As in most of the
Western world, the late 1960s in Great Britain was a
time of rising crime and civil disorder. In 1965,
capital punishment was abolished, except for treason and
Gun crime did not seem to be a problem. Scotland Yard
stated "with some confidence" that the objectives of
eliminating "the improper and careless custody and use
of firearms ... and making it difficult for criminals to
obtain them ... are effectively achieved."
In June 1966, Home Secretary Roy Jenkins told Parliament
that after consulting with the Chief Constables and the
Home Office, he had concluded (as had his predecessor
the year before) that shotgun controls were not worth
the trouble, yet six weeks later, Jenkins announced that
new shotgun controls were necessary, because shotguns
were too easily available to criminals.
been a sudden surge in shotgun crime in the six week period?
Not at all, but three policemen at Shephard's Bush had been
murdered with illegal revolvers. Popular outcry for
capital punishment was fervent, and Jenkins, an
abolitionist, responded by announcing new shotgun controls,
in an attempt to divert attention from the noose.
retrospect, Mr. Jenkins' shotgun controls made no logical
sense. Regulating shotguns would obviously have no impact on
criminal use of unlicensed revolvers, the guns used to
murder the three policemen. Jenkins claimed that "criminal
use of shotguns is increasing rapidly, still more rapidly
than that of other weapons." The "rapidly" increasing type
of crime associated with shotguns, however, involved mostly
poaching or property damage rather than armed robberies or
murders. Nevertheless, by showing that he was "doing
something" about crime by proposing shotgun controls, Mr.
Jenkins effectively achieved his main goal, which was to
divert public attention from the death penalty. The Jenkins
tactic has been used by many other politicians since then,
including former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who is a
proponent of gun prohibition and an opponent of the death
to light a third factor that may help push a civil right
down the slippery slope: the exercise of the right may be
unproblematic, but pushes for restriction on the right may
satisfy unrelated political needs. The more likely that
media or other interest groups are to be hostile to the
exercise of the right, the greater the prospect that further
infringing on the right may fulfill the political need of
distracting attention from other matters.
request the British government began drafting the
legislation that became the Criminal Justice Act of 1967.
The new act required a license for the purchase of shotguns.
Like the Gun Control Act of 1968 in the United States,
Britain's 1967 Act was part of a comprehensive crime package
that included a variety of infringements on civil liberties.
For example, the British Act abolished the necessity for
unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials, eliminated the
requirement for a full hearing of evidence at committal
hearings, and restricted press coverage of those hearings.
1967 system, which is still in force for the most part, a
person wishing to obtain his first shotgun needed to obtain
a "shotgun certificate." The local police could reject an
applicant if they believed that his "possession of a shotgun
would endanger public safety." The police were required to
grant the certificate unless the applicant had a particular
defect in his background such as a criminal record or
history of mental illness.
An applicant was required to supply a countersignatory, a
person who would attest to the accuracy of the information
in the application. During an investigation period
that could last several weeks, the police might visit the
In the first decades of the system, about ninety-eight
percent of all applications were granted.
Once the £12
shotgun certificate was granted, the law allowed a citizen
to purchase as many shotguns as he wished.
Private transfers among certificate holders were legal and
As with the Firearms Act of 1920, the statutory language of
the 1967 shotgun law was eminently reasonable, and
unobjectionable except to a civil liberties purist.
The 1967 law
contained one other provision that illustrated a key
strategy of how to push something down a slippery slope: it
is easier to legislate against people who cannot vote, or
who are not yet born, than against adults who want to retain
their rights. Reducing the number people who will, one day
in the future, care about exercising a particular right is a
good way to ensure that, on that future day, new
restrictions on the right will be politically easier to
enact. Thus, the 1967 law did nothing to take away guns from
law-abiding adults, but the Act did severely restrict gun
transfers to minors. It became illegal for a father to give
even an airgun as a gift to his thirteen-year-old son.
The fewer young people who enjoy the exercise of a civil
liberty such as the shooting sports, the fewer adults there
will eventually be to defend that civil liberty.
conditioning young people not to believe they have rights
can exist in other contexts, of course. For example, the
current American practice of denying American schoolchildren
constitutional protection from locker searches,
dog sniffs, metal detectors, and random drug testing
is a good way to raise a generation with little appreciation
for the Fourth Amendment.
- TURN TO PART VI -
 See The Murder (Abolition of Death
Penalty) Act, 1965, ch. 71 (Eng.).
 Letter from Commissioner of Police of the
Metropolis (Scotland Yard), to Harvard Law Review Nov.
9, 1966, quoted in Stanley Mosk, Gun Control
Legislation: Valid and Necessary, 14 N.Y. L. F. 694, 709
n.54 (1968) (The N.Y. L.F. is now the New York
Law School Review).
 See Stevenson, supra note
40, at 19.
 See Barry Bruce-Briggs, The Great
American Gun War, The Pub. Interest,
Fall 1976, at 60-61; Colin Greenwood, Does
Legislation Reduce Armed Crime?Daily
Telegraph, Sept. 13, 1966 quoting Yardley
& Stevenson, supra note
40, at 58-59.
 See Criminal Justice Act 1967, Part V.
The 1967 law was consolidated with previous firearms
laws into the Firearms Act, 1968, 16 & 17 Eliz. 2,
ch. 27 (Eng.).
18 U.S.C. §§ 921-30 (1998).
 See Yardley & Stevenson,
40, at 59.
 See Sapsted, Control of Shotguns
Farcical, Say Police, The Times,
July 10, 1987.
 £ and No Questions Asked,
The Mail (London), Sept. 2, 1984.
Some police forces, such as
West Midlands or Merseyside, conduct thorough
investigations and require personal interviews even for
renewals; others, such as North Wales, move more
rapidly. See Police Lack Resources to Make
Checks for Licenses, Sunday Times
(London), Aug. 23, 1987, at 14.
 See Ninja gun gangs are invading
Britain--MP, London Standard,
May 29, 1986, at 15.
 See Home Office,
Firearms: What You Need to Know About the Law 2
 See generally Firearms Act 1968,
91. Gifts of any gun to a person under fourteen
are illegal. Gifts of a shotgun to a person under
fifteen are illegal. See Godfrey
Sandys-Winch, Gun Law 118-22 (1990).
 Prime Minister Tony Blair's "New Labour" party
now calls for taking the next step: making it illegal
for a person under the age of eighteen to use a gun,
even under immediate adult supervisor. See
The Hon. Lord Cullen, The Public Inquiry into the
Shootings at Dunblane Primary School 13 (Mar.
1996), cited at <http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/scottish/dunblane/dunblane.htm>.
A few American states, such as Massachusetts and New
York, have similarly restrictive rules.
New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985).
Veronia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995).