Fourth Open Letter to the Gun Owners of the United Kingdom (1996), by Sean Gabb

A Fourth Open Letter
to the Gunowners of the United Kingdom

by Sean Gabb
Published in London
on Wednesday the 16th October 1996

Note: This is one of my Open Letters to the Gunowners of the United Kingdom. The titles make them sound very pretentious. Perhaps they are. However, you need to bear in mind that they were written in the early days of the Internet, when audiences were small, and any piece of connected prose was likely to be read and discussed. And these letters did have a radicalising effect on the British debate on guns – indeed, they caused a sensation in all the newsgroups and distribution lists where they were published. Of course, they were completely ignored by the newspapers – though ignoring uncontrolled debates is partly what newspapers are for nowadays.

Well, here it is. The Government has now announced its intentions with regard to the Cullen Report – a ban on keeping handguns at home, and a virtual ban on keeping them anywhere else. I was wrong in believing that the Government would only tighten the existing laws, not go for any outright bans. But I was writing before Anne Pearston got on her hind legs at the Labour Party Conference last fortnight. That put an end to any compromise.

On all else, though, I was right. Moderation got you nowhere. Some of you refused to debate until after the Cullen Report had come out. That has meant no debate at all, as the Cullen Report is now waste paper; and the politicians are in no mood to debate anything with you. Some of you spent vast amounts of money on a lobbying company. I have no idea what benefits were bought with this. I hear that most MPs refused even to meet these lobbyists. I saw no full page advertisements in the newspapers, arguing against more gun control. I saw no evidence that any of this money was diverted to a front organisation, able to say things that you could not. Whatever the reason, you all failed to put the real case for guns – that their possession for defence is a moral right and duty. In consequence, you have been hammered. The gungrabbers often call you pathetic creeps who need a hadnful of gunmetal to to convince you of your manhood. There may be some truth in this – but certainly, bearing in mind your collective performance these past few months, it does not work.

However, there is no point in recriminations at the moment. Miracles aside, the correlation of forces in this debate is heavily against you. It looks as if everything Michael Howard promised this afternoon will go through without much delay, and with no softening whatever. If this happens, we are looking at the dissolution of the gun interest in the United Kingdom. Who will want a firearms certificate, and all the official harassment this brings, if the only handgun on offer is a virtual toy that has to be stored away from home? If many handgun owners just give up their certificates, that will mean the closing of most clubs up and down the country. Even without the loss of custom, most gun dealers will be driven out of business. I do not know what will happen to the gun magazines, but I expect most of the present shooting associations will at least shrink. Sitting here in front of my computer – and the BBC has just cancelled a showing of Terminator! – the news could hardly be worse.

Now, you need to think about where to go from here. For me, the answer is simple. The Howard proposals have no personal significance. As I never tire of pointing out, I do not have any guns for the Government to steal, nor have I ever had any. All I have is a burning ideological conviction about the evil of gun control in any form. I have been campaigning against gun control on an off since 1988, and I will continue my campaign in the future.

But how about you, the gunowners of this country? Supposing the Howard proposals do become law, how will you behave? Will you do your “civic duty” and give up your forbidden weapons in the manner prescribed by law? That is what you did after Hungerford. Or will you rather obey the Fundamental Laws of this Realm, which cannot be abolished by any mere enactment of Parliament? The cause of law is not always best served by obedience to any particular law.

I could fill whole books with relevant quotations, but let me give just one that might explain my meaning. It is from St Thomas Aquinas (c1225-74), the leading philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church and a figure of unimpeachable respectability:

Laws are [often] unjust…. [T]hey may be contrary to the good of mankind… either with regard to their end – as when a ruler imposes laws which are burdensome and are not designed for the common good, but proceed from his own rapacity or vanity; or with regard to their maker – if, for example, a ruler should go beyond his proper powers; or with regard to their form – if, though intended for the common good, their burdens should be inequitably distributed. Such laws come closer to violence than to true law…. They do not, therefore, oblige in conscience, except perhaps for the avoidance of scandal or disorder.

(Summa Theologiae, I-II, 96, 4, my translation)

Whether and how you understand this are things for you to decide.

Sean Gabb

© 1996 – 2017, seangabb.

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