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“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Except in Britain.

[ 73 ] December 21, 2012 |

According to most measures, the United Kingdom is a considerably [*] more violent society than the United States.  2.8% of the British experience assault compared with 1.2% of Americans.  Rape, 0.9% to 0.4%. Overall crime, all types, is experienced by 26.4% of the British compared with 21.1% of Americans. 82% of Americans “feel safe” walking in the dark, contrasted with only 70% of the British.

The quintessential “good guy” in this narrative is the police officer.  Yet, the overwhelming majority of British police officers (excepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, of course) are unarmed by American standards.  They carry the baton, pepper spray, and increasingly (but still relatively rare) taser guns.  Armed Response officers — those with firearms — are highly trained and rare, especially in the more rural constabularies (where there might only be 50; according to the most recent data, there are 146 armed officers covering all of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, where I live).

With a rate of violent crime higher than we have in the US, one might think that sworn police officers in Britain would be inclined to be armed.  This leads to a safer society, in the words of the recently wounded by metaphor Wayne LaPierre. However, in Britain, 82% of serving officers, the Police Superintendents Association, and the Association of Chief Police Officers are all opposed to the routine arming of police officers.

The very people responsible for policing a more violent society do not want to be armed.  They put their lives at risk on a daily basis, yet predominantly do not want the ability to shoot back.

The mother of my daughter has been a sworn officer in Britain since 2005.  In LaPierre’s words, one of the “good guys”.  When she joined up, I asked her about the whole quaint unarmed thing.  She didn’t want a gun then, nor following the deaths of PC Sharon Beshenivsky, shot responding to a robbery in 2005, or Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, both shot this past September, nor the five other fatalities on duty (two shot, one stabbed, one ran over by a car, and one who collapsed during a particularly violent arrest) between Beshenivsky in 2005 and Bone and Hughes in September 2012.

She, and the overwhelming majority of British police officers, believe the fewer firearms in circulation, the safer the society.  There are a lot of “bad guys with guns” in Britain — 21,521 crimes were committed with guns in the UK in 2007 according to the Home Office — and it is a more violent society, but the good guys don’t feel the need to have more good guys with guns.

Any NRA member with more than a handful of neurons to rub together should immediately leap on the causal direction argument in the above: perhaps Britain is a more violent society than the United States precisely because the gun control laws are so strict? We see more random beatings following Friday and Saturday nights because the intoxicated perpetrators don’t have to fear being shot in response?

There is, however, one rate statistic where the US overwhelmingly wins: homicide.

According to these data, in one year the US had 9146 homicides by firearm, England and Wales, 41.  60% of all homicides in the US were by firearm, 6.6% in England and Wales.  This resolves to 15,243 total homicides in the US, 621 in the UK.  The firearm-assisted homicide rate per 100,000 in the US is 2.97; only 0.07 in England and Wales.

If Britain is a more violent society in general because there are fewer guns about, shouldn’t there likewise be far fewer homicides in the US as the US scores safer in virtually every other violent crime metric?

I think we know the answer to this.  There are more homicides in the United States because there’s far greater opportunity.  But then facts and logic can be awkward if they are inconsistent with your position fetish.  Why else has the NRA successfully pushed Congress to ban the CDC from conducting research into guns and public health, or likewise why did the NRA convince Congress to ban the ATF from releasing gun crime trace data?

[*] yes, I know that’s from a pro “arm everybody and their teachers” blog.

Comments (73)

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  1. Allen says:

    As I’ve said many times, in many places, is to go after the NRA and their ilk. Make the NRA a pariah.

    • DrDick says:

      They are shills for the Merchants of Death and nothing more, putting corporate profits before the lives of Americans.

    • Joe says:

      That will help some but the NRA speaks for only a subset of gun owners. The non-NRA group (and many others) are not supportive of the British approach. Even many who you know HATE guns would think it weird if police didn’t have them. There is a serious breach of understanding here. The NRA exploits it, but it goes much deeper than them and this focus on the NRA is a bit unproductive.

  2. JadeGold says:

    Nope, the UK is much less violent than the US.

    The confusion is crimes like “assault” have very different meanings in the UK and US. For example, unwanted touching can be characterized as violence against a person. In fact, “assault” in UK can involve no physical contact whatsoever.

    • JadeGold says:

      UK violent crime includes common assault — simple assault, no injuries, the lowest level of assault. The US does not.

      The UK violent crime include “sexual offences”. The US figures include only “forcible rape”.

      8% of the recorded crime figure for violent crimes in the UK is “other violence”. Where is that in the US figures?

      The US violent crime numbers are comprised of 5 categories: murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault. The UK counts as violent crime things like harassment and intimidation.

      Common assault, in the UK, accounts for over a third of UK’s violent crime.

    • sibusisodan says:

      There’s even an oddity on this within the UK.

      From some numbers I crunched a while back (this came up on the Guardian, where I hang out a lot), according to Eurostat, England&Wales are _considerably_ more violent than Scotland, judging by the numbers of violent crimes reported.

      This appears entirely counterintuitive. I posit that it’s largely due to differences in classification between Scotland and E&W as to what counts as a violent crime. No doubt the UK’s a violent place, but I don’t get the impression that we’re orders of magnitude more violent than most Western countries.

      I am, however, fairly certain, that if my compatriots had easier access to firearms, our homicide rate would shoot up rapidly increase.

    • guthrie says:

      The violence in the UK is also distributed according to your class. If you live on a sink estate or in certain ex-industrial areas, you’re far more likely to engage in fighting people (often outside a pub) than in a nice leafy suburb.
      Which is not to say that there isn’t crime or murders in such leafy suburbs (the one I grew up in has had someone murder his wife 30 years ago, and someone die after being beaten up when drunk about 10 years ago), but really, anecdotally people seem to be far more at risk from random strangers in the USA than they do in the UK.

  3. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli looks forward to the confrontation respectful meeting between the Wisconsin School Board and the newly armed teachers

  4. Hogan says:

    If Britain is a more violent society in general because there are fewer guns about, shouldn’t there likewise be far fewer homicides in the US as the US scores safer in virtually every other violent crime metric?

    The NRA answer would probably be that Americans’ aim is better.

  5. Templar says:

    During the NRA press conference, another mass shooting occurred: http://crooksandliars.com/karoli/4-people-dead-3-troopers-injured-pa-shootin.

    If only the state troopers had been armed…

  6. Steve says:

    I think it’s a good idea to study guns. Note that I didn’t say study “gun violence”. The reason these things have been opposed before is that they have historically looked at guns only as a net cost on society. I’d love however to see more concrete studies of both the costs and benefits. Right now that type of analysis is very apples/oranges and difficult to draw conclusions from.

    The Tihart amendmcent I actually think is good and bad. I think it’s perfectly fine that the ATF (the agency that regulates firearms) an trace a gun to its registered owner. If one of my guns shows up at a crime scene, I hope someone asks me how it got there. I also hope it’s not because someone is exploiting the “murder someone and steal their guns” loophole. At the same time, I think it’s a very bad idea for it to be possible to easily make a list of gun owners in a particular area. As my example I use the residents of LA after hurricane Katrina, who were left totally defenseless during periods of rampant looting.

    • Hogan says:

      If one of my guns shows up at a crime scene, I hope someone asks me how it got there. I also hope it’s not because someone is exploiting the “murder someone and steal their guns” loophole.

      There’s another loophole there: privately sell your gun on and when it shows up at a crime scene, tell the cops, “It was stolen, and I didn’t report it.” Happens a lot in Pennsylvania, and the NRA helped crush a law that would have made filing a police report for a stolen gun mandatory. (Along with one that would have limited handgun purchases to one a month. Because that’s EXACTLY LIKE having jackbooted thugs break down your door in the middle of the night and impound your granddaddy’s hunting rifle.)

    • Chet Murthy says:

      Murder your parents and plead that you’re an orphan, eh? That old wheeze.(*)

      Geez. Let’s remember that the same wingers who argue for guns everywhere all the time, were also the ones who ran FEMA and our government into the ground, and thus completely bungled the response to Katrina.

      (*) yeah, and this -is- meant metaphorically. Just in case you’re incapable of actually reading anything ever written in English by someone other than Ayn Rand.

  7. anniecat45 says:

    Robin Burcell, an American police officer who also writes crime novels, did an onstage interview earlier this year with three retired British cops, two of whom also have written crime novels. They all agreed that they did not want police in the UK to be armed. She said outright, “c’mon, you’re all retired now, you can say what you really believe about this.” They all still said they did not want UK law enforcement to be armed.

    Burcell couldn’t believe it. She spent most of the interview asking them that same question, over and over, in different ways, trying to get them to say they really DID want to be armed. Never could do it.

  8. BigHank53 says:

    Gosh, I wonder if the reported vs. unreported rapes ratio is a bit better in the UK than it is in the US.

  9. Garda says:

    “Stop or I shall be force to yell stop again.”

    When I lived in Dublin for most of the 90s
    unemployment was high, heroin was a problem and yet there was only 2/100K instances of murder or manslaughter in the city. Despite the joke, the Gardaí managed to do their jobs carrying a baton and torch.

  10. c u n d gulag says:

    Another factor is, that the UK has a lot greater density of population per square mile, than the US.

  11. hickes01 says:

    Dave your argument has me completely confused. What’s with all those fact and number thingys you’ve used to make your point? Can’t you just boil everything down to some asinine, nonsensical aphorism for me?

  12. Murc says:

    Yet, the overwhelming majority of British police officers (excepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, of course) are unarmed by American standards.

    ‘By American standards’ is doing a lot of work here.

    I am an American, and I consider someone packing pepper spray and a baton to be armed. I know that the newer batons are explicitly design not be as deadly as the old truncheons, which were basically slightly more genteel pickaxe handles, but they’re still batons and in some ways I’m way more scared of those than of a guy with a knife.

  13. slightly_peeved says:

    If you’re going to do international comparisons of crime, go with the OECD victimisation rates, available here. Police statistics aren’t particularly useful for comparisons, given the difference in reporting rates between countries.

    The UK still fares poorly, but the US is also well above the OECD average on a lot of measures. The armed society isn’t any more polite or crime-free, when compared to a broad range of countries.

  14. [...] might be why British law enforcement is so supportive of their current system, where guns are banned generally and law enforcement officers very rarely carry guns. With a rate [...]

  15. Speak Truth says:

    Since American law enforcement officers will certainly understand American crime better, why not ask *them* if they think the American law enforcement officers should not be armed with sidearms or not?

  16. Speak Truth says:

    Where do American law enforcement come down on the armed/not armed discussion?

    Oh, that’s right…you didn’t actually ask those who are closest to the problem.

  17. Speak Truth says:

    When you call 911 because a crime is being committed against you, do you want a cop with a gun or a cop without a gun?

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      I want waffles with bacon on the side. But that’s just me.

    • Jeremy says:

      I’d prefer a cop who will resolve the situation without shooting me, my family, my dog, or any bystanders.

      • Hogan says:

        Hey, you get shot by the police you have, not the police you wish you had.

      • Speak Truth says:

        I’d prefer a cop who will resolve the situation without shooting me, my family, my dog, or any bystanders.

        If you don’t want people with guns showing up when you call 911… don’t call 911.

        • Emma in Sydney says:

          Well, except in Britain, which is kind of the point.

          • Timb says:

            Well, except in Britain, which is kind of the point.

            Well….not really

            The Ministry of Defense has put the contracts for 30,000 modern assault rifles out to tender to major arms producers around the world to supply the “civilian police” with the state-of-the-art weaponry by 2014 under the pretext of fighting terrorists and criminal gangs.

            Media reports said the police chiefs are already considering arming their officers with the Canadian-made C8 SFW carbine, the same assault rifle the Special Air Service uses in its high-profile operations.

            Some of the features the police want to ensure the new rifles have are being adaptable to use of grenade launchers, silencers and different sights.

    • Malaclypse says:

      What is it like to be constantly in fear of extremely unlikely events? Are the laundry bills prohibitive, or do you just wallow in the miasma of your own urine?

  18. ajay says:

    In a university run by Lakota Sioux, “Man-Who-Relies-On-Daily-Mail-For-Insightful-Sociological-Commentary” would not be a nickname that faculty members would welcome.

    Seriously, cross-border comparison of crime rates? Not a good idea.

  19. joe5348 says:

    “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And guess who profits from arming them both.

  20. ohio exile says:

    Maybe I missed something, but who is advocating disarming cops here, anyway?

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      Why, the voices in Speak Truth’s head, of course.

    • Speak Truth says:

      Maybe I missed something, but who is advocating disarming cops here, anyway?

      @ ohio exile

      Ask any of them if they want cops to carry guns.

      All you’ll get is the dodge and weave from a few shut-ins trying to make themselves feel better about their failed lives by attempting to denigrate others.

      Kinda like the answer above.

      I want certainly want cops to have guns and training. I would imagine most everyone other than these weirdos here at LGM would also answer that question affirmatively.

      Cops want to have guns, too. Just ask any cop. At least they’ll answer your question.

  21. feckless says:

    Unarmed hippies beat gunman and take away his gun, wait for the police.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2004447192_folklifeshooter30m.html

    I like this one because it specifically addresses the nexus of guns and a for profit mental health “system”.

  22. [...] Lawyers, Guns & Money: Good guys and bad guys, guns and gun control, the U.S. and the U.K. [...]

  23. [...] Lawyers, Guns & Money: Good guys and bad guys, guns and gun control, the U.S. and the U.K. [...]

  24. [...] Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Dave Brockington argues that the much lower availability of guns explains why the United Kingdom, a country with higher [...]

  25. Jay says:

    The LAPD has just under 10,000 officers and they patrol a city with approximately 45,000 gang members (according to the LAPD website). Many of the gangs in LA have ties to cartels in Mexico, and would have no more difficulty in getting weapons from Mexico than they do drugs.

    So, if the LAPD were disarmed, they would be outnumbered 4.5 to 1 by enemies with guns. No one would be a cop under those circumstances and LA would end up under the control of the cartels,
    who would quickly move north and take over.

  26. [...] LaPierre sure is willing to swell the numbers of police and create Big Brotherish databases. LGM observes that LaPierre to the contrary, it doesn’t take an armed man to stop an armed gunman. More [...]

  27. [...] after a mass shooting lies a deep pessimism that sees evil as intrinsic to our fallen humanity “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Except in Britain. Some data on simple possession raps for three of my Readers What we did — and didn’t — learn [...]

  28. [...] the colourful language I employed while digesting the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook, and why I’m happy that my daughter is growing up and going to school in England (note, she is proud at being half [...]

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