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The country’s top judge has demanded an increase in penalties to those arrested in possession of firearms. The Lord Chief Justice stated that, “Guns kill and maim, terrorise and intimidate” and that public safety must be paramount above all else. The main argument used by Lord Judge is one of deterrence, stating “deterrent and punitive sentences are required and should be imposed” such as mandatory minimum sentences for offenders including life sentences for distributors even if there was no intent to endanger life. In the debate over gun control there are a two major issues people often find themselves divided over: Firstly, where to draw the line between public protection and public dominion, and second, the trade-off between public and private deterrence.

At what point does the government change from protecting its citizens to controlling them? This is not an easy question, and it is one too often ignored by both citizens and governments. Government has a duty to protect its citizens from enemies and at times from each other. However, it is a slippery slope that leads governments down the path to total social control in the interest of protecting everyone everywhere all the time. Although the government should indeed be able to police its own citizens it should never be allowed to absolutely remove any single right. Does the government have a right to outlaw the possession of firearms by its citizens in the interest of protection if it means that they are severely limited in their own ability to protect themselves? Absolutely not.

The other question is that of deterrence. Is public or private deterrence a more useful method in fighting crime? In many crimes the use of public deterrence by the government is most often the best means. The government can do things not available to ordinary citizens such as fines and jail time. But in cases dealing with public or personal safety many times the best deterrence is private. A gun wielding criminal will be more afraid of a gun wielding citizen than of the possibility of incarceration. Private citizens concerned only for their own safety and not held back by court proceedings, warrants, or properly reading someone their rights can be the biggest deterrent of violent crime available.

If you discount the use of air-guns and only count real firearms, the use of firearms in violent crimes has continued to increase in the UK despite them being illegal (as reported by the Home Office Statistical Report on Firearms Offenses, pg 34). In a knee jerk reaction to horrific crimes committed in the past, the government is now controlling people instead of allowing them to protect themselves. Although it may be more difficult for criminals to get guns many will still get them. The problem is that the biggest deterrent against gun crime is no longer available.