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Shotgun News, August 1, 2006

Odds & Ends, Some Sad, Some Amusing

It has been another month of sometimes amusing and sometimes sad news in the gun rights arena.  Let's get some of the sad news out of the way first.  A few months back, the British government sent out instructions to police departments around the country that, sadly, were not particularly new.  Instead, they were making national, formal policy of what was informally happening in individual police departments.

The new policy?  Criminals who are arrested for sixty different crimes, if they acknowledge that they did it, and have no previous criminal record, will now get a warning, and be released.  No need to go to court, and therefore, no punishment.  What minor crimes, you may ask?  Spitting on the sidewalk?  Littering?  No, burglary of businesses, arson, vandalism, “common assault, threatening behaviour, sex with an underage girl or boy, and taking a car without its owner's consent...”[1]

However, you will be pleased to know that there are crimes so serious that British police aren't going to give you a warning.  They'll drag you off to jail, and the courts will deal with you very seriously. 

“A mother-of-one has been jailed after a stash of ammunition was uncovered in her home during a police raid.

“Harrow Crown Court heard April McKenzie, 23, of Milford Gardens, Wembley, allowed the rucksack containing the large quantity of cartridges to be stored in her home.  On October 26 last year police executed a search warrant on the property in a quiet residential street.

“No one was in and officers found in a bedroom the bag containing 44 unfired cartridges for two types of firearms, 12 were loaded with a bullet designed to expand on impact.”

McKenzie was sentenced to a year in jail.  The man for whom she was storing the ammunition received a three year sentence.[2]  Now, I suspect that the police showed up with a search warrant because McKenzie and her friend had come to the attention of the police for some other criminal behavior—but it is a bit odd that the most serious offense for which they were sentenced was possession of ammunition.  It does not inspire any confidence in British police—or the British criminal justice system—that this was the most serious crime with which they could charge this pair.

Here's a good news item: San Francisco's ban on handguns, which also bans sales of long guns and ammunition, did not survive its first legal challenge.  Not surprisingly, San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren struck it down not based on any constitutional question, but because it was contrary to an existing state law that limited the authority of local governments to regulate gun ownership—the same basis on which the courts struck down San Francisco's 1982 handgun ban. 

What I found especially amusing is the reasoning that Judge Warren used.  Rather than admit that the purpose of state law preempting local ordinances was to make sure that law-abiding adults could not be disarmed, instead, Judge Warren explained that the purpose of state preemption was to protect counties outside of San Francisco.  The San Francisco Chronicle article explained Warren's decision like this: “If the city were allowed to ban handguns within its borders, he said, nearby counties could be flooded by handguns no longer allowed in San Francisco.”[3]  Yeah, that's it!  The California legislature was afraid that one county banning guns would put too many of them in the adjoining counties!  I wonder if Judge Warren was able to hold a straight face while writing this.

Not surprisingly, San Francisco county government, in spite of its constant whining about a shortage of money, is appealing the decision to a higher court—where I expect them to lose again.  Hey, it's only public money!

Another piece of good news: Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper, whose Conservative Party won the elections a few months back on a pledge to focus on crime control, not gun control, is dismantling the 1995 gun registry program created by the Liberal Party.  Canada has had handgun registration since the 1930s, but starting in 1995, the government decreed that every long gun in Canada would be registered as well.  Initially, it was supposed to cost a few million Canadian dollars. 

For reasons that no one can quite explain, it eventually ended up costing at least a billion Canadian dollars—and there are reasons to suspect that the true cost will never be known.  Even Canadians who didn't have a problem with gun control started to wonder if perhaps this money could have been better spent on police arresting criminals.  A couple of choice quotes from Canadians caught my eye.

“'The gun registry registers legal guns,' said Toronto's deputy police chief, Tony Warr. 'Gangsters don't register their guns.' In a grim twist, gangs have been obtaining information about legal gun owners from the registry, and stealing caches of firearms from collectors.”

"'If you want a gun, you can get one in a day, a couple of hours maybe,' said Andrew Bacchus, 30, the founder of Toronto's Vice Lords gang, who is now working with Breaking the Cycle, a gang-exiting program. 'The gun registry hasn't made any difference on that.'"[4] 

Now, gun control advocates in Canada have tried to portray Harper's decision as some sort of payback to the Canadian gun lobby.  (Yes, there is a Canadian gun lobby.  I've actually met a big chunk of its leadership before.)  But you can find plenty of Canadian officials who oppose the registry who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, part of the “gun lobby.”  For example, the Solicitor General of Alberta, Harvey Cenaiko, praised the decision to drop the registry—but the rest of his remarks demonstrate that he is a supporter of gun control laws with which we would not be happy.

“Cenaiko says the registry for rifles and shotguns has little value to police because most crimes are committed with handguns and prohibited weapons.

“He said there's a need to continue registering handguns and other restricted weapons [assault weapons] that are used by gangs and other career criminals in serious crime.”

Cenaiko supports mandatory safety training, strict efforts to prevent gun smuggling, and it appears many other gun control measures that he believes would actually help to reduce crime.  He just doesn't think that a mandatory long gun registry is one of those steps.[5]

We can disagree with someone like Cenaiko about the effectiveness of these other measures, and yet it is apparent that he is not a fanatic, like those gun control activists who have decided that all guns, under all circumstances, must be abolished.

Is President Bush really the gun nut that some people try to claim?  Or is it all an elaborate charade to get people like you and me to vote for him?  There's an interesting news story that suggests maybe he really is one of us.  As you may be aware, being President of the United States has some perks.  One of them is that when you make an official visit to another country, or vice versa, it is customary for the heads of state to exchange gifts. 

If they are worth much, the President doesn't get to keep them.  Otherwise, it would look like a bribe.  Still, when you give a gift to the President, there's usually some subtle diplomacy in advance between our guys and their guys, to make sure that it is something that the head of state would appreciate.  Otherwise, it just ends up in a warehouse somewhere—wasting space, but you certainly wouldn't insult the gift-giver by destroying it.  This is from where the expression “white elephant” comes that describes a useless or gag gift.  In Southeast Asian culture, white animals were sacred, and could not be killed or given any work to do.  Do you have any idea how much a white elephant eats?

So it seems likely that the more expensive gifts that President Bush receives are items that he will treasure, or at least think are cool.  So what gifts did President Bush receive in 2004?  “Jordanian King Abdullah II gave Bush 11 collectible handguns worth a total of 12,000 dollars as well as a black Dakota Arms sniper's rifle with scope worth 10,000 dollars....  Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf gave a mid-1800s muzzle loader worth 725 dollars.

“Bush received a machete from Gabon's President Omar Bongo Ondimba; a sword from Malaysia's prime minister, and a knife from the king of Bahrain.”[6]  Now, when the head of state of an Islamic nation, such as Malaysia or Bahrain, gives you a sword, it is something of a compliment—a way of saying, “You are a might warrior.”  But a Dakota Arms sniper's rifle?  That's an interesting gift!


Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer and historian. His last book was Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform (Praeger Press, 1999). His web site is

[1]    “'Let burglars off with caution', police told,” Daily Mail, April 3, 2006,, last accessed June 21, 2006.

[2]    “Two jailed for possession of ammunition,” Wembley and Kingsbury Times, June 13, 2006,, last accessed June 21, 2006.

[3]    Bob Egelko and Charlie Goodyear, “Judge invalidates Prop. H handgun ban,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 13, 2006,, last accessed June 21, 2006.

[4]    Maggie Farley, “Canada sets sights on dismantling gun registry,” Seattle Times, June 19, 2006,, last accessed June 22, 2006.

[5]    Darcy Henton, “Gun bill applauded,” Edmonton Sun, June 21, 2006,, last accessed June 22, 2006.

[6]    Olivier Knox, “Guns, guide, gobs of wine among Bush gifts in 2004,” AFP News Service,, last accessed June 22, 2006.