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

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


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.

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