I started this blog with a vague idea that I’d critique any new legislation with the specific question “Does this law increase liberty?” There’s more than one way of addressing liberty and the kind I’m talking about is not the kind of freedom you get in Texas where you can carry whatever firearms you like, but the kind where you have the freedom to go walking down a street in Cumbria or anywhere else free from the fear of being shot at. Personally, I think parliament should be morally obliged to discuss that question for every bill it passes and maybe as a blog idea it will work, maybe not; there hasn’t been time for any legislation yet so nothing to work on.
I’m sure you’ve already guessed why I’m writing this now, but the specific theme is Moral Panic: That’s in most Social Science 101 courses and it’s often the enemy of Liberty. At most points in history you don’t have to look far for an example and it looks like we have another one in the making, characterised as usual by misleading information in the press and misinformation is no friend of Liberty. Let us turn to the Daily Telegraph, who are either engaging in some selective quoting or needing new experts as apparently “If you have no criminal record, there is no reason you can’t have a rifle that can drop someone at a distance of two miles”.
I’d like to know which weapons he’s referring to, because the maximum effective range of a British Army Sniper Rifle is 1.4km (Just under a mile) and the too-heavy-to-carry-but-more-powerful American one a range of 1.8km, about 1.1 miles. That’s effective range: just because it can propel a bullet a couple of miles it doesn’t mean it’s going to go where you want it to even if you’re a good enough shot – which unless you’re in the armed forces or Olympic shooting team, you’re not going to be – and it’s not likely to have enough energy to do much in the way of damage when it gets there.
No doubt we’ll see more of this sort of thing and it’ll put the image in the public’s mind of someone picking off targets a couple of miles away with a high power sniper rifle, when Derrick Bird actually carried a .22, most likely a rimfire powerful enough to be suitable for picking off foxes and other wildlife at ranges measured in tens or low hundreds of meters. Myself, if someone came at me with even a military .22″/5.56mm weapon and a shotgun I’d be more scared of the shotgun. You’ll probably survive a hit from a 5.56mm bullet but a shotgun cartridge makes one big mess of anything you point it at: Just ask the doctors dealing with the victims in Cumbria.
But, and here’s the but, it’s also unlikely a Conservative government will take any significant action on shotgun ownership even with a lot of pressure from Liberal Democrats as they’re extensively used by farmers, who tend to be conservative voters. You don’t want to piss off large elements of your core vote, that tends to cause backbench revolts.
So, here’s my prediction: So far, there doesn’t appear to have been anything anyone could have noticed beforehand that would have caused concerns about his mental state and his holding of a firearms certificate and the government in power is not going to want to do much about shotgun ownership. So we’ll end up with a gun control bill that restricts ownership of weapons that were not the major problem in this incident and tighten up controls on getting a firearms certificate, but the new controls will be ones that Derrick Bird would probably have passed anyway. Anyone that votes against the bill will be labelled as pro-guns and thus some sort of gun-crazy right-wing loon.
We must do something about gun control.
This is something!
Ergo, we must do this…?