The 19th century English business magnate Cecil Rhodes once remarked, “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.” As rioting gripped London for four nights in August, many in the civilized world weren’t jealous for having lost the contest.
What started as a protest against perceived excessive police violence had itself turned to violence. Abandoning any political motivation, rioters looted, burned and destroyed neighborhoods indiscriminately.
Though pundits will debate the root causes, one thing was clear: the people of England, and for several days the mostly unarmed police, were powerless to stop the carnage. What the British Gun Control Network has called the “gold standard” of gun control had made sure that no one attacked by the mob was armed with the firearms that could have let them put up an effective defense. The media showed a stream of English men and women asking “Where are the police?”
Having long been legislated out of the most effective means of protecting themselves, most abandoned their property to the mob. But for some, no law would inhibit their natural right to self-defense; Amazon.co.uk reported a 7,000 percent sales increase in a model of nightstick and over 3,000 percent increases in several models of baseball bats.
In some immigrant neighborhoods, residents armed with broken pool cues and crowbars banded together to protect their communities. In the London enclave of Dalston, as rioters approached a thoroughfare of businesses, the men of the largely Turkish community met them with force and drove them back. The next night, as much of London still cowered in fear, the shops of Dalston stayed open.
Other communities with the grit to defend themselves fared similarly. Members of a Sikh community guarded their temple overnight with baseball bats and field hockey sticks. When a reporter asked them if their actions amounted to vigilantism and whether they should rely on police protection, one man replied, “So why aren’t the police here then?”
But without access to the most effective means of defending life and property, such bravery was the exception. As we’ve seen in disorders from Los Angeles to New Orleans, there is no telling how much violence may have been prevented if honest citizens had been able to possess firearms.
The riots are only the latest illustration of the failure of British gun control. In 2010, the Conservative Party campaigned on the Labour Party’s abysmal record on violent crime, citing a 77 percent increase from 1997-2007; of course, 1997 was the year a complete ban on handguns was enacted. As early as 2001, a study from King’s College of London reported a 40 percent increase in crimes involving handguns following the ban. And even if an Englishman manages to arm himself, using that firearm for defense is precarious, as we saw in the 1999 case of farmer Tony Martin, who was tried for murder after he shot a home invader.
Any hopes that the riots might knock some sense into anti-gun British politicians were quickly dashed. Less than two weeks after the riots, London Mayor Boris Johnson and members of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games took a cheap shot at what remains of the British gun community by decreeing that a program providing free Olympic tickets to London schoolchildren should exclude shooting sports events, which might “glorify guns.”
Following protest from the British Olympic Association, the ban was scrapped. As David Penn of the British Shooting Sports Council noted, “There is no link between Olympic-level shooting and crime. It’s like saying that a thief would use a Formula One car as a getaway car.”
In the wake of the mob violence London put on display for the world, the children of London can surely learn valuable lessons from athletes with the determination, work ethic and discipline to reach the pinnacle of the shooting sports. At the same time, we in the United States can learn from the sad example of a government that cannot protect its citizens, yet stands in the way of their fundamental right to self-defense.