Who would ever have thought that a British paper would extol the virtues of private citizens bearing arms?

That is what readers of the London Daily Telegraph must have been asking themselves last month when they read Simon Heffer's article entitled, "If the state fails us, we must defend ourselves."

It turns out, the state has been failing British citizens in a big way.

Heffer documents several gruesome murders, the most recent involving a gang of young thugs who repeatedly stabbed an unarmed, 82 year-old lady to death.

Crime has gotten so bad, Heffer says, that Brits like himself are beginning to reexamine their long-held assumptions about the government's role in controlling crime.

Heffer used to believe there was an implicit contract between law-abiding citizens and the state. The people surrender certain freedoms to the government, and officials would in turn use their power to control crime.

He says it is clear to all, however, that "the state has broken that contract."

Now that crime rates are skyrocketing in England, Heffer believes it is time for the British government to recognize a new right for denizens like himself -- the right to bear arms.

In one sense, Heffer is wrong. Bearing arms would not be a "new right" for Englishmen, for the English Bill of Rights recognized this very important freedom as far back as 1689.

But he is correct in another sense. The British government consistently denies its people the ability to protect themselves with a firearm. England enacted a draconian gun ban after the Dunblane massacre, yet that law has done nothing to reduce crime, Heffer says.

In fact, things have only gotten worse. He longingly looks to America where citizens can defend themselves with firearms, unlike the situation in England where a homeowner used a gun in 1999 to kill a lifelong criminal and was then sent to jail for life!

Heffer is correct in saying that the British government has definitely let the people down.

But before Americans start gloating about our superior laws, we should admit that we also know a thing or two about the state failing its citizens. Take the Los Angeles riots, for example. Next month will mark the ten-year anniversary of these riots -- an uprising that began after a jury acquitted two cops of using excessive force against motorist Rodney King.

If you owned a TV in April of 1992, you will never forget the horrible images that blared day and night after the jury verdict was announced.

For several days, Los Angeles was in complete turmoil as stores were looted and burned. Motorists were dragged from their cars and beaten.

Further aggravating the situation, police were very slow in responding to the crisis. Many Guardsmen, after being mobilized to the affected areas, sat by and watched the violence because their rifles were low on ammunition.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of people were injured. More than a dozen innocent citizens were killed.

But not everybody in Los Angeles suffered. In some of the hot spots, Korean merchants were able to successfully protect their stores with semi-automatic firearms.

"We went through hell," said supermarket owner Richard Rhee. "No police, no National Guard. We called for help and they said we were on our own."

As it turns out, they did just fine on their own. In areas where armed citizens banded together for self-protection, their businesses were spared while others (which were left unprotected) burned to the ground.

To be sure, the pictures of Korean merchants defending their stores left quite an impression on one group of people living in Los Angeles: those who had previously identified themselves as gun control advocates.

Press reports described how life-long gun control supporters were running to gun stores to buy an item they never thought they would need -- a gun. But alas, they were surprised (and outraged!) to learn there was a 15-day waiting period upon firearms.

The situation was truly outrageous. The state of California could not protect these people, but in the same breath, it was not letting those same citizens protect themselves.

Simon Heffer is right. English citizens should be allowed to protect themselves. But lest we think that England has a monopoly on stupid laws, let us never forget one of the most important lessons from the Los Angeles riots: guns save lives, and gun control only encourages bad people to prey upon disarmed victims.

Erich Pratt is the Director of Communications for Gun Owners of America.

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