We support the Second Amendment rights of sportsmen and hunters, but... They are absolutely silent on the subject of self-defense, even though the Second Amendment has nothing to do with sports and some 90% of the American population support the right to use even deadly force in self-defense.

Tim, the law prevents anyone from carrying anything for self-defense. A knife, pepper spray, a club, a taser, anything. If Kopel's piece referenced above is accurate, a man who defended himself with a swordstick was prosecuted for carrying an "offensive weapon."

As the law has (apparently) been interpreted (and I believe it was intended) the presumption on the part of the Government is that if you carry a weapon, any weapon, you are guilty of the intent to do criminal bodily harm. Yet the law gives lip service to the concept of the right to self-defense.

Sir William Blackstone in his 1765 Commentaries on the Laws of England, in the section titled "The Absolute Rights of Individuals":

THE fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute 1 W. & M. ft. 2. c. 2. and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.

(My emphasis)

St. George Tucker wrote in his 1803 "American Blackstone" review of American law, when discussing our Second Amendment:

This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty... The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.

That was in the early Nineteenth Century. In England now they have, in the name of "public safety" made it essentially impossible for law-abiding citizens to carry any weapon for self-defense, though the State cannot provide protection for all, and it is incapable of preventing those so inclined from carrying weapons with criminal intent.

This isn't about guns. It's about the absolute right of the individual to defend himself, his family, and his property. A right that the government has usurped. Here's another example of evidence that we "gullible gunners" have seen that leads us to "jump to incorrect conclusions."

Now, would you care to address my questions rather than changing the subject?

Because of previous experience I'm not inclined to take Kopel's word for anything. He seems to just see what he expects to see.

To explicitly answer your question: No, I do not find the law to be schizophrenic. Restrictions on offensive weapons do not make it impossible to defend yourself.

I really don't think that this discussion is likely to be productive. We seem to be going in circles already.

But essentially so. Particularly if your assailant is armed with a weapon you are denied by law to have.

Kopel's word isn't germane here. Is there or is there not a right to self-defense? English law says there is, yet its laws concerning weapons make self-defense, for all intents and purposes, a lost cause. The facts are that possessing, much less using anything that the State considers a weapon makes you a criminal in its eyes. It does not seem to legally recognize any legitimate use of force by any non-government actor.

How is an elderly disabled person to effectively defend himself against a healthy younger man? How is a single person to effectively defend him or herself against multiple attackers? And, one more time, how is a woman to effectively defend herself against a rapist? She has a right to use lethal force, but no ability to. As Kevin P. points out, denying the means to exercise a right effectively denies the right. You haven't addressed this question, you've dismissed it.

It seems that this discussion is unlikely to be productive because you are unwilling to address this fact.

An especially germane case has just arisen in Houston:
Renter Fires
Gun During Alleged Home Invasion: Woman, 5 Men Allegedly Ransack Apartment In
Search Of Drugs, Money

HOUSTON -- A woman and her husband were arrested and put behind bars
early Tuesday morning after an alleged early morning home invasion failed in
northwest Houston. Investigators said the couple, along with four other men, forced their
way into a northwest Houston apartment around 1 a.m. Tuesday and ransacked the
apartment. The renter told officials the intruders demanded money and drugs. Officials told News2Houston the homeowner grabbed a gun and fired shots,
causing the home invaders to run away. Houston police said no one was hit by the gunfire and no injuries were
reported. Officers caught up with the woman and her husband down the street. They
were arrested and put in jail. The four other men escaped.

Note that there is no mention of the homeowner being arrested. What are the
odds that this would happen in Britain? What are the odds that you could prevail
against 6 home invaders without a gun?

Wierd... the Preview showed the cite tag properly, but the Post button did not...[That's a feature :-) You should not use the cite tag for quotes anyway. Use blockquote. TL]

"Restrictions on offensive weapons do not make it impossible to defend yourself."

There's the semantic problem. To the UK Government, as pertains to the subjects, there are offensive weapons, but no defensive weapons. If it's a weapon, it is, by definition, offensive and must be denied to the public, or extraordinarily restricted. Yet, if carried by an official of the government, the same weapon is defensive in nature, and we can trust that it will not be misused. That's why, here, "hunting rifles" are considered OK, but "assault rifles" are dangerous. In England, admitting that you target shoot gets you shunned like a mental case, and Australia seems to be somewhere in between. A spreading cultural fear of weapons as the cause of mayhem.

There are no "offensive" weapons. They're just weapons. Or tools. (A hammer makes quite an effective weapon. So, apparently, does a walking stick.) A knife can be a tool or a weapon as well. Pepper spray or mace can be used to disable a victim as well as an attacker. Same for a taser, or an axe handle. So too for firearms.

It's not the weapon that carries the intent - it's the user. Yet the UK government has seen fit to tell the entire population "You're not trustworthy. You cannot be trusted with any weapon, because of the chance you might use it to inflict bodily harm upon another."

At the same time, it tells them that they have a right to inflict bodily harm upon another in defense of themselves - all the way up to homicide in the case of rape - but that the infliction of harm must be restricted to a reasonable level.

Who gets to decide what was reasonable? A JURY. Which means, if you use force effectively in your own defense, especially if you used any weapon in that effective defense, you stand a very good chance of being charged with excessive use of force, and placed on trial. After all, seems to go the reasoning, if you were able to effectively defend yourself, if your attacker is wounded and you are not, or if your injuries are less serious than his, you weren't in real danger and/or you de facto used excessive force.

That high risk of prosecution effectively chills the right to self defense. Who wants to risk court? Just the costs, not to mention the possibility of conviction? The inability to have or use a weapon in your defense also chills the right. If you are overmatched, what use is resistance?

You object to our near unanimous conclusion that "self defense in the UK is illegal," poo-pooing it as "gullible," but for all practical purposes that assertion is true. Stories like the Scotsman piece reinforce that understanding. All it said was (in abbreviated form) "One man attacked by four. One of the four had a gun. Man defended himself with a sword, killing one of the four. Defender sentenced to eight years." When faced by four attackers, one armed with a firearm, it seems the "instinctive" reaction the government wants is for the victim to curl into a ball and surrender. Any other action is deemed "antisocial," apparently. The CS spray story linked above is another example.

No, Tim, if you can defend that position as valid, or attempt to logically explain away the obvious disconnect between a valid right to self-defense, but a valid power of the State to deny citizens any means with which to exercise that right, then we aren't going to have a productive discussion - at least as it pertains to one of us convincing the other of the correctness of his reasoning.

But it would be really educational to people "on the fence," so to speak, concerning the right to arms.

From Kevin Baker:
A gun that you know how to use is simply the most effective means to defend yourself. Period. This is especially true if you are not a strong young male. And yes, there are other means of self defense, but they are nowhere near as effective.

From Kleck:
Consequently, while defensive gun use is generally safe, it does not appear to be as uniquely safe among self-protection methods as data from earlier NCVS data suggested.

The NCVS data, and Kleck, disagree with you on that point.

And you're making an "apples and oranges" comparison. Kevin P. asserted that a gun is the most effective means of self-defense, not that it was the safest. There's a significant difference between the two words.

If you are not a "strong young male," but are faced with defending yourself against one (or more), a firearm is a far more effective (i.e. intimidating) weapon than one that requires brute strength or speed (bare fists, feet), or closing to contact distance (knife, blunt instrument), or a chemical weapon such as pepper or CS spray. This does not mean that you won't get injured if you attempt to defend yourself, though, regardless of your choice of weapon (or if you choose not to resist, being weaponless.)

See the difference?

God created men and women. Col. Colt made them equally effective.

The judge in Lindsay's case actually acknowledged his right to self defence, saying that he had initially acted in self defence. Your argument seems to be that restrictions on weapon carrying in the UK effectively remove the right to self defence. This argument has nothing to do with the Lindsay or the Martin cases and mentioning it in that context just causes confusion.

As I have said before, your argument is logically flawed because it rests on the premise that a gun is the only way to defend yourself. Pro-gunners frequently make this error when they equate "unarmed" with "defenceless".

Please, point it out.

I've said that, for those so willing it's the BEST TOOL FOR THE JOB. But as Mr. Lindsay demonstrates, it's hardly the "only way." Your conclusion that my "argument is logically flawed" is based on your fallacious understanding of my argument.

You dismiss my argument because you refuse to understand what it is I'm arguing. It doesn't fit into your worldview. It's called "cognitive dissonance," or as Steven Den Beste explained it so succinctly:

When someone tries to use a strategy which is dictated by their ideology, and that strategy doesn't seem to work, then they are caught in something of a cognitive bind. If they acknowledge the failure of the strategy, then they would be forced to question their ideology. If questioning the ideology is unthinkable, then the only possible conclusion is that the strategy failed because it wasn't executed sufficiently well. They respond by turning up the power, rather than by considering alternatives. (This is sometimes referred to as "escalation of failure".)

This is exemplified by what England has done (and Australia is pursuing.) The ideology is that "all weapons are offensive" (in all meanings of the word) and that by preventing people from having access to weapons, violent acts will be eliminated, or at least reduced significantly. The worst "offensive weapons" are, obviously, guns, so access to them by mere citizens was first restricted, then heavily restricted, then severely restricted to essentially the point of prohibition, and then finally banned, yet violent crime did not decrease, even slightly. It went up. This path was evidently a failure, but the ideology could not be wrong, so next they attacked knives, then airguns, then toy guns. Now it's swords. At the same time, the law has made it more and more legally risky to defend oneself, particularly with any weapon. Yet the UK and Australia have, according to comparitive crime statistics, higher violent crime rates that any other "developed" nations in the world. Significantly higher, in fact, than the U.S.

You just don't kill each other as often. But then, you never have, regardless of the weapons laws. Here, where weapons are commonplace and increasing, our violent crime rates have been dropping for a decade. In the UK, where weapons have been ever more restricted, violent crime rates have been rising during the same period. After a complete ban on handguns, crimes committed with handguns are up.

The attempt to reduce violent crime by restricting weapons from the general public is a demonstrable failure, but because it's an ideology that weapons are the cause of violence, the "ban 'em all" strategy cannot be abandoned. If it failed, it failed because it wasn't practiced effectively - do it again, only harder. As someone said, repeating the same behavior while expecting a different result is one definition of insanity.

And you're making an "apples and oranges" comparison. Kevin P. asserted that a gun is the most effective means of self-defense, not that it was the safest. There's a significant difference between the two words.

Not under these circumstances. The NCVS data looked at the percentage chance of injury (from self, or attacker - the cause of the injury is not considered) in cases where someone was attacked and used a variety of self-protection measures. Using a gun as a self-protection measure did not result in significantly less injuries (including injuries given by the attacker) than other self-protection measures. Hence the Kleck quote.

As the primary purpose of self-protection is to prevent personal injury, 'safe' (in terms of reducing the chance of personal injury) and 'effective' do mean the same thing in this context.

You write: "As the primary purpose of self-protection is to prevent personal injury...."

That's a tautology. The "prevention of personal injury" is the definition of "self-protection".

I think what you intended was "The primary purpose of self-defense is self-protection." What I think you intended to imply in your original statement is that the only purpose of self-defense is self-protection, but it's not. As noted above,

Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 provides that a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime....

Nor is "failure to avoid injury" semantically equivalent to "failure to defend oneself."

Let me explain, and let's start by being absolutely clear here: We are discussing the legitimate use of force in response to the illegitimate use of force. My contention is that UK government has made it legally risky for any citizen to attempt to exercise a legitimate use of force in his own defense or in defense of another. I also contend that it has made it physically risky to do so because the law denies to the victim of crime any weapon with which to do so, while being unable to prevent a criminal from using any weapon he really wants.

Example: Someone confronts me and demands my wallet (with an implied threat of physical injury if I do not comply.) Instead of yielding up my wallet, I punch him in the mouth and knock him out. Doing so, I break my hand. I am injured, but I have not lost my wallet. I have successfully defended myself, even though I did not avoid injury. I have done something else - I have prevented a crime of violence (attempted robbery) through the legitimate use of force. My punching him in the mouth is not assault, it's self-defense. If I am able to call the police and the mugger is apprehended, (hopefully before he recovers consciousness) I have aided in removing a violent criminal from the street (until they put him out on bail ten minutes after arraignment.) If I then testify against him and put him in jail, I've done a bit more effective job (unless he gets a sentence of probation.) Regardless, I've not only defended myself, I've defended society by resisting violent crime and attempting to remove a violent criminal from the general population.

Now, repeat the exercise above with the assailant holding an (illegal) knife, and me with only my hands and feet with which to defend myself.

Then add my wife and my two grandchildren to the equation.

(Note to Tim: The Preview feature is greatly appreciated.)

Kevin, you seem to be equating self defence with guns. This is doubly wrong. First, guns are far more frequently used for offensive purposes than for defensive ones. And second, guns are not the only means for self defence.

I think that argument is doubly wrong. First, I'm not at all convinced that guns are used more frequently for offensive than defensive purposes, at least in any country that doesn't systematically disarm the good guys to the benefit of the bad guys. What is your basis for this claim? Kellerman's rubbish, or something else? Second, for many people in many situations, guns are the only viable means for self-defense. How else is a 90 pound woman who's never been in a physical confrontation to defend herself against a 200-pound intruder who's previously killed able-bodied men with his bare hands?

Xrlq: "How else is a 90 pound woman who's never been in a physical confrontation to defend herself against a 200-pound intruder who's previously killed able-bodied men with his bare hands?"

Me: "And how is a woman to exercise her presumed inherent right to lethal force against a rapist if she's denied any means with which to do so? What weapon is she left with? Foul language? Mean thoughts? Rapier wit?"

Respondents: (Crickets chirping....)

Kevin, you asserted that the statement "self defense in the UK is illegal" is "practically true". The judge's comments in the Lindsay case show that Lindsay was practically and legally able to defend himself with a weapon. He was only convicted because he chased and backstabbed one of the robbers after the robber had fled from Lindsay's home.
Restrictions on weapons might make self defence more difficult in some cases, but they can also make it easier in others (because the attacker does not have a weapon). The net effect could be to make it easier or harder on average. It certainly isn't to make it impossible.

Xrlq, The NCVS finds many more offensive gun uses than defensive ones. Duncan has a lengthy discussion of the whole issue here.

Even if there are some rare situations where a gun is the only possible means for defence, it does not make the statement that "self defense in the UK is illegal", since that is a general statement describing all situations.

Restrictions on weapons, except in rare cases, ONLY make it more difficult to defend oneself. They have essentially no effect on the access to weapons by violent criminals. Had Lindsay been assaulted away from home he would not have had access to the sword. Then what? There's a complete ban on handguns in England, yet one of his assailants had one.

What you characterize as "restrictions on weapons" in England is the complete denial of the ability of anyone to legally possess one, at least outside their own home. Well, that's one definition of "restriction" I guess. When it comes to firearms the laws "restrict" English subjects from using a firearm in self-defense in their own homes by requiring them to store their firearm (assuming they have jumped through all the hoops required to acquire one, and fully cognizant of the fact that the law considers self-defense an unacceptable reason for having one) unloaded, in a locked container, away from the ammunition which is required to be in a separate locked container.

I have described above the cycle of ever-more draconian "restrictions on weapons" as a result of the cognitive dissonace produced from a philosophy that holds that all weapons are offensive and the cause of violence. As an adjunct to that philosophy, the use of weapons is held to be evil, with the sole exception of the use of weapons by an agent of government. The philosophy has further morphed, becoming one in which there almost no recognition of the concept of a legitimate use of force, at least without a UN Security Council joint resolution. ;-)

In the context of resistance to crime, all a violent criminal need do in order to nearly guarantee himself success is to select a victim that is his physical inferior, or to overwhelm his victim with numbers. If he wants to make it even easier all he needs to do is have a weapon, since his victim will almost certainly not have one and weapons are readily available in spite of the laws against them. (I'm sure Lindsay's attackers never expected him to resist. He was outnumbered and outmatched. I think he was successful as much out of shock as anything.) If the violent criminal actually likes to use force against his victims, he need not fear any effective resistance. As a result of this physical reality, violent crime has been on the increase in England and Wales since the 1950's.

You have (understandably, given the origination of this thread) focused on the assertion that "self-defense is illegal." I'll make my position explicit: There is a legal recognition that the British subject has a right to use legitimate force in stopping a crime against himself. It even acknowledges a right to use lethal force against a rapist. However, the laws of the last fifty years, developed under the philosophy I described above and that you by all indications share, have resulted in a situation in which the actual use of force in resisting crime is legally risky. The carry of weapons outside the home is prohibited, making the defensive use of them prohibited. The use of weapons inside the home might as well be. The bar of "reasonableness" has been raised again and again. The law makes comforting noises about the jury taking into account the "instinctive" reaction of the attacked, but the jury - distanced from the attack in time, location, and emotion - is tasked with determining how "reasonable" that "instinctive" reaction is. Lindsay stabbed his attacker four times - in the back, certainly - and is sentenced to eight years. Here in the states someone gets indicted and tried for shooting a burglar six times, four in the back, and when asked why responds "that's all the bullets that were in the gun." The jury finds this "reasonable," and acquits. (That's an apocryphal example, but I can find a comparable concrete one without too much trouble.)

My apologies for this thread drifting so far away from what you consider the original point, but in my opinion what we're discussing here is the absolute right of the individual to defend himself, his family and his property. That right is given mere lip service, but has no legal force in England any longer. The use of force, even the threat of force, by those who are not government agents is considered illegitimate regardless of the actor. The law-abiding citizen is the victim of that flawed philosophy and the cognitive dissonance that has set up a negative feedback loop resulting in their total disarmament. He (or she) is relegated to being the unresisting victim of violent crime by a system that denies, whether overtly or covertly, a right to the legitimate use of force.

You (inclusive) have avoided a question that I have posed more than once. The law recognizes the right of a woman to use lethal force against a rapist, but denies her any means by which to exercise it. How do you justify this dichotomy? Your last, lame response was "Restrictions on weapons might make self defence more difficult in some cases." Well, it certainly does in this one, doesn't it? The philosophy you defend is perhaps better described by saying that it is more moral for society to allow women to be raped than it is to enable them to stand with a smoking gun over the body of the rapist. That's extreme, but nonetheless accurate.

My argument is that a philosophy that justifies the restriction of all weapons from the general public is WRONG, and that philosophy is spreading. The news report that originated this thread is just another example of the spread of that philosophy, and we American bloggers who flew off the handle recognized it as such. You share the cognitive dissonance that does not permit you to accept that the philosophy has failed, and as a result you fail to recognize the error of that philosophy.

Tim Lambert said:

Restrictions on weapons might make self defence more difficult in some cases, but they can also make it easier in others (because the attacker does not have a weapon)

This suggests that criminals would obey laws against possessing or carrying weapons. This absolutely does not square with real life experience. Criminals routinely disregard laws against committing serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery and are simply not going to bother with laws against weapons. In the particular case here, one of them was armed with a <u>handgun</u>, yet the possession of handguns has been illegal since Dunblane and Tony Blair's government.

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns - this is not just a bumper sticker.

Heck, narcotics have been outlawed for decades, and yet are easily and commonly available to anyone to purchase in the alley. And narcotics are consumables, which means that after each use, the illegal user has to buy some more. Guns, by comparison, if taken care of, will last for decades, if not centuries. Ammunition, if taken care of, will last for decades as well. Criminals will always have access to the weapons that they want.

The only consequence of criminalizing the possession of weapons is that law abiding citizens, for fear of and respect of the law, will disarm themselves. By doing so, they leave criminals with a safer working environment.

Might it be usefully pointed out that we don't hear as much about those cases in which self-defence is used within the confines of the law, since they often don't go to court, the CPS having adjudged them unlikely to lead to a prosecution?

By randomname (not verified) on 29 Apr 2004 #permalink


I came across this debate quite by chance while searching for something else. While it looks to be an interesting debate I'm afraid I haven't time to read it all. However, I did notice a comment in relation to my own case (see, that I'd admitted possessing a knife. This is certainly not the case, and in fact I'd argue the jury accepted that the knife in my case belonged to the complainants.

By Mark Barnsley (not verified) on 06 May 2004 #permalink

When I heard the Tony Martin verdict (murder, life) I moved forward emigration plans, leaving UK for good in December 2003. And boy, haven't things got worse since! So you've two options: Leave or put up with not being able to legally prevent home invasion and all the rest of the miscarriage of justice, erosion of civil liberties BS under Blair and NuLabour. Following the May 2005 election, gutless wonder British public isn't going to start the revolution anytime soon. Unless the government ban soaps and football.

By Andrew Milner (not verified) on 20 Oct 2005 #permalink