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LIBERTY & THE NEED FOR ARMS

Will Europe leave its citizens defenseless?

The recent fatal failure of anti-gun laws in France and Germany has politicians racing to embrace many more. Before they do, they'd be wise to look to England and Australia, where gun bans have led to increased violence and victimization - and to the U.S., where the right to the means of self preservation is saving countless lives.

we're lucky here in America; as one state after another re-acknowledges the Second Amendment right to carry a firearm, millions of Americans are finding themselves safer - in perception and in practice - whether or not they choose to keep or carry a gun.

Not so in Europe. Over the past year, terrible firearm crimes have been committed in countries whose anti-gun laws are among the most restrictive in the world. Yet instead of questioning their failed decrees of defenselessness and statutory surrender, lawmakers in many of those countries are dictating further public disarmament.

Germany is a good example. To obtain a hunting rifle, you must submit to background checks that can last up to 12 months, and you must pass a test which takes 120 hours to prepare for, and which 30 percent of all applicants fail. To get a firearm for target shooting you must be a practicing member of a shooting club for at least a year in advance, must pass a background check and must be licensed by police. Collectors must also obtain permits.

Yet in April (2002) in Germany, a 19-year-old expelled student walked into his school and killed 16 people before killing himself. A month earlier, in Nanterre, France, a man armed with pistols murdered eight city officials. In France, too, gun owners must obtain permits, renew them every three years, and must practice with supervision regularly.

But instead of soberly assessing how many lives might have been saved if just one of those city officials or schoolteachers had been armed, politicians in both countries are recklessly rushing toward further criminal empowerment in what is becoming an embarrassingly obvious exercise in absurdity.

The day of Germany's Erfurt massacre, the country's Parliament passed legislation banning throwing stars and certain knives; mandated secure, separate storage of firearms and ammunition; and required airgun owners - who must already be at least 18 years old - to obtain licenses. A ban on pump shotguns is also expected soon.

But for all their anti-gun laws, restrictions and bans, the Germans haven't touched criminals yet. Joachim Streitberger of Germany's Weapons Rights Forum told Reuters, "According to police statistics, only 0.004 percent of armed crimes are committed with a legally obtained firearm." In armed crime in Germany, illegal weapons outnumber legally-owned firearms by 25,000 to one.

But instead of focussing their efforts on that tiny, lawless segment - which no law can ever touch - politicians delay, debate and deliberate over pointless new laws. One leading German politician is pushing a ban on violent video games!

In London, Judge Boal is calling for a ban on realistic-looking toy guns. "What the justification is for the manufacture and sale of such objects defeats me," he said. "The sooner they are taken off the market, the better."

Someone needs to call this the lunacy that it is. It's not making anyone any safer. It's killing innocent people.

England banned centerfire and rimfire handguns in 1997, and used registration lists to confiscate 160,000 of them from law-abiding Britons. Since then, armed crime has increased radically. In London, from 2000 to 2001, armed street robberies increased 53 percent and firearm-related murders nearly doubled.

Australia banned everything from semi-automatic shotguns to pump-action rifles six years ago and collected 640,000 of them from lawful owners. The criminals didn't surrender theirs, though, because according to the New South Wales Bureaus of Statistics, firearm offenses have risen 40 percent since then.

Criminals don't hand in their guns when they're banned because they never registered their guns in the first place. According to Gary Fleetwood of Australia's Sporting Shooters Association, "During the period for which we have statistics, 1997 to 1999, there wasn't a single shooting with a legal handgun in Australia."

Yet now the anti-gun lobby is pushing a total handgun ban there. Prime Minister John Howard said, "There is no earthly reason for ordinary citizens...to have weapons." Heaven help Australians if Howard has his way. As we've seen over and over, every time an anti-gun law fails, it becomes the self-perpetuating justification for more anti-gun laws.

Which is how we get brilliant statements like the following, courtesy of Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Within hours of the school shooting in Germany, in a truly jaw-dropping, breathtaking leap of reckless illogic, Horwitz said, 'study after study has shown the effectiveness of state laws at stopping illegal gun transactions. But those laws are undermined when guns are illegally trafficked into states with tough gun laws from states with weak gun laws.'

In other words, laws work great except when they're ignored. Right? No law can ever legislate intent. Once a person decides to harm someone else despite a law against doing so, that law is de facto annulled and irrelevant.

The world will always have gasoline and box-cutters and airliners and, yes, firearms. Unfortunately, it will also have individuals intent on committing evil. The way to stop them isn't with bans on video games, toy guns, box cutters or airliners. The way to stop them is by fully enforcing existing laws against murder, rape, robbery and the rest.

Yet even that will sometimes fail. When a violent assailant intends to do you harm, and when - as the Roman legal maxim puts it - "In time of war the law is silent," only one thing can protect you.

It's a natural right as old as life itself - the right to defend your life with whatever means necessary. It's enshrined in our Constitution as the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Our European neighbors would be wise to consider what a natural, fundamental and immutable freedom it acknowledges.

Charlton Heston, Guns & Ammo