They are learning

The Dunblane massacre was the spark that ignited the inferno that resulted in the banning of all handguns in the U.K. Thousands of people told them it wouldn’t do any good. Now some of the most vigorous proponents of the ban are saying, “You were right.” From the Sunday Herald in Scotland:

I allowed myself two simple, possibly simplistic, strategies. First, I was not ever going to attempt to “explain” Hamilton: the bereaved deserved better. Secondly, in my small way, I was going to take on anyone who failed to support the banning of handguns.

There was a lot of American comment, predictably, and much of it abusive. The clichés appeared as if by return of post. “Guns don’t kill people,” they wrote. “People kill people.” So why – this struck me almost as the definition of self-evident – did Thomas Hamilton feel a need for four of the damnable things?

Then the Duke of Edinburgh, and the field sports people, and the target shooters entered the fray. The royal consort, with his usual sensitivity, expressed the view that things were getting out of hand, and that a more considered response was required. I can clobber royals in my sleep.

The most troubling questions came, instead, from those who answered my simplicities with one of their own. They didn’t oppose a ban, as such. They merely wanted to know why I was so sure that legislation would work.

That seemed obvious. It even seemed faintly stupid to think otherwise. No guns, no gun-killings. Remove the threat: wasn’t that one of the jobs of government?

Sceptics were more subtle than I allowed. What they meant was that it is easy to impose laws on the law-abiding. Criminals, by definition, don’t take much interest in well-meaning legislation. If they chose to arm themselves while the rest of society was, in effect, disarming, outraged newspaper commentators and their quick fixes might merely make matters worse.

Let’s concede that all the bans have failed. That doesn’t mean we should also fail to ask a practical question. Britain has become a security state in recent years. Nobody strolls unmolested through customs these days. There are terrorist suspects, so they say, at every turn. So why, precisely, are handguns still getting into this country?

The answer to the practical question is that, in the technical terms of security experts, the attack surface is too large. There are just too many different ways to get past the barriers. It only takes one hole in “the wall”. And if there is sufficient demand for a product the market will find a way to meet that demand.