Death of a Tyrant

Execution of Charles I (1694)

Around this time of year, some of us remember the anniversary of the execution of Charles Stuart, erstwhile King of England. On 30th January, 1649, Charles stepped out onto the scaffold behind the Banqueting House, Whitehall, and after a few words, drowned out by the drummers, placed his head on the block. The spectators famously let out a collective groan at the sight, and then surged forward seeking a memento, namely a swab of his blood. Soldiers stormed in to clear the yard and disperse the crowd.

No one should mourn Charles’ bloody end. He had it coming. However, the measures taken against him, the extraordinary trial, which violated the established laws of the land and horrified the rest of Europe (the ruling classes, at any rate), did not auger well for the settlement of the nation. As John Lilburne and his fellow radicals recognised, with the King deposed and the Parliament a purged rump, all power had been gathered into the mailed fists of Cromwell and Ireton, with nothing left standing to oppose the arbitrary tyranny of England’s new military masters.

The execution of Charles sealed the fate, not of the monarchy, that would return 11 years later in the person of his son, but of the hopes to establish the liberties and sovereignty of the English people, as championed by the radicals within and without the army. Dissent was suppressed, resistance brutally crushed. The Commonwealth, conceived in the iniquity of Pride’s Purge, and born in the sin of Charles’ execution, would always lack legitimacy and popular support.

Demand mediocre gun laws

Since the Newtown shootings I’ve been hearing a great deal, understandably, about murder and violent crime statistics. Richard compared UK and US homicide statistics and Michael looked at the media angle. It’s time to look at the two together.

You may remember that a variety of celebrities took to TV to demand that the people of the US demand a plan from their politicians to, well, demand criminals to kindly not commit the crime of murder again, please. A lot has been said already about how asking criminals to obey a law that takes guns away from them is unlikely to be ineffective, but lets not dwell on that. Let’s take at the laws the celebrities were, in effect, endorsing.

It turns out that the people behind the “Demand a Plan” video called the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (owners of smartgunlaws.org) have a plan of their own to sell. In fact they’ve been cataloguing and grading the gun laws of every US state (excluding, for some reason, the District) with a score from A- to F. They did not award any A or E grades. It’s their goal, as you may not be surprised, to reduce gun violence in a “smart” way using laws as a tool. Obviously, at least to you and me, the choice of murder weapon is of little consequence when you’re dead so I had a look at total homicides (inevitably combining non-negligent manslaughter) from the FBI crime statistics.

I wanted to know whether the states they graded highly had better overall homicide rates. The results are interesting:

Homicides by Law Quality

Law’s graded by SmartGunLaws.org. Crime stats by FBI.

The graph shows the mean rate per 100,000 people as calculated by the FBI, then averaged across states. The X axis is the grade assigned by gun-control advocates, listed alphabetically. The Y axis reflects the combined performance of all laws in the same grade-band in all the states awarded that grade by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As you can see, C grade laws tend to produce fewer homicides regardless of the perpetrator’s choice of weapon. Bizarrely, A-, B-, D, D- and F grade laws all produce more homicides.

What about other forms of violence. Frankly, I have no idea if it’s better to survive a gun shot wound or a beating with fists, I’d like to avoid both. So I wondered how does the “quality” of gun law impact overall violent crime? Most gun-ownership advocates would say that more guns means less violence, since guns are a force-leveller. Most gun-control advocates, I have noticed, don’t seem to care much if I get beaten with an iron rod for want of a firearm.

Violent Crime By Gun Law Quality

Law’s graded by SmartGunLaws.org. Crime stats by FBI.

A second time, it seems as though mediocre C and D grade laws produce better outcomes in terms of the amount of reported violent crime. Even A- states reported nearly 383 crimes compared to just over 362 in F grade states. Nearly 21 extra violent crimes, per 100,000, were caused by “better” gun laws. Wowser!

So what do I think is going on? Well, seriously, I don’t know. The case for gun-control is done no favours by the fact that A-, B-, C and D- states are all more violent that F graded ones, but the averages actually look random. I am not a US citizen and I don’t know enough about each state’s circumstances to speculate at why. The raw stats are there for others to work with and if you want my tabulated spreadsheet and pivot tables, write in, I’m happy to save you a couple of hours of making annoying formulas that I already made. Most likely there are a lot of better mathematicians too, for example, I would like to control for population density and poverty rates but I don’t have a grasp of the required mathematics.

My feeling about it is that actually gun laws are making no difference whatsoever. States have the problems they do for all manner of reasons, I am sure, and I am sure I don’t know how to untangle it. The eagle eyed among you will also notice that C, C- and C+ are not in grade order. I’m sure that were they in order the result would point even more clearly in favour of laws meaning nothing and saving no-one. A little factoid to call out is that D- states experienced 178 more violent crimes per 100,000 people than F graded states. If you were in an F graded state, would you really want your gun laws to score a D- instead? I mean, would you vote for it?

Instead, I look at things in a different way. If I have a right to be alive, and to be happy, then why is it right to limit my use of self-defence? I am responsible for my existence, I would not want to burden others with a duty to act as a white-knight; but if I did I would want them to be armed too so that they can do so safely. Frankly, even if my use of armed self-defence meant that there were more mishaps, then I am sure I would still possess the right to try and defend myself; if not the inclination.

And as for the 2nd amendment, I’m not sure it really does say that I get to use a gun to protect me from my Government, but just look at Syria.

Traumatised Indian females want guns

After the Delhi rape case, in which 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh Pandey was brutally and mortally wounded, females in the Indian capital are keen to own firearms. According to the Guardian:

Hundreds of women in Delhi have applied for gun licences following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman by six men in a bus in the city last month.

The news underlines the widespread sense of insecurity in the city, deep before the incident and deeper now, and the lack of faith in law enforcement agencies.

© Ivan McClellan

Thanks to the visitor who pointed out this story. He rightly said that libertarians should be shouting about this and ensuring that those opposed to the idea understand that they are effectively in favour of rape. Well said. Unfortunately the visitor used a fake email address to leave the comment, which I cannot encourage, though credit is deserved. It is perhaps a little extreme to call gun control advocates such names but they are putting the prevention of rare and emotive tragedies above the individual’s inalienable rights to life and to self-defence, and that’s the wrong judgement to make.

The Guardian, of course, places itself firmly in this “pro-rape” category stating that the “rush for firearms will cause concern”. Really? So what is the current position in India?

The Guardian reports that legal gun ownership (which is increasingly practiced in some areas) actually requires evidence of direct threat to life (a fact I double sourced) and that:

There are estimated to be 40m guns in India, the second highest number in the world after the US.

Licences are hard to obtain and most are illegal weapons, many manufactured in backstreet workshops. Official ownership levels remain low – three guns for every 100 people – but in recent years the number of women holding arms has risen. Most are wealthy and worried about theft or assault.

It is odd for the Guardian to editorialise that this is a cause of concern. They have reported in May 2012 and now again in January 2013 that Indian women want guns for self-defence and that they increasingly get them, they even posted an excellent video showing articulate middle-class Indian women with rifles, shot guns, pistols (and in one case, all three). They showed all the gun shops in the Punjab, but it is apparent that India does not have the same kind of gun problems as the US.  In fact, a little Googling reveals that although there are regular large-scale killings in India, especially in Uttar Pradesh (which, incidentally, has a reputation for corruption) but it is related to Hindu / Muslim religious tensions and has involved swords and bombs, as well as guns. That is not a comparable scenario. So why is it that the Guardian is reporting a desire for more lawful ownership of guns by women for self-defence with such studious yet concerned neutrality? Apparently it does not compute for them that this could be good news.

Privately manufactured guns

The fact that many of these Indian guns owned by the rich for self-defence, as well as the gun that killed British tourist Stephen Ashton in Thailand owned by a gang member, are being manufactured in low-key workshops is a challenge to advocates of disarmenent. In fact it is a sign that gun control will be impossible to implement in a country that respects freedom of speech and offers even a modicum of privacy. It does not take much privacy for engineering knowledge to be shared and put to work.

Think about it. The technology for manufacturing guns is centuries old and the tools available in normal hardware stores and from paces like the Axminster catalogue are increasingly sophisticated. The natural cause of economic and technical progress is that guns should be easier to manufacture at home. Gun control will not work outside of an Orwellian surveillance society with strict censorship and microphones in every room. Even if you think that gun ownership is undesirable, which I am increasing convinced is not the case, then the rational option would still be to plan for the reality of inevitable gun ownership and ensure as many as possible are in the hands of the right kinds of people.

Fear is not a good enough reason to stay in the EU

The case being made for the UK to remain within the EU can be summed up in one four-letter word beginning with F – FEAR. If the UK leaves, it will become irrelevant and insignificant, and/or the remaining EU will be likely to instigate some kind of economic war against us, if not, they hint, something worse.

Let us examine the first of these fear factors: that we will be irrelevant. The argument is that the UK will not have the influence of the EU in trade negotiations, that other nations and trading blocs will not bother themselves with discussing matters with little old us, whereas at present we get to sit at the big table, due to the size of the combined EU.

However, at the moment we have no seat at the table at all, as that seat is taken by an EU representative, who will be putting forward the perceived advantage, not of the UK, but of the EU. The only influence we have, therefore, is the influence as one of 27 over the EU’s negotiating position.  If the EU is successful in a particular negotiation, that does not automatically mean that the UK’s interests have been advanced. It may be that the EU’s negotiating position is contrary to our interests. So, even if the UK standing alone has less influence than the EU combined, in many cases this will mean an independent UK will have a voice instead of no voice at all.

All of the above implies that the kind of trade negotiations engaged in by the EU and others are worthwhile in the first place. This is not necessarily the case. When Britain led the world in free trade, it was acting unilaterally. It was applying the economic principle of comparative advantage, for which we have James Mill and David Ricardo to thank. The institution of free trade was not justified as some kind of act of self-sacrifice, but rather as an advantage to the nation. If other countries wished to continue with policies of protectionism, that was their affair. If governments wished to prop up uneconomic industries and use their own tax-payers’ money to subsidise production, the result would be cheaper products for our consumers.

The issue of free trade has come up in recent years with regard to Africa, with Africans bemoaning the fact that they are expected to continue as suppliers of raw materials only, and not any goods which might directly compete with those produced in the EU. Africans are increasingly aware that it is trade and economic development and not charity which are the keys to prosperity. Outside the EU, the UK would be able to remove protectionist barriers erected for the perceived benefit of various continental industries, and become again an open market for the world’s producers.

The second fear factor is that of the remaining EU nations retaliating against us. Considering  the balance of trade, and ignoring the benefits of all trade, this would hurt the EU more than it hurt the UK. This does not mean that vindictive politicians would not pursue this course, nor that the consumers in EU countries may not also abjure British products, but, even if such a threat is likely to come about, is this really a good reason to stay within the EU? What it boils down to is: “Be part of our happy family, or we will try to destroy you”. If the supposed brotherhood of fellow Europeans is so wafer-thin, what value are we expected to attach to it? This is not friendship, but acquiescence to a bully.

We must certainly assume that the political powers in Brussels would wish to see the UK flounder outside the EU, pour encourager les autres. They know that their power is largely imaginary, and as Daniel Hannan mentioned recently, like a man on a bicycle, they have to keep moving forward or fall over. With the UK outside, other non-core nations may wish to reassert their independence. Indeed, it is interesting to speculate how different the political development of Europe would have been over the last forty years, had the UK stuck with the EFTA model. The nations of central and eastern Europe may well have chosen to join a looser confederation, rather than plunge into the EU after finally freeing themselves of the bane of foreign domination at the hands of the Communist bloc.

As a libertarian, the argument for leaving the EU is not based on any love for the British state, nor a preference for being molested and mulcted by British bureaucrats rather than foreigners. Such a view would ignore the truth, that whatever disadvantages visited upon us by our membership of the EU, it is British politicians and British bureaucrats who are wholly responsible. We have just as many, if not more, pen-pushing, clipboard-wielding, jumped-up little jobsworths, who love to use the petty rules of officialdom to feed parasitically upon the rest of us. These are the people who take the regulations handed down from Brussels via Westminster and enforce them with glee,  whereas their equivalents in many other places leave them as dead letters.

All that said, however, I can find no coherent libertarian argument for supporting, in addition to the domestic state with all its abuses and inherent criminality, another over-arching state, such as that which the architects of the EU intended.

(Picture: Brueghel’s Tower of Babel)