The Early Twentieth Century through World War II

The First Step

In 1903, Parliament enacted a gun control law that appeared eminently reasonable. The Pistols Act of 1903 forbade pistol sales to minors and felons and dictated that sales be made only to buyers with a gun license. The license itself could be obtained at the post office, the only requirement being payment of a fee. People who intended to keep the pistol solely in their house did not even need to get the postal license.[41]

The Pistols Act attracted only slight opposition, and passed easily. The law had no discernible statistical effect on crime or accidents. Firearms suicides did fall, but the decline was more than matched by an increase in suicide by poisons and knives.[42] The homicide rate rose after the Pistols Act became law, but it is impossible to attribute this rise to the new law with any certainty. The bill defined pistols as guns having a barrel of nine inches or less, and thus pistols with nine-and-a-half inch barrels were soon popular.

While the Act was, in the short run, harmless to gun owners, the Act was of considerable long-term importance. By allowing the Act to pass, British gun owners had accepted the proposition that the government could set the terms and conditions for gun ownership by law-abiding subjects.[43] As Frederick Schauer points out, for a government body to decide "X and not Y" means that the government body has implicitly asserted a jurisdiction to decide between X and Y. Hence, to decide "X not Y" is to assert, indirectly, an authority in the future to choose "Y not X."[44] Thus, for Parliament to choose very mild gun controls versus strict controls was to assert Parliament's authority to decide the nature of gun control.[45] As this Essay shall discuss in regards to the granting of police authority over gun licensing, establishing the proposition that a government entity has any authority over a subject is an essential, but not sufficient, element for a trip down the slippery slope.

B. Dangerous Weapons

The early years of the twentieth century saw an increasingly bitter series of confrontations between capital and labor throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain, the rising militance of the working class was beginning to make the aristocracy doubt whether the people could be trusted with arms. When American journalist Lincoln Steffens visited London in 1910, he met leaders of Parliament who interpreted the current bitter labor strikes as a harbinger of impending revolution.[46] The next set of gun control initiatives reflected fears of immigrant anarchists and other subversives.

As the coronation of George V approached, one United States newspaper, the Boston Advertiser, warned about the difficulty of protecting the coronation march "so long as there is a generous scattering of automatic pistols among the 70,000 aliens in the Whitechapel district." The paper fretted about aliens in the United States and Britain with their "automatic pistols," which were "far more dangerous" than a bomb. The Advertiser defined an "automatic pistol" as a "quick-firing revolver," and called for gun registration, restrictions on ammunition sales, and a ban on carrying any concealed gun, all with the goal of "disarming alien criminals."[47]

What was the "automatic pistol/quick-firing revolver" that so concerned the newspaper? In 1901, the British company of Webley-Fosberry introduced an "automatic revolver."[48] It reloaded with the same principle as a semi-automatic pistol, but held the ammunition in a cylinder, like a revolver. It was an inferior gun. If not gripped tightly, it would misfire. Dirt and dust made the gun fail. Although the gun's most deadly feature was, supposedly, its rapid-fire capability, rapid firing also made the gun malfunction.[49] The so-called automatic revolver that was "more dangerous than the bomb" was more dangerous in the minds of overheated newspaper editorialists than in reality. In this way it is comparable to today's "undetectable plastic gun," which is non-existent, and the "cop-killer teflon bullet," which was actually invented by police officers.[50]

As the Webley-Fosberry and its modern equivalents show, media pressure for new laws does not necessarily have to be based on real-world conditions. That is, an item need not necessarily be particularly dangerous in order for the media to describe it as dangerous. For example, whatever else may be said about marijuana, we now know that the "Reefer madness" stories from the mass media in the 1920s and 1930s were scientifically inaccurate; marijuana does not impel users to commit violent crimes. However, when the media and public know little about an item, such as Webley-Fosberry revolvers, self-loading firearms, or marijuana, it is easy for reporters to talk themselves and their audience into a panic.

C. Dangerous People

Whatever the actual dangers of the automatic revolver, immigrants scared authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. Crime by Jewish and Italian immigrants spurred New York State to enact the Sullivan Law in 1911, which required a license for handgun buying and carrying, and made licenses difficult to obtain. The sponsor at the Sullivan Law promised homicides would decline drastically. Instead, homicides increased and the New York Times found that criminals were "as well armed as ever."[51]

As in modern United States, sensational police confrontations with extremists also helped build support for gun control. In December 1910, three London policemen investigating a burglary at a Houndsditch jewelry shop were murdered by rifle fire. A furious search began for "Peter the Painter," the Russian anarchist believed responsible. The police uncovered one cache of arms in London: a pistol, 150 bullets, and some dangerous chemicals. The discovery led to front-page newspaper stories about anarchist arsenals, which were non-existent, all over the East End of London. The police caught up with London's anarchist network on January 3, 1911, at 100 Sidney Street. The police threw stones through the windows, and the anarchists inside responded with rifle fire. Seven-hundred and fifty policemen, supplemented by a Scots Guardsman unit, besieged Sidney Street. Home Secretary Winston Churchill arrived on the scene as the police were firing artillery and preparing to deploy mines. Banner headlines throughout the British Empire were already detailing the dramatic police confrontation with the anarchist nest. Churchill, accompanied by a police inspector and a Scots Guardsman with a hunting gun, strode up to the door of 100 Sidney Street; the inspector kicked the door down. Inside were the dead bodies of two anarchists. "Peter the Painter" was nowhere in sight. London's three-man anarchist network was destroyed.[52] The "Siege of Sidney Street" turned out to have been vastly overplayed by both the police and the press. A violent fringe of the anarchist movement was, however, a genuine threat; President William McKinley was only one of several world leaders assassinated by anarchists.

While the "Siege of Sidney Street" convinced New Zealand to tighten its own gun laws, the British Parliament rejected new controls. Parliament turned down the Aliens (Prevention of Crime) Bill, that would have barred aliens from possessing [errata: and carrying] firearms without permission of the local Chief Officer of Police.[53] The 1993 Virginia legislature had less fortitude than the 1911 British Parliament. After a Pakistani national used a Kalashnikov rifle to murder three people outside of CIA headquarters, the Virginia legislature rushed to enact broad restrictions on gun carrying by legal resident aliens.[54]

British resistance to gun controls finally cracked in 1914 when Great Britain entered The Great War, later to be dubbed World War I. The government imposed comprehensive, stringent controls as "temporary" measures to protect national security during the war. Similarly, the United States continues to live under various "temporary" or "emergency" restrictions on liberty enacted during the First or Second World Wars.[55] Few restrictions on liberty, especially when imposed by fiat, are announced as permanent. Even when Julius Caesar and, later, Octavian, destroyed the Roman Republic by making themselves military dictators for life, they claimed to be exercising only temporary powers because of an emergency.

Randolph Bourne observed that "war is the health of the state," and it was World War I that set in motion the growth of the British government to the size where it could begin to destroy the right to arms, a right that the British people had enjoyed with little hindrance for over two centuries. After war broke out in August 1914, the British government began assuming "emergency" powers for itself. "Defense of the Realm Regulations" were enacted that required a license to buy pistols, rifles, or ammunition at retail. As the war came to a conclusion in 1918, many British gun owners no doubt expected that the wartime regulations would soon be repealed and Britons would again enjoy the right to purchase the firearm of their choice without government permission. But the government had other ideas.

The disaster of World War I had bred the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Armies of the new Soviet state swept into Poland, and more and more workers of the world joined strikes called by radical labor leaders who predicted the overthrow of capitalism. Many Communists and other radicals thought the World Revolution was at hand. All over the English-speaking world governments feared the end. The reaction was fierce. In the United States, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer launched the "Palmer raids." Aliens were deported without hearings, and United States citizens were searched and arrested without warrants and held without bail. While the United States was torn by strikes and race riots, Canada witnessed the government massacre of peaceful demonstrators at the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

In Britain, the government worried about what would happen when the war ended and the gun controls expired. A secret government committee on arms traffic warned of danger from two sources: the "savage or semi-civilized tribesmen in outlying parts of the British Empire" who might obtain surplus war arms, and "the anarchist or 'intellectual' malcontent of the great cities, whose weapon is the bomb and the automatic pistol."[56] At a Cabinet meeting on January 17, 1919, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff raised the threat of "Red Revolution and blood and war at home and abroad." He suggested that the government make sure of its arms. The next month, the Prime Minister was asking which parts of the army would remain loyal. The Cabinet discussed arming university men, stockbrokers, and trusted clerks to fight any revolution.[57] The Minister of Transport, Sir Eric Geddes, predicted "a revolutionary outbreak in Glasgow, Liverpool or London in the early spring, when a definite attempt may be made to seize the reins of government." "It is not inconceivable," Geddes warned, "that a dramatic and successful coup d'etat in some large center of population might win the support of the unthinking mass of labour." Using the Irish gun licensing system as a model, the Cabinet made plans to disarm enemies of the state and to prepare arms for distribution "to friends of the Government."[58]

Although popular revolution was the motive, the Home Secretary presented the government's 1920 gun bill to Parliament as strictly a measure "to prevent criminals and persons of that description from being able to have revolvers and to use them." In fact, the problem of criminal, non-political misuse of firearms remained minuscule.[59] Of course 1920 would not be the last time a government lied in order to promote gun control.

In 1989 in the United States, various police administrators and drug enforcement bureaucrats set off a national panic about "assault weapons" by claiming that semi-automatic rifles were the "weapon of choice" of drug dealers and other criminals. Actually, police statistics regarding gun seizures showed that the guns accounted for only about 1% of gun crime. Most people in the United States swallowed the 1989 lie about "assault weapon" crime, and most Britons in 1920 swallowed the lie about handgun crime. Indeed, the carnage of World War I, which was caused in good part by the outdated tactics of the British and French general staffs, had produced a general revulsion against anything associated with the military, including rifles and handguns.

Thus the Firearms Act of 1920 sailed through Parliament. Britons who had formerly enjoyed a right to arms were now allowed to possess pistols and rifles only if they proved they had "good reason" for receiving a police permit.[60] Shotguns and airguns, which were perceived as "sporting" weapons, remained exempt from British government control.

Similarly, the horror of use of poison gas during World War I's trench warfare made the Firearms Act's ban on small CS self-defense spray canisters seem unobjectionable.[61] In the hands of British citizens, CS was considered by the central government to be impossibly dangerous, requiring complete prohibition--much more dangerous than a rifle or shotgun. Yet when the CS is in the hands of the government, the central government now mandates that CS be considered benign. When local police authorities protested the Home Secretary's issuance of CS gas and plastic bullets to local police forces and argued that the central government had no authority to force police departments to employ dangerous weapons against their will, the court ruled for the central government on the theory that the Crown's "prerogative power to keep the peace" allowed the Home Secretary to "do all reasonably necessary to preserve the peace of the realm."[62]

The treatment of CS is emblematic of the transformation of British arms policy during the twentieth century. Principles about the use of force were changed from the traditional Anglo-American to the Weberian, with the monopoly of force becoming crucial to the state's definition of its rightful power. Instead of worrying about cheap German handguns among the people, the British would have been better to guard against fancy German ideas among the government.

D. The Firearms Act

In the early years of the Firearms Act the law was not enforced with particular stringency, except in Ireland, where revolutionary agitators were demanding independence from British rule, and where colonial laws had already created a gun licensing system.[63] Within Great Britain, a "firearms certificate" for possession of rifles or handguns was readily obtainable. Wanting to possess a firearm for self-defense was considered a "good reason" for being granted a firearms certificate.

The threat of Bolshevik revolution, which had been the impetus for the Firearms Act, had faded quickly as the Communist government of the Soviet Union found it necessary to spend all its energy gaining full control over its own people, rather than exporting revolution. Ordinary firearms crime in Britain, which was the pretext for the Firearms Act, remained minimal. Despite the pacific state of affairs, the government did not move to repeal the unneeded gun controls, but instead began to expand the controls.

In 1934, a government task force, the Bodkin Committee, was formed to study the Firearms Act. The Committee collected statistics on misuse of the guns that were not currently regulated, such as shotguns and airguns, and collected no statistics on the guns under control, namely rifles and handguns. The Committee concluded that there was no persuasive evidence for repeal of any part of the Firearms Act.[64] Since the Bodkin Committee had avoided looking for evidence about how the Firearms Act was actually working, it was not surprising that the Committee found no evidence in favor of decontrol.

Spurred by the Bodkin Committee, the British government in 1936 enacted legislation to outlaw (with a few minor exceptions) possession of short-barreled shotguns and fully automatic firearms.[65] The law was partly patterned after the 1934 National Firearms Act in the United States, which taxed and registered, but did not prohibit, such guns.[66] In 1973 and 1988, when the government was attempting to expand controls still further, gun control advocates claimed that the Bodkin Committee report was clear proof of how well the Firearms Act of 1920 was working, and why its controls should be extended to other guns.[67]

As a result of alcohol prohibition, the United States in the 1920s and early 1930s did have a problem with criminal abuse of machine guns, a fad among the organized crime gangsters who earned lucrative incomes supplying bootleg alcohol, although most such firearms were owned by peaceable citizens. The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 had sent the American murder rate into a nosedive, but in 1934 Congress went ahead and enacted the National Firearms Act anyway.

In Britain, there had been no alcohol prohibition, and hence no crime problem with automatics, or other guns. Before 1920, any British adult could purchase a machine gun; after 1920, any Briton with a Firearms Certificate could purchase a machine gun. During the 1936 British debate, the government could not point to a single instance of a machine gun being misused in Britain,[68] yet the guns were banned anyway. The government explained its actions by arguing that automatics were crime guns in the United States and there was no legitimate reason for civilians to possess them. The same rationale is used today in the drive to outlaw semi-automatic firearms in the United States. Since some government officials believe that people do not "need" semi-automatic firearms for hunting, the officials believe that such guns should be prohibited, whether or not the guns are frequently used in crime.

"O, reason not the need!" shouted King Lear after his two traitorous daughters, Regan and Goneril, disarmed him by taking away his armed retinue.[69] Goneril and Regan had asked why the King needed even a single armed retainer, since Goneril's army and Regan's army would protect him. The King's "reason not the need" response was his way of saying the he should not have to justify what he wanted; he should not have to convince his daughters that he had a good reason for wanting to be armed. Unfortunately, for British gun owners, as for King Lear, it was too late. King Lear had already turned the power in the kingdom over to Regan and Goneril; British gun owners had agreed that rifle and pistol ownership should be allowed only when the government, not the citizen, believed that there was a "good reason" for it. Thus, the burden of proof in public debate was reversed. The government was not required to show that there was a need to ban short shotguns or automatic rifles; indeed, the misuse of these guns in Great Britain was so unusual that the British government could never have shown a "need" for the bans. Instead, the government faced a much lower burden. Did the government believe that citizens had a "need" for the guns in question? Obviously some law-abiding citizens thought they did, since the citizens had chosen to purchase such guns. For example, short shotguns are easy to maneuver in a confined setting, and hence are very well-suited for home defense against a burglar. Likewise, machine guns are enjoyed for target shooting and collecting, and are useable for home defense.

The Firearms Act of 1920 had not, of course, banned short shotguns or automatic rifles. The former were ignored by the Act, while the latter were subject only to a lenient licensing system. The Firearms Act had, however, moved the baseline for gun control, and had helped to shift public attitudes. The concept of a "right" to arms was giving way to a privilege, based on whether the government determined that the would-be gun-owner had a "need" according to the government's standard.

Frederick Schauer's classic article on slippery slopes distinguishes the pure slippery slope argument[70] from its "close relation" that Schauer calls "the argument from excess breadth."[71] The latter argument points to the danger of adopting a policy on grounds that are too broad.[72] He points to the example of censorship of information about how to build nuclear weapons. If the rationale for censorship is excessively broad--"the information is dangerous to public safety"--then allowing censorship of the nuclear missile information creates a precedent for censorship of many other things.[73] In contrast, if the grounds for a restrictive action are narrow--"this information has a very high risk of directly causing millions of deaths"--then there is much less risk that a desirable action, like the censorship nuclear missile construction information, will lead to undesirable actions, like the censorship of detective novels from which criminals might learn crime techniques.

The 1934 British ban on short shotguns and machine guns was a classic instance of the dangers of an excessively broad rationale. The government decided that nobody outside the government "needed" such items. Thus, the "good reason" requirement of the 1920 Firearms Act set the stage for the 1934 gun ban rationale, that "people outside the government don't need this," which in turn would set the stage for further prohibitions.

Another type of argument that Schauer identifies as a close relation to the classic slippery slope argument is "the argument from added authority." Here, the argument is that "granting additional authority to the decisionmaker inevitably increases the likelihood of a wide range of possible future events, one of which might be the danger case."[74] The British Firearms Act of 1920 offers a clear example of the dangers against which Schauer's "added authority" argument warns. Before the Firearms Act, the police had no role in deciding who could own a gun. The Firearms Act instructed them to issue licenses (Firearms Certificates) to all applicants who had a "good reason" for wanting a rifle or pistol. Starting in 1936 the British police began adding a requirement to Firearms Certificates that the guns be stored securely.[75] As shotguns were not licensed, there was no such requirement for them.

While the safe storage requirement might, in the abstract seem reasonable, it was eventually enforced in a highly unreasonable manner by a police bureaucracy often determined to make firearms owners suffer as much harassment as possible.[76] More importantly, Parliament--the voice of the people--did not vote to impose storage requirements on gun-owners. Whatever the merits of the storage rules, they were imposed not by the representatives of the people, but by administrators who were acting without legal authority. Without the licensing system, the police never would have had the opportunity to exercise such illegal power. As the Essay discusses in more detail below, once even the most innocuous licensing system is in place, it is more possible (although not necessarily inevitable) that increasingly severe restrictions will be placed on the licensees by administrative fiat. The recognition of this danger is one reason why the First Amendment's prohibition on prior restraints is so wise. The rule prohibiting prior restraint recognizes that any system for licensing the press creates a risk that system will be administratively abused.

E. Genuine Danger

After the fall of France and the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, Britain found itself short of arms for island defense. The Home Guard was forced to drill with canes, umbrellas, spears, pikes, and clubs. When citizens could find a gun, it was generally a sporting shotgun, which was ill-suited for most types of military use because of its short range and bulky ammunition. In November 1940, the American Committee for the Defense of British Homes placed advertisements in United States newspapers and in magazines such as American Rifleman asking readers to "Send A Gun to Defend a British Home--British civilians, faced with threat of invasion, desperately need arms for the defense of their homes." The ads pleaded for "Pistols, Rifles, Revolvers, Shotguns and Binoculars from American civilians who wish to answer the call and aid in defense of British homes."[77] As a result of these ads, pro-Allied organizations in the United States collected weapons; the National Rifle Association shipped 7,000 guns to Britain. Britain also purchased surplus World War I Enfield rifles from the United States Department of War.[78] Before the war, British authorities had refused to allow domestic manufacture of the Thompson submachine gun because it was "a gangster gun,"[79] but when the war broke out, large numbers of American-made Thompsons were shipped to Britain, where they were dubbed "tommie guns."[80]

Prime Minister Winston Churchill's book Their Finest Hour details the arrival of shipments of U.S. government rifles and field artillery pieces in the summer of 1940. Churchill personally supervised the deliveries to ensure that they were sent on fast ships, and distributed first to Home Guard members in coastal zones. Churchill thought that the American donations were "entirely on a different level from anything we have transported across the Atlantic except for the Canadian division itself." Churchill warned an advisor that "the loss of these rifles and field-guns [if the transport ships were sunk by Nazi submarines] would be a disaster of the first order." He later recalled that "[w]hen the ships from America approached our shores with their priceless arms, special trains were waiting in all the ports to receive their cargoes." "The Home Guard in every county, in every town, in every village, sat up all through the night to receive them .... By the end of July we were an armed nation ... a lot of our men and some women had weapons in their hands."[81]

As World War II ended[82] the British government did what it could to prevent the men who had risked their lives in defense of freedom and Britain from holding onto guns acquired during the war. Troop ships returning to England were searched for souvenir or captured rifles and men caught attempting to bring firearms home were punished. Guns that had been donated by American civilians were collected from the Home Guard and destroyed by the British government.[83] In spite of these measures, large quantities of firearms still slipped into Britain, where many of them remain to this day in attics and under floor boards. At least some British gun owners, like their United States counterparts in today's gun-confiscating jurisdictions such as New Jersey and New York City, were beginning to conclude that their government did not trust them, and that their government could not be trusted to deal with them fairly. In 1946, the Home Secretary announced a policy change: henceforth, self-defense would not be considered a good reason for being granted a Firearms Certificate.[84]

The next rounds of legislative action were aimed at knives, rather than guns. The 1953 Prevention of Crime Act outlawed the carrying of an "offensive weapon" and put the burden of proof on anyone found with an "offensive weapon," such as a knife, to prove that he had a reasonable excuse. In 1959, the Home Office pushed for, and won, a ban on self-loading knives. Self-loading knives are knives that use a spring or other mechanism so that they can be opened with one hand. These "flick knives," as they were called in Britain, were not any more of a crime problem than other knives, but the rationale for their ban was the same as for the 1937 ban on certain guns. The government did not see any reason why a person would need a self-loading knife.[85] Furthermore, just as machine guns had been associated with American gangsters, "flick knives," which are called "switchblades" in the United States, were associated with American juvenile delinquents.

The British government in the 1950s left the subject of gun control alone. Crime was still quite low, and issues such as national health care and the Cold War dominated the political dialogue. Even so, the maintenance of the existing, relatively mild, structure of rifle and pistol licensing would have important consequences. As the Firearms Act remained in force year after year, a smaller and smaller percentage of the population could remember a time in their own lives when a Briton could buy a rifle or pistol because he had a right to do so rather than because he had convinced a police administrator that there was a "good reason" for him to purchase the gun. As the post-1920 generation grew up, the licensing provisions of the Firearms Act began to seem less like a change from previous conditions and more like part of ordinary social circumstances. A similar process is at work in the United States, where only part of the population remembers the days before 1968 when federal registration was not required for people to purchase firearms.[86]








[41] See 3 Edw. 7, ch. 18 (Eng.).

[42] SeeGreenwood, supra note 33, at 31.

[43] See Roger Andrew Lorton, Firearms Control in England and Wales: A Review of the Legislation; Its Hopes, Aspirations and Achievements 12 (1991) (unpublished LL.B. dissertation, Birmingham Polytechnic) (on file with author).

[44] Frederick Schauer, Slippery Slopes, 99 Harv. L. Rev. 361, 367 (1985).

[45] An example of this process was seen in 1975, when, during a floor debate, the author of Minnesota's first set of restrictions on mere possession of firearms pleaded with his colleagues to pass his bill even if it had only the two words "gun control" in it. See Letter from Norman Jensvold, who was present during the Senate floor debate, to Joseph Olson (Mar. 10, 1999) (on file with Joseph Olson).

[46] See Charles Tilly, Collective Violence in European Perspective, in The History of Violence in America 4, 7 (Hugh Graham & Ted Robert Gurr eds., 1969) (report of the Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in America).

[47] This Advertiser article was reprinted in J.W.G., Menace of the Pistol, 2 Am. Inst. Crim. L. 93 (1911).

[48] See A. B. Zhuk, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns 64-65 (1995).

[49] See R. A. Steindler, The Firearms Dictionary 198 (1970). The Webley-Fosberry was an attempt to reduce recoil by using some of the energy from the explosion of gunpowder to load the next round into the firing chamber. The successful designs that made constructive use of recoil were not the "automatic revolvers," but the self-loading (semiautomatic) pistols invented in the 1890s. The semiautomatic pistols really were, unlike the automatic revolver, an important advance, since they could hold more than six rounds. Also, thanks to lower recoil, they were often more accurate. The media, however, would not discover the "menace" of semiautomatic pistols until 1989, when some of them were labeled "assault weapons."

[50] The "plastic gun" that generated concern in the late 1980s was the Glock pistol, which included both plastic and metal components. The metal component weighed more than a pound and made an outline of the pistol easily visible to metal detectors and x-ray screens. Phillip McGuire, an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who would later take a job with Handgun Control, Inc., testified before Congress: "There is still no evidence that we hold that a firearm intrinsically capable of passing undetected through conventional x-ray and metal detector systems exists or is feasible under any current technology immediately available to us." Testimony of Phillip C. McGuire, Associate Director, Office of Law Enforcement, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms before the Subcomm. on the Constitution of the Senate Comm. on the Judiciary, 101st Cong. (July 28, 1987). At that same hearing, Raymond A. Salazar, Director of Civil Aviation Security for the Federal Aviation Administration testified: "We are aware of no current 'non-metal' firearm which is not reasonably detectable by present technology and methods in use at our airports today." Nevertheless, anti-gun organizations and a credulous media waged an aggressive campaign warning about the dangers of undetectable plastic guns.

High-density, "cop-killer bullets" are also known as KTW bullets, after the initials of the three police officers who invented them for use in SWAT teams. The bullets had not been available for sale to the general public since the 1960s, even though NBC television discovered them in 1982 and announced that they were a tremendous threat to police lives. The teflon coating on some bullets is designed to reduce airborne lead particles at indoor ranges, but does nothing to make the bullet penetrate body armor any better. High penetrability comes from the use of dense materials, such as tungsten, instead of lead for the bullet.

[51]N.Y. Times, May 23, 1913, at 9. See generally People ex rel. Darling v. Warden, 139 N.Y.S. 277 (N.Y. App. Div. 1913) (split decision) (upholding Sullivan law, but stating that while a licensing law was within the police power. "If the Legislature had prohibited the keeping of arms, it would have been clearly beyond its power.").

[52] See George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England 1910-1914, at 89-91 (Perigree/Putnam 1980) (originally published in 1935).

[53] See Greenwood, supra note 33, at 33.

[54] See Va. Code Ann. 18.2-308.2.01 (1998). See also People v. Rappard, 28 Cal. App. 3d 302 (Cal. Ct. App. 1972).

[55] For example, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-06 (1998)) is being used to prevent the export of high-quality computer encryption software. See Bernadette Barnard, Note, Leveraging Worldwide Encryption Standards Via U.S. Export Controls: The U.S. Government's Authority to "Safeguard" the Global Information Infrastructure, 1997 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 429 (1997). New York City's rent controls, enacted as temporary measures due to a housing shortage in World War II, remain in effect over half a century later.

[56]Report of the Committee on the Control of Firearms 2 (1918). See also Greenwood, supra note 33, at 38; Stevenson, supra note 40, at 10. The "Blackwell Committee" was chaired by Sir Ernley Blackwell, Under Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Committee met in secret and never made a report public. The Secretary, F. J. Dryhurst, was formerly Commissioner of the Prison Service. Other members represented the Metropolitan Police, the County and Borough Police Forces, the Board of Customs, the Board of Trade, the War Office, and the Irish Office.

[57] See Colin Greenwood, "The British Experience," in Gun Control Examined 31, a collection of papers presented at Conference on Gun Control, Melbourne University, Aug. 27-28, 1988.

[58]Yardley & Stevenson, supra note 40, at 42-44. See also Stevenson, supra note 40, at 9 (citing Sir Eric Geddes, Public Record Office CAB 25/20).

[59] See Stevenson, supra note 40, at 9-10.

[60] See Firearms Act, 1920, 10 & 11 Geo. 5, ch. 43 (Eng.). For more on the origins of the Firearms Act, see Clayton Cramer, Fear and Loathing in Whitehall: Bolshevism and the Firearms Act of 1920 (last visited Jan. 27, 1999) <>. In Great Britain, "firearms" refers only to rifles and handguns, and not to shotguns; in American usage, shotguns are also considered "firearms." Britons wanting to refer to rifles and pistols and shotguns would use the word "guns." For the sake of consistency, this Essay follows the British usage.

The word "handgun" is now interchangeable with "pistol." Both refer to a short-barreled gun that can be fired with one hand. "Pistol" was the original English term. See Normal F. Cooper, What Must We Do? 36 Guns Rev. 732, 732 (1996).

[61] See Cadmus, Section Five, 33 Guns Rev. 42, 42 (1993).

[62] Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Northumbria Police Authority, reprinted in 2 Wkly. L. Rep. 590 (1988).

[63] See Greenwood, supra note 33, at 34-35.

[64] See Statutory Definition and Classification of Firearms and Ammunition Committee, 1934, Cmd. 4758.

[65] See 312 Parl. Deb., H.C. (5th ser.) 167-68 (1936). The laws were consolidated in the Firearms Act, 1937, 1 Edw. 8 & 1 Geo. 6, ch. 12 (Eng.).

[66] National Firearms Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1236-1240 (1935), 26 U.S.C. 1132 (1935), now codified beginning at 26 U.S.C. 5801 (1998).

[67] See Statutory Definition and Classification of Firearms and Ammunition Committee, 1934, Cmd. 4758; United Kingdom, Parliament, The Control of Firearms in Great Britain: A Consultative Document, 1973, Command 5297, at 3 (misciting Bodkin); Jane Fiddick, Control of Firearms, Background Paper no. 207, House of Commons Library Research Division, Jan. 20, 1988, at 2 (misciting Bodkin); Stevenson, supra note 40, at 17.

[68] See Derek Bernard, A Little Local Witch-Hunt, Target Gun, Apr. 1989, at 66.

[69]William Shakespeare, King Lear, act 2, sc. 4.

[70] A classic slippery slope argument posits that we should not do A, even though A is desirable, because our successors will use A as a precedent to do B, and all agree that B is not desirable.

[71] Schauer, supra note 44, at 366.

[72] See id. at 365-66.

[73] Id. at 366.

[74] Id. at 367. By "the danger case," Schauer means the feared future result of starting down the slippery slope today. For example, "censoring Ulysses ten years from now" could be the "danger case" for "censoring Penthouse today."

[75] "The firearms and ammunition to which this certificate relates must at all times when not in actual use be kept in a secure place with a view to preventing access to them by unauthorized [British spelling] persons." Quoted in Colin Greenwood, Firearms Security: Law or Education, Australian Shooters, Jan. 1989, at 39. Breach of the provision is now punishable by a fine of up to 2,000 pounds and six months in jail. See id.

[76] In one recent case a person traveling from a range to his home left ammunition hidden in a locked car for forty-five minutes. When the ammunition was stolen, the man was convicted of not keeping the ammunition in a secure place. See Marsh v. Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset, reprinted in Independent, May 8, 1987, discussed in Fiddick, supra note 68, at 8.

[77] Advertisement, Am. Rifleman, Nov. 1940. The full advertisement states:


British civilians, faced with the threat of invasion, desperately need arms for the defense of their homes. The American Committee for Defense of British Homes has organized to collect gifts of pistols, rifles, revolvers, shotguns, binoculars from American civilians who wish to answer the call and aid in the defense of British homes. These arms are being shipped, with the consent of the British Government, to Civilian Committee for Protection of Homes, Birmingham, England .... The members of which are Wickham Steed, Edward Hulton, and Lord Davies. You can aid by sending any arms or binoculars you can spare to American Committee for the Defense of British Homes, C. Suydan Cutting, Chairman Room 100, 10 Warren Street, New York, N.Y.

Id. See also Duncan Long, Streetsweepers: The Complete Book of Combat Shotguns 6 (1987) (discussing the availability of shotguns).

[78] See Yardley & Stevenson, supra note 40, at 69; Edwards, The Disarmament of Great Britain, Am. Rifleman, Jan. 1988, at 35-37; Neal Knox, Britain's Crime Rate Soars, Gun Week, Dec. 30, 1966, at 4.

The firm of Greenwald and Haughton, under contract from the United States government, offered to buy "all automatic pistols from .22 cal. to .45 cal." and all revolvers of sized .38 or larger to give to an allied nation in order "to perforate a parasite." Advertisements in The American Rifleman, Aug. 1943, at 50; Feb. 1944, at 50.

[79] Home Secretary Sir John Simon had explained the ban by calling the Thompson "the weapon we are informed is used by gangsters on the other side of the water." 312 Parl. Deb., H.C. (5th ser.) 168 (1936).

[80] Representative William G. Bray, Guns and Gun Laws--Fact and Fancy, Cong. Rec., July 18, 1968Duncan Long, Assault Pistols, Rifles and Submachineguns 35, 43 (1986).

While the British government during World War II was somewhat less worried about loyalty of the people than the government had been during the previous war, target shooting was sharply reduced in order to conserve ammunition for the military. The Royal Air Force's Air Gunners were, however, encouraged to participate in clay shooting, since the skills necessary to shoot a flying clay disk with a shotgun (e.g., shooting ahead of the target) are much the same as the skills for shooting enemy aircraft with a machine gun. See Norman F. Cooper, Times Past and Present, 34 Guns Rev. 358 (1994).

[81]Winston S. Churchill, Their Finest Hour 237-38 (1949). Nevertheless, even after the guns from the United States arrived, much of the Home Guard was poorly armed. The problem was threefold: the Army had priority in receiving weapons; the government was afraid that Communists might join the Home Guard; and the government was often uncomfortable with ordinary citizens possessing weapons. See generally S.P. Mackenzie, The Home Guard (1995).

[82] At this point Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been replaced by Clement Atlee.

[83] See London Public Records Office, Home Office 45, 21888. See also Bray, supra note 80William R. Tonso, Gun and Society: The Social and Existential Roots of the American Attachment to Firearms 125 (1982).

[84] See Greenwood, supra note 33, at 72.

[85] See Cadmus, The Pass-a-Law Syndrome, 36 Guns Rev. 421, 422 (1996). Actually, there are plenty of reasons why someone would want a self-loading knife. Anyone who wants to open the knife with one hand while holding something in the other could use a self-loading knife. Such persons could include tradesmen, firemen, sportsmen, and persons who have lost the use of one arm or hand.

[86] The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires that all persons purchasing firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer fill out a registration form, the ATF Form 4473 (10-98), which is generally known as the "yellow sheet." See 18 U.S.C. 921-30 (1998).