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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
The next set of gun control initiatives reflected fears
of immigrant anarchists and other subversives.
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
the "automatic pistol/quick-firing revolver" that so
concerned the newspaper? In 1901, the British company of
Webley-Fosberry introduced an "automatic revolver."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
not the need!" shouted King Lear after his two traitorous
daughters, Regan and Goneril, disarmed him by taking away
his armed retinue.
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.
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
Schauer's classic article on slippery slopes distinguishes
the pure slippery slope argument
from its "close relation" that Schauer calls "the argument
from excess breadth."
The latter argument points to the danger of adopting a
policy on grounds that are too broad.
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.
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.
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
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."
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
As shotguns were not licensed, there was no such requirement
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
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.
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."
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.
Before the war, British authorities had refused to allow
domestic manufacture of the Thompson submachine gun
because it was "a gangster gun,"
but when the war broke out, large numbers of
American-made Thompsons were shipped to Britain, where
they were dubbed "tommie guns."
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."
War II ended
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- TURN TO PART V -
 See 3 Edw. 7, ch. 18 (Eng.).
33, at 31.
 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).
 Frederick Schauer, Slippery Slopes, 99 Harv.
L. Rev. 361, 367 (1985).
 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).
 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
 This Advertiser article was reprinted in
J.W.G., Menace of the Pistol, 2 Am.
Inst. Crim. L. 93 (1911).
 See A. B. Zhuk,
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns
 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."
 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.
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.
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.").
 See George Dangerfield,
The Strange Death of Liberal England 1910-1914,
at 89-91 (Perigree/Putnam 1980) (originally
published in 1935).
 See Greenwood,
33, at 33.
 See Va. Code Ann.
§ 18.2-308.2.01 (1998). See also People v.
Rappard, 28 Cal. App. 3d 302 (Cal. Ct. App. 1972).
 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
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
 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.
Yardley & Stevenson,
40, at 42-44. See also Stevenson,
40, at 9 (citing Sir Eric Geddes, Public Record
Office CAB 25/20).
 See Stevenson, supra note
40, at 9-10.
 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) <http://cs.sonoma.edu/~cramer/fiream~1.htm>.
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).
 See Cadmus, Section Five, 33 Guns
Rev. 42, 42 (1993).
 Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home
Department, ex parte Northumbria Police Authority,
reprinted in 2 Wkly. L. Rep.
 See Greenwood,
33, at 34-35.
 See Statutory Definition
and Classification of Firearms and Ammunition Committee,
1934, Cmd. 4758.
 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.).
 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).
 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.
 See Derek Bernard, A Little Local
Witch-Hunt, Target Gun, Apr.
1989, at 66.
act 2, sc. 4.
 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.
 Schauer, supra note
44, at 366.
 See id. at 365-66.
 Id. at 366.
 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."
 "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.
 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,
68, at 8.
 Advertisement, Am.
Rifleman, Nov. 1940. The full advertisement
SEND A GUN TO DEFEND A BRITISH HOME.
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.
 See Yardley & Stevenson,
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,
 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).
 Representative William G. Bray, Guns and Gun
Laws--Fact and Fancy, Cong. Rec.,
July 18, 1968; Duncan 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.
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
The Home Guard (1995).
 At this point Prime Minister Winston Churchill
had been replaced by Clement Atlee.
 See London Public Records Office,
Home Office 45, 21888. See also Bray,
80; William R. Tonso, Gun
and Society: The Social and Existential Roots of the
American Attachment to Firearms 125 (1982).
 See Greenwood,
33, at 72.
 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.
 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).