Brits bring guns to fight pirates

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The threat of Somali pirates commandeering British ships on the high seas off the east coast of Africa has forced even the gun-shy Brits to re-think their abject aversion to firearms. Unfortunately, the change of heart is pinched and will not help the home folk protect themselves from domestic “pirates” in the form of looters, muggers or home invaders.

Still, the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron has dared breach the Holy Grail of gun control in any manner whatsoever provides a small glimmer of hope that further cracks in Britain’s wall of strict gun-control laws might appear in the future.

Piracy around the Horn of Africa has grown rapidly in recent years. The goal of these modern-day pirates is to attack and intimidate commercial ships, knowing they are unarmed, and then hold the crews hostage long enough to gain a ransom. Despite occasional setbacks — as when the U.S. Navy intervened and thwarted a hijacking in the area last year — the strategy has been remarkably successful. These 21st-century, rag-tag Somali pirates bear no resemblance to the dashing Captain Jack Sparrow, hero of the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but they have grown rich off the ransoms they have been able to extract.

The economic toll to the shipping industry, coupled with the threat to the crews as a result of these acts of piracy, has led to calls that laws against carrying firearms be relaxed for vessels that hail from the United Kingdom. And Cameron has responded positively.

The Mirror, a U.K.-based paper, recently noted that the ban on firearms on ships “will be relaxed so that firms can apply for a licence [sic] to have them on board in danger zones.” The licenses will be issued to private mercenaries or security firms, but likely not to the sailors themselves.

According to the report, Cameron made the decision based on evidence from other counties showing that allowing guns on board vessels reduced the likelihood that they would be attacked. Imagine that — firearms in the hands of potential victims of crime actually reduce crime!

Cameron explained that the armed security forces will be given the right to “shoot to kill,” rightly arguing that such a drastic step is essential to combating the threat of piracy. The prime minister, of course, is absolutely correct to allow the owners of these vessels the ability to protect their crews and cargo. As Ross Perot famously noted in 1992, however, “the devil is in the details,” and whether the bureaucratic strings attached to Cameron’s policy will doom it to ineffectiveness remains to be seen.

At home, however, British citizens and visitors remain disarmed and subject to being victimized by criminal elements. This tragic scenario was manifest when riots spread throughout much of the U.K. earlier this year and homeowners and shopkeepers were reduced to defending themselves with sticks and fists while waiting — sometimes for long periods — for the Bobbies to arrive.

Her Majesty’s ships may be able to ply the Gulf of Aden and the eastern Indian Ocean with a slightly greater degree of security than currently under Cameron’s newly announced policy, but law-abiding citizens at home will still be denied the most fundamental of human rights — that of self-defense.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.