British MP Stephen Pound made a promise to the listeners of the BBC Radio 4, asking listeners to phone in suggestions for a piece of legislation. Pound promised to propose to Parliament the piece of legislation that received the most votes. The next day the results were tallied, and with nearly 26,000 votes the public had spoken: the law they wanted to see passed would allow them to “use any means to defend their home[s] from intruders.” Apparently, however, Mr. Pound didn’t see eye to eye with them, calling the proposal a “ludicrous, brutal, unworkable blood-stained piece of legislation.” The MP made allegations that advocates for Tony Martin may have hijacked the vote.
Tony Martin was a Norfolk farmer before he was arrested and thrown in jail. The crime he was charged with was shooting at burglars who had been breaking into his house. On August 20th, 1999 two teenage burglars broke into Mr. Martin’s farmhouse, near Wisbech Norfolk. Martin fired his shotgun at them, and they exited his house. The wounded Brendan Fearson crawled to Martin’s next-door neighbor for aid. The next day police arrested Martin and searched his house, where they found the body of Fred Barras. On August 23, Martin was charged with “murder, wounding with intent, and possession of an illegal pump-action shotgun.” Martin was forced to stand trial for the killing of Barras and was found guilty of manslaughter. Martin claimed he had shot at the burglars in self-defense. He argued that his neighbors had been burglarized several times, and the police had done nothing to prevent it. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Three years later he was put up for parole, but government lawyers told a High Court judge that “burglars are members of the public who must be protected from violent householders.” They claimed that if Mr. Martin were allowed to go free he would pose a danger to certain members of society.
In legal papers seen by The Independent, Home Office lawyers said, “It cannot possibly be suggested that members of the public cease to be so whilst committing criminal offences, and whilst society naturally condemns, and punishes such persons judicially, it can not possibly condone their (unlawful) murder or injury.” These lawyers claim that releasing Martin would pose a threat to society —- society being those criminal members he plans to protect himself from. Mr. Martin was eventually released from prison, but Fearson was granted the right to sue Martin for lost wages due to his injuries.
Stephen Pound may have been correct when he alleged that the only people who voted were supporters of Tony Martin: it appears most of the country is outraged and on his side. A recent study conducted by Leiden University in Holland found that England and Wales ranked second overall in violent crime among industrialized nations; the United States didn’t even crack the top ten. The British home secretary Jack Straw stated that, “levels of victimization are higher than in most comparable countries for most categories of crime.” It is because of this that many citizens were upset with the new law that Parliament passed, taking more than 200,000 firearms from owners with permits. The new law, passed in response to the 1996 school shooting in Dunblane that killed 16 children, made it illegal to own a gun that had a caliber of .22 or higher or one that could fire more than one shot at a time, forcing nearly 200,000 gun owners to turn in their firearms. The police officers persuaded individuals to turn in their guns by offering a $220 compensation; if this incentive was ineffective, they threatened gun-owners with arrest and even jail time. The source of the most outrage is that the police used gun license records to track down individual gun-owners. The police are only taking away guns that are registered, depriving law-abiding citizens of the use of them, while doing nothing to stop the estimated 2 million illegal firearms already in the United Kingdom.
The British Parliament refuses to believe that its society is plagued with crime, pointing to a higher crime rate in America, where it isn’t illegal to own a gun. The only reason Britain has been able to hide under the guise of lower crime is because of the way their police take reports. In an article by the London Daily Telegraph called, “Crime Figures a Sham, policemen admit to padding the statistics. When there is a string of burglaries committed by the same robber they are only recorded as one robbery, and if no one is convicted for a murder or crime then it is not recorded at all. British police warn that legalizing guns would push the crime rate in the country to the level of that in the United States, but the Daily Telegraph points out that “the main reason for a much lower burglary rate in America is householders’ propensity to shoot intruders. They do so without fear of being dragged before courts and jailed for life.”
One need not look any further than the United States to see how legalizing guns has helped prevent crime. A recent study conducted by Prof. John R. Lott, Jr., and David B. Mustard, of the University of Chicago, titled “Crime, Deterrence, and Right To Carry Concealed Handguns,” found that “allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crimes and it appears to produce no increase in accidental deaths (with guns). If those states which did not have Right to Carry concealed gun provisions had adopted them in 1992, approximately 1570 murders; 4177 rapes; and over 60000 aggravated assaults would have been avoided yearly. When concealed handgun laws went into effect in a county, murders fell by 8.5% and rapes and aggravated assaults fell by 5 and 7 percent, and, according to FBI data, states with the right to carry law have 26% less total violent crime, 20% less homicide, 2% less rape, 39% less robbery, and 22% less aggravated robbery. 8 of the 10 states with the lowest crime rate are states that have a Right to Carry law.
In light of all this evidence it is hard to blame the citizens of Britain for wanting Parliament to ease restrictions on allowing citizens to use guns in defense of their own homes. Something is wrong when a government must pad crime statistics, lying to those whom it is supposed to protect and responding to them flippantly when they ask for permission to protect themselves. (MP Stephen Pound’s response : “The people have spoken -- the bastards.”) Fortunately there are some MP’s who take the voice of the public seriously. As of January 9, 2004 East Lancashire Tory MP Nigel Evans called for a Commons debate on strengthening the right of people to defend themselves when their homes are broken into; this was spurred not only by the Tony Martin case but also by the will of the people.
Alexander de la Rosa is a sophomore in Pierson College.