When I was a child, my favourite presents were always toy guns. I had soldiers, and a castle, as well as a Wild West fort: my Dad had made me a wooden sword that I liked to carry around, but the guns were best. I had a ‘Davy Crockett’ flintlock pistol, authentic in every way, save size. It had a working lock and trigger, a ramrod for loading, and a sparking flint when fired. As I got older, these toys became even more authentic, and increasingly sophisticated. My next handgun of note, was a replica Colt.45, ‘Wyatt Earp Buntline Special’. This had a swing out cylinder, containing realistic cartridges, and even came with a cleaning kit, all in a presentation box.
I soon graduated to a half-size sniper rifle, a replica M40 Remington. This came complete with a working telescopic sight, as well as a metal bolt and firing pin, that worked in exactly the same way as the real weapon. There were dummy cartridges, and they would eject from the breech when the bolt was worked.
This was at a time when all adult males of my acquaintance had served in the Armed Forces during World War Two. They had been familiar with firearms, and some had even smuggled back various examples. One of my uncles had a fully-functional Walther P-38 pistol, that he would allow me to ‘play’ with, unloaded of course. My Dad had returned from his time in India, with a Gurkha Kukri, and a Lee-Enfield bayonet, and these were given to me as souvenirs. There was still plenty of armed conflict in The World at that time; Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden; and rumours of trouble in a place that we used to call Indo-China, now known as Vietnam. Many of my relatives were overseas, doing their National Service, a compulsory two-year military conscription. I had always assumed that I would eventually be called up, until I was told that this would be ended by the Government, before my ninth birthday.
Still, I was convinced that there would be another war that I would have to go to, at some time in the future. After all, the Cold War was upon us, there was a wall in Berlin, and Soviet missiles on the way to Cuba. With this seeming an eventuality, I resolved that I would not go unprepared. I would become an expert on weaponry, especially firearms, artillery, and armoured vehicles. With no Internet to rely on, this would have to be achieved by studying books, films, and newsreel footage. I would also make numerous trips to the nearby Imperial War Museum, luckily a short bus ride away, and free entry too. This was, and is still, a marvellous place, with row upon row of all weapons imaginable, from medieval pole arms, to every rifle and pistol ever manufactured. There are also full-size tanks and aircraft, and examples of artillery of various calibres.
So, starting with the matchlock firearms of the 17th Century, through to the then current trend for assault rifles like the AK-47 and M-16, I began to study the evolution of guns across the ages. I had to categorise of course: Pistols, Revolvers, Rifles. Sub- Categories: Automatic, Single-shot, Bolt-Action, Smooth bore.Then there were Tanks, Armoured Cars, Assault Guns,Tracked vehicles, Self-propelled guns, Wheeled vehicles. I would also flirt with Mortars, Anti-Tank weapons, Mines and Hand-grenades, as well as towed Artillery, Naval guns, and Aircraft weaponry. I had set myself an impossible task perhaps, but I was determined to give it my best shot. And I had never even fired a gun, or held a loaded weapon. I soon began to excel in the subject.
When I went to see the film ‘Zulu’ (at the age of 12), I immediately recognised the Martini-Henry rifle used by the British troops, and was satisfied that the correct weapon was being shown. I became critical of ‘out of place’ firearms in films, or on TV. I would be particularly incensed if a repeating rifle, shown in a film about The American Civil War, was described as a Winchester. I knew that it would be a Henry, and would probably only be in the hands of a Union Soldier. When a film about the Second World War was shown, I would pontificate on the merits of the Soviet PPSH, as opposed to its German counterpart, the MP40. I was known to comment that the Dreyser Needle Gun gave the Prussians a distinct advantage over the French Chassepot, though actually unsure if this was really the case. And all this before my thirteenth birthday!
As I grew older, my interest did not diminish. This was fuelled by the eventual chance to actually fire some guns, at long last, courtesy of some friends and colleagues who were members of some of the many gun clubs in the London area at that time. I was able to try an assortment of handguns, and some rifles, single-shot only though. The excitement soon wore off, as I discovered that I was an average shot, at best. I also tired of banging away at paper targets in dark tunnels, standing in what felt like a telephone kiosk. There was the chance to try shotguns, outside in the open. This held even less interest for me, as I had no desire to kill birds and small animals, or to wear body-warmers, flat caps and wellington boots, wandering around a cold field. Whenever I looked along the sights of a gun, toy or real, it was always a person I imagined at the receiving end, not a crow, or paper circle.
I did just enough shooting to decide on my favourite handguns. After much consideration, I decided that I would need an automatic, for more fire-power from the larger magazine, and a back-up revolver, in case of jamming. I rejected many fine examples, to arrive at my final choices. The revolver would have to be the wonderful Colt Python .357 magnum, with 6-inch barrel, which I still consider today to be the best revolver for general purpose use. The automatic was a harder choice, but I settled on the Browning Hi-power 9mm, with its 13- round capacity magazine, and proven track record.
This was all fantasy of course. I was by then in my twenties, considering marriage, and the purchase of a flat in South-West London. These guns were very expensive, as was membership of a gun club, the only legal way to own them. There would be Police checks, Licences, background checks, and after all that, you couldn’t even take them home! I wanted to carry the thing around, ready for defence. It would be left in the bedside table, handy for blasting any burglar, or intruder. I could conceal it in the glove compartment of my car, and soon settle any road disputes. What use was it to me, locked away in the secure case in the gun club, with the ammunition kept separately?
There had been ‘incidents’ in America. A young man had climbed a tower, then shot and killed random strangers below. An unemployed man had returned to his former place of work, heavily armed, then he shot and killed many former colleagues. Worryingly, I felt that I understood them. They had a grievance, however imagined, and they had the guns, so the means to settle it. They probably did not take anything personally, and meant no harm to specific individuals. They were just convenient targets, objects to satisfy the disaffection with their lot in life.
Then, in Scotland, came the ‘Dunblane massacre’; the killing of numerous innocent children, by a gun enthusiast, and gun club member. Everything changed in the U.K. No more personal weapons, even at gun clubs. Shotguns were still allowed, as were target pistols, and small-bore rifles. (We had to remember Olympic success…). I couldn’t rationalise this rule. A shotgun was an extremely destructive firearm, needed little skill in operation, and was still readily available to a large percentage of the population. It could be reloaded quickly, and, at short range at least, a kill was more or less guaranteed. But then of course, the upper classes and aristocracy like to use their shotguns. Where would their late summer be, without the killing of thousands of defenceless birds at short range? So, shotguns could never be outlawed, and we would all have to take our chances with the owners of that type of weapon.
During all this, I was still sitting somewhere, arguing that the Americans could never have hoped to win in Vietnam, as the M-16 Assault Rifle was not suited to the combat conditions found there. The opposition favored the AK-47, Russian and Chinese made weapon. This had many chromed parts, making it more resistant to dirt in the breech and receiver. The M-16 constantly fouled in these areas, due to the mud and humidity found in South-East Asia.
People must have thought that I was insane. Thousands were dying every day as a result of the Worldwide use of these firearms, and I was praising their design successes. Murder by shooting was on an unimaginable increase in the USA, and the West Indies. Even in the U.K., gun crime was spiralling, though thankfully, most of this was gang related, so few innocent bystanders were affected. Working in Emergency Ambulances, I experienced this first-hand, going from no gunshot injuries in my first year, to sometimes 20 a year, in latter years. These were illegally owned guns of course. There were no gun clubs supplying Jamaican Yardies, Russian mafia, or Serbian gangsters in London. They were all smuggled in, with consummate ease.
The Police responded in kind. From a few Firearms Officers in the 1960’s, drawing pistols when needed, Specialist Firearms Branches were formed, all over the U.K., and on a large scale in London. Officers carried sidearms, and machine-pistols, as well as Tasers, CS Gas, and the conventional truncheon or Asp.
I changed jobs, from the Ambulance Service, to Police Control rooms, seeing it from both sides. But I would still like some guns. I still read about them, still pined for that Colt Python, still wanted to carry it in a shoulder holster. Let’s face it, not many people argue with a .357 revolver pointed at them. It gives you that edge, gives you control, albeit temporarily, of any situation. Someone breaks into your home at night, they are not expecting you to come out of that bedroom behind a 6-inch barrel, with magnum firepower.
Trouble is, what if nobody ever breaks in?
How long is it before you leave the window open, in the hope that they will? You sit up all night, pistol ready, waiting for the creak of the floorboard, that finally gives you the chance to open fire, to shoot someone, to justify all those years of gun ownership. I reckon it is not too long before you slip that catch, or leave your door ajar. In America, random, mass shootings continue, almost on a monthly basis. This can only be a consequence of Liberal gun laws, and the hangover of the outdated second amendment of the U. S. Constitution. I would still like to own guns. I can buy de-activated weapons legally, to admire, or to display, though I cannot see the point, as I cannot use them, should I feel the need.
With maturity, I can see the good sense of the gun laws in most European Countries. I really could not be trusted with a gun, so it is right that I am not allowed to own one. Trouble is, who can be trusted? Certainly not the ‘Batman’ killers, or Michael Ryan, who killed 16 people in Hungerford, England, or Anders Breivik, in Norway. The list goes on and on.
My conclusion is that we do not have ‘The Right to Bear Arms’, anywhere. No one can be trusted, as nobody knows when the day will come when we ‘lose it’, or decide to fulfill our darkest desires. If you really want to ‘Bear Arms’, join the Army, or the Police. They, at least, have some checks and balances, however imperfect. I will just have to keep on reading, and realise that I will never be carrying that Colt Python, or Browning.
Just as well too.