Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Gun culture?

One of the aspects of living in Britain as opposed to many places in the world is its very sensible approach to gun usage. Not only are guns strictly controlled but even their use by the police is closely monitored. In this way we keep a balance which allows our police force guns, whilst not encountering any problems with the idea that the state can use force against its citizens without having to account for itself.

Take for example the case of Philip Prout, shot dead by police in May last year after an armed siege and a stand-off with marksmen involving Mr Prout brandishing a katana. It would appear from looking at the case that the police action was justified - attempts had been made to talk Prout down, non-lethal methods (a baton gun) were attempted and finally, as a last resort, Mr Prout was shot and unfortunately later died in hospital.

What is notable about this case is that there is was a lengthy inquest performed by the IPCC and currently another inquest into the shooting being conducted by members of Prout's family at Plymouth Crown Court. These investigations are a necessary and crucial part of the legal system and serve to show how gun usage is seen in Britain and how each individual case is considered worthy of a full public enquiry. Hopefully, by IPCC or private hearings, the truth will come out about what happened last year and appropriate measures will be taken.

Which is why, when it came out last Friday that Sir Ian Blair had refused the IPCC access to the scene of Jean Charles de Menezes' death, I was more than a little outraged. More so, in fact, than when I learnt that de Menezes was not a terrorist (because mistakes can happen), or when I learnt that he had in fact not ran, nor vaulted a barrier, or been wearing a large, bomb-concealing jacket (because we'd all known that was the case from the American Press over a week earlier). Outraged, because whilst our country must protect itself against terrorists, and must act upon best information even where this is unfortunately incorrect, it must also do this is in a way accessible to the British people, so that when mistakes do happen, we can see why, and learn from our mistakes. Terrorist crimes should not warrant private investigations - keeping information from the public helps no-one in the long run, and only serves to undermine the long-standing and impressive relationship with gun use and gun crime that we are so lucky to have. Terrorism and the response to terrorism is no excuse for hiding the truth.

We owe the families of Philip Prout, Jean Charles de Menezes and many others that much at least.

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