Disarmed Britons Helpless Against Rioters


A leading Second Amendment scholar spoke to Guns & Patriots Aug. 13, four days after returning from United Kingdom about the loss of gun rights and the early August riots there.

“The Labour Party immediately jumped on it and blamed the austerity budget cuts on the Conservative Party,” said Prof. Joyce Lee Malcolm, who teaches courses on common law and Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment at Fairfax, Va.-based George Mason Law School. “But, they pulled that back because it became quickly obvious that it was sheer hooliganism.”

Malcolm, who is the author of several books, including “To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right” and “Guns and Violence: The English Experience,” said she and her husband were having a holiday in Scotland, so while they were not in the English cities experiencing mayhem, she was able to follow the events in British media in real-time.

“While I was there, the riots spread from London to Manchester and Birmingham, so there was a lot of copycat criminality going on,” she said. “People were shocked.”

But, they should not have been shocked, she said. For the last 90 years, British society has lost its ability to defend itself or to allow its subject to defend themselves.

“I will say one of the reasons for the incredible rate of violence there is because they treat criminals very leniently, they don’t like to incarcerate them,” she said. “It is very expensive and they believe prisons ought to rehabilitate them and get these people back on the street in short order.”

An image of the riots that stays with her is the police in riot gear standing in front of a mob, and the press praised the police for bravely standing there and taking the rocks and bottles hurled at them, she said.

When the Home Secretary returned from holiday, she at first refused to allow the police to use water cannon on the crowds, she said. “She did not even allow for a curfew.”

Malcolm said, “There was a man who tried to talk to the thugs and he was just beaten up by them. As he was being beaten, there was a police officer standing there, who did not intervene because he was waiting for backup.” 

The man was taken to the hospital and he could not be identified because he was so severely battered and because the thugs stole his wallet, she said.

“If that had happened in America that policeman would have had a gun to stop the horrors from taking place in front of him,” she said.

The premise of an increasingly limited right to bear arms in Britain is the idea that professional law enforcement will handle the situation, not the citizen, Malcolm said. This idea is the reason subjects under attack are to call out for passersby to call the police—not call out for help.

Similarly, passersby are expected to pass by, and not help, she said. This is a full 180-degree switch from the common law obligation to come to the aid of another called “misprison of felony.”

There are cases such as the American woman who was arrested for defending herself with a pen knife, she said.

One man, Tony Martin, who after seven burglaries to his house, shot two intruders. He killed one and wounded the other, she said. When the police arrived, they arrested him and he was convicted of murder, attempted murder and having an unregistered shotgun. When the wounded thief got out of jail, he successfully sued the man for damages.

“They are very strict about law-abiding people having guns,” she said.

The first major step in British gun control came in 1920, when a government, concerned about the millions of battle-stressed combat veterans returning home, created a process that required the police to certify that the subject had a good reason to own a gun.

It was not until the 1960s, when it was revealed that the British government had been secretly tightening the allowable reasons to local police until it finally eliminated self-defense as a valid reason, she said.

“You can’t have a handgun, they banned them in 1998 and the people who had them had to turn them in,” she said. “It was useless. Within five years of the ban, handgun crime doubled. You can have a long gun, but it has to be kept in a safe that it bolted to the floor or held at a gun club.”

In 2006, a law was passed that banned all realistic toy or replica guns. 

“In my book ‘Guns and Violence,’ I mentioned an instance when a homeowner who with a toy gun held two burglars, who had broken into his home with,” she said. “When the police arrived they arrested him first. Then, they charged him with terrorizing people with a gun—a toy gun.”


Prof. Joyce Lee Malcolm