In the first part of this articles, Rolling With Blades, we identified the violent crime & assault situation in many of our cities, focusing on knife crime. Chief among the reasons for knife crime is that ordinary, and otherwise, law-abiding citizens feel the need to carry knives for self-defence. As noted, the number of these is considerably higher than expected – 75% of all knives seized are expected to have been from non-gang members, and the Welsh Police are noting that children as young as 11 are carrying such weapons.
In such a situation, especially given the Police cutbacks, there is an increased sense of vulnerability on many streets in the UK which leads people to carry such weapons even if they don’t wish to carry them. Further, it must be understood that there is little that we and the government can do to stop this: For as long as man has been on the planet, he has sought to defend himself. This survival instinct cannot be changed, and our societies must work around the survival instinct. To harness and limit it for the protection and safety of all. This was first raised as a concept by Hobbes in Leviathan and has been part of British political theory since.
The surge in knife crime continues on from there, as for whatever reasons people carry knives, they are likely to use them. Even in self-defence against violent and or sexual crime, they are being used as deadly weapons and there is a great danger of death occurring to the victim also, once it becomes a knife fight. More concerning, the possession of a knife can lead people to do things they otherwise would not, and especially among teenage boys, spontaneous “duels” can, and have been known to spring up, especially under the influence of alcohol and illicit substances. Knives, which were carried – even illegally – with “clean consciences” for purely “defensive reasons” thereby become needlessly deadly weapons as few who carry them intend or want to use them offensively or at all.
Is there, therefore, a solution? Typically the Police are heralded as the sole body responsible for protecting the public and to enforce the laws. Yet they cannot be everywhere – made all the most plain after repetitive cuts by the ex-Home Secretary Theresa May. Even in London, where their presence is the strongest, knife and violent crime continues to increase, and when the police do arrive, they are unfortunately too late. And if they are not too late, they are not automatically effective. This was shown to be painfully obvious during the London Bridge Terror Attack. Although arriving promptly, the police fired 46 rounds to hit the three terrorists, and in the process managed to shoot an innocent bystander in the head. One of the terrorists was reportedly shot dead by what was called an “off-duty police officer” who has part of the Defence Secretary’s bodyguard. However, questions have been raised over whether or not he would have been carrying a firearm off duty, as it is often standard practice for armed police not to carry firearms off duty. Further, it had been rumoured previously that the SAS were deploying soldiers around London as a preventative measure, and so it can be questioned if the shooter was a member of the Police or rather a SAS trooper. In either event, part of London was in lockdown, a great many people were terrified and terrorised and found by Police cowering inside locked buildings. Eight people died and 48 were injured while three men armed with a van and knives terrorized London for 10 minutes.
While the rise of terror attacks in the UK is greatly troubling of itself, it is occurring simultaneously with a rise in knife crime and acid attacks. Indeed, London has become the capital of acid attacks, many being connected to violent robbery by individuals and gangs, many of which have links or were perpetrated by illegal immigrants.
Therefore, faced with a multifaced increase of crime, and reductions in the Police force, it is woefully easy to understand the reasoning of some to carry illegal weapons for self-defence. We cannot continue like this an a non-lethal and legal form of self-defence has to be found.
Self-Defence as a doctrine has a long history in British and English law. It is a Common Law, meaning it has been handed down by what was deemed to be “Common Sense” by English judges, jurors and public since before the Magna Charta. Part of the Magna Charta was the foundation of a separate court system for two individuals to be under the same, standardised, common, law, which had been developed in countless courts most likely since the days of the first settlement of Britain. We have records of it being created in the Saxon era, and outside of the UK it is was mentioned in Roman and Biblical era laws, so is by no means a new concept. It is universally accepted as a reason for states to go to war, as noted by Hugo Grotius, the founder of International Law and the UN charter itself.
In the UK, in more modern days, it was codified in the Criminal Law act of 1967 and has been mentioned in the Criminal Courts & Immigration Act of 2013 and again strengthened and legitimized by the High Court in 2016. Therefore, while it may be an uncommon concept to the public, it is not to the law. So it can be easily concluded that Britons have a right to self-defence until the earliest possible time to call in the official law enforcement, and can be construed as considerably more lenient than that following many rulings including that anybody who sincerely believes to be under threat may defend themselves proportionally, and even disproportionately in their home (Apart from grossly disproportionate self-defence).
Therefore, can the public be given a tool to safely and non-lethally defend themselves against whatever threats they can rationally and conceivably be expected to face?
I believe there is. However, I must point out that is this not my idea – the British firearms vlogger ‘SRS Power’ on Youtube was the first place I heard of this concept, although is it by no means a novel idea. The British Police, famous for their ability to disarm suspects, even those armed with firearms uses a type of pepper spray.
Why should we legalise Pepper Spray? If it could be responsibly given to certain members of the public, it would offer benefits over any other form of self-defence. Currently, it’s categorisation is a source of humour. Under the firearms act of 1967, it is deemed to be a Section 5 weapon. Other Section 5 weapons include machine guns, assault rifles and automatic handguns. If two people were walking down the road, and one had a light machine gun with a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds per minute, and another had a small can of Pepper Spray, they would both be subject to a similar punishment as their crime is deemed equal before the law.
This is clearly not factually true. While in the U.S. the pepper spray used by the Police has indeed caused deaths, with the number varying from 61 to 27 in the US since 1990 or 1993, according to the ACLU & Los Angeles Times.
Even if we were to be proposing the legalisation of such ruthlessly strong, chemically compounded OC sprays, we must remember that London had 130 homicides in 2017 alone. Yet we are most certainly not proposing that. Pepper Spray can have varying strengths and effectiveness: the common “bear spray” is ten times weaker than those currently used in law enforcement in the US, and if it is effective against bears, who are more immune to the effects than humans are due to their fur, it should also be effective against assailants. The UK Police do not use “proper” Pepper Spray, but rather ‘PAVA’, which is a considerably weaker spray, containing 0.3% “active ingredient”, compared to the 1% of bear sprays and 5-30% typically available in the US. While admittedly, this is not always effective, it is in the vast majority of cases and was given to the Constabulary as more effective than CS gas and better for the victim than other forms of Pepper Spray.
If PAVA is good enough for the Police in the UK in the majority of circumstances, it would also be the sole form of pepper spray to be legalised at first. Let us say, however, that this mild form of pepper spray (PAVA) falls into the wrong hands. What then? What happens when those with whatever training & checks the government may require for carrying pepper spray somehow lose it. Even if, in such an unlikely situation without the complete legalisation and deregulation of pepper spray, it was to be used by criminals, it would make a great difference in the types of crime in the UK today.
Concentrating first on the victims, why would somebody feeling threatened carry PAVA? Unlike a knife, PAVA is not an offensive weapon, it is a defensive one. To help an escape, PS would have a lot more effect in a shorter time, and can be used simultaneously on a group of people, such as assaulted the MP from West Bromwich this week. It is also easier to conceal, meaning a deterrence can be created as criminals would be unsure who could use it on them. The “best part” of Pepper Spray – even the stronger forms – is that while it is more effective at rendering an aggressor harmless and temporarily blinded, its benefits is that it is entirely temporary, and in the vast majority of cases recordeded, presents no long term harm or risk. This is very much unlike a stab wound, which can very often end a life and leave the victim literally scarred for life.
Further, as pointed out by Sam from SRS Power, who has been supporting its availability to the public, it is preferable for all – and especially the NHS, for all knife crime to be replaced with PS: hospitals would be full of doctors administering milk and yogurt instead of dealing with massive trauma, organ damage, major blood loss and a heavy toll on trauma departments.
So if PS is better for the NHS, and is better than knives to get a potential victim to safety where they can call for assistance and the police, why not place them in the public’s hands? At the very least, why deny them from the most law-abdiing democragphic of British society: firearms holders? If the concern is that they would not replace the carrying of illegal knives for self-defence, this is clearly nonsensical – victims would prefer PS as it is a standoff weapon, which can be effective at up to 10 feet, unlike a knife, which requires closing in to 10 inches. This means it is like a taser or a handgun – but again considerably less lethal in any situation – 1 second burst of pepper spray (or oleoresin capsicum or some synthetic equivalent) would render an attacker in trouble for 45 minutes – unlike a knife which we have seen all too often ending what should have been 45 years of life. Indeed, it is even more effective than a taser, as it can be “fired” repeatedly at an assailant until the victim can escape.
The recent mass shooting in the US only proves further that there are a people who wish to cause harm, and will do so with whatever weapons they have to hand. In the US it is mainly legal firearms, while in the UK it is mainly knives and illegal firearms to a lesser extent. Fortunately, we in the UK to don’t face mass shootings, but we do face mass – or repetitively – stabbings and London has become the world’s capital of acid attacks. Regardless of our position on the NRA’s argument that the answer to bad guys with guns is good guys with guns, this does not affect the overall concept of limited and reasonable self-defence. It is clearly apparent that legalising a type of pepper spray (whether to licensed firearms holders or to the general public, or to create a new “PAVA Licence” with required training & registration) would save lives, reduce crime and assault and help reduce the inner-city strain on the NHS’s A&E wards – a noble cause considering the ongoing winter crises.
Indeed, we risk creating more victims and turning blind eyes to unnecessary deaths. In London last year there were nearly 7.5 shootings, stabbings or other weapon wounds per day. In January, the statistic was closer to 6.5. 16 people have been murdered on the streets of London in the past two months and last year in London alone the number of recorded rapes rose by a frightening 20%.
With cuts to the police still ongoing, the question remains – what will the government do? If they will not ensure the public can live in security, then they must provide the public with security: Why may honest, law-abiding individuals who live in fear of attacks not have access to non lethal and legal methods of self-defense? We don’t need, ask for, or even want firearms. Neither is anybody suggesting the strong, militarised pepper spray as used by US law enforcement personnel, but rather the minimum efficacy and strength incapacitation spray for the vulnerable in our societies to be able to defend themselves in an increasingly violent and hostile world. Not to legalise a form of effective self-defence would be to view the British public as irresponsible and unable to be trusted and fit only to be victims of crime.