On the right to bear arms
We currently have an American guest in our house, which is always fun. Amongst other things, I very much enjoyed the excuse to be a tourist in London at the weekend, and it is quite fun to mock her.
One of the things which seems to have surprised her is the fact that most of our policemen are unarmed. At one level, this makes me proud to be British, and I am proud of the fact that arming our policemen is not deemed necessary.
Somehow the system works – we never hear of situations where hindsight would suggest that having more armed police would have been a good thing. This is presumably partly because gun-crime rarely happens in front of the police and so whether they are armed or not is irrelevant. But there must also be an element of being able to control a situation so that it doesn’t get out of hand. Certainly we tend to have a strong objection to taking a “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude, even when it is arguably unavoidable, such as when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell Tube Station.
Of course, I have so far overlooked a key factor here, which is that the general public are not allowed to carry guns. We do not need to arm every policeman when the risk of them confronting someone with a gun is potentially comparatively small.
Thinking about this led to a conversation over a plate of haggis earlier in the week, when I asked our American friend why, if the US Constitution encompasses the right to bear arms, US citizens stop at arming themselves with guns. Why don’t they have rocket launchers, or small nuclear devices?
The reason I was given is that the constitution is apparently more specific, permitting citizens to bear *legal* arms. Which begs another question. Why is it always touted as being “unconstitutional” to suggest banning guns in the US?
The way I see it, if the constitution makes a distinction between legal arms and illegal ones, it is not unconstitutional to make guns illegal. The constitutional right of US citizens to bear legal arms would remain unaffected. It’s just that said arms would then have to be knives, or sticks, or something.
Clearly I am neither a US citizen or a lawyer. What have I missed? Does anyone have any light to shed on this?