Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Slippery Slope

I've written about British politics and culture before (here, here and here) and expressed that there is a lot to like and a lot to dislike about both. That's the disclaimer, since I received some comments from an offended Brit (unpublished due to profanity); there's plenty to like about England.

That being said, here's a picture that a friend of mine posted on Facebook, which came from this blog which got it from this forum:

For those of you that can't see it, the sign reads:
Sale of Knives and Bladed Articles
The Sale of these products is governed by the Offensive Weapon Act 1996 (as amended by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006)
It is a criminal offence to sell these products to any person under the age of 18.

I often tend to try to avoid the slippery slope argument simply because it is so overused, and consequently so easy to deny as panic and hype. However, this is a clear picture to me of what happens when the object, rather than the person, is criminalized.

Politicians often suggest that simply criminalizing guns will fix gun violence in America (or anywhere). Naive people at anti-gun organizations like the Brady Campaign continually argue that we have to tighten the rules and make it harder for the criminals to get guns. Somehow, they seem to lack the cognitive ability to recognize that a criminal is not going to take elaborate steps to ensure that his or her weapon of choice was obtained through legal channels!

The government has criminalized numerous types of narcotics and tightly-regulated various other prescription pain killers. Yet police make hundreds of drug arrests and multiple drug busts every day. No matter how hard the government tries, they will never be able to remove drugs from the streets. People will smuggle them, hide them, manufacture them, steal them.

Contrast that with weapons. In the first place, weapons serve valuable functions for the everyday citizen, chiefly for defense, protection, hunting and recreation. (Making a similar argument for drugs is far weaker.)

Second, a weapon in the hands of a law-abiding citizen effectively neutralizes the advantage a criminal has by being armed. (It's a matter of record, guns are used for protection all the time.) Now, I've met Paul Helmke, one of the head honchos for the leading anti-gun organization in America. Even he recognizes that a law-abiding citizen with a gun isn't a problem. He just has a hard time recognizing that a criminal won't care how he or she obtains the weapon of choice. That may be understandable, since the criminal mind is so far removed from how regular citizens think and act. But we can't make the silly mistake of transferring our value system to them, and pass actual laws on the belief that murderers, rapists and kidnappers will stop buying guns if it becomes illegal.

The British government fails to recognize that punishing the offender, rather than the object (and by proxy, the law-abiding citizen!) is a failed form of instituting civil society.

And by the way, I'm not Britain's only critic on the subject. British actor Ray Winstone recently lambasted his government for the same thing, and went so far as to suggest he's ready to leave the country.

"It breaks my heart to think about leaving the country but I hate what's been done to it. Kids on the streets in gangs with knives, all this lawless behaviour and what are we doing? Nothing. ... I wouldn't mind if we actually see something being done with all the money they take off in taxes. But I don't see more police ... what I see is no one on the streets and then a legal system that doesn't support the coppers when things finally get to court. There are criminals getting off every day in this country."

Maybe they should start thinking back to the source of criminal behavior first place. (Hint: It's not in an inanimate hunk of metal.)

**Edit 12/25/08**

For more, check out the NRA's article about the gun laws and resulting crime trends in Great Britain.

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At December 16, 2008 at 1:59:00 PM PST, Blogger Mimi said...

Well...loads of things are criminalised or banned from underage buyers. Sharpies, for example. Where I lived in Texas, children under 18 were not legally allowed to purchase sharpies (or other permanent & highly odouriferous markers), due to issues of gangs and graffiti.

So...I'm not sure that your theory is quite sound. Though the extreme of not permitting 16-year-olds to buy cutlery sets is a bit....


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