Gun control is in the news these days, because gun control is forever in the news. Elected officials who wouldn’t know a gas tube from a sling swivel weaponize the latest headlines and pontificate accordingly, the Constitution be damned. Whether it is Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, Operation Fast and Furious, or Albert Patterson, it is in the unintended consequences where the true preventable tragedy rests.
Albert Patterson was the kind of warrior about whom books are written. A 22-year veteran of the British Paras and the 22d Special Air Service, Patterson was the very tip of the spear fighting for Queen and country in hotspots around the globe. While serving during the Falklands War, Albert Patterson lost 22 friends when a Sea King helicopter he was supposed to be on crashed into the sea. While in combat Patterson captured an Argentine officer and confiscated his pistol.
Albert Patterson was a natural born warrior. Once his time with the British Army was complete he took private security jobs where he could put his unique skills to good use. He maintained a home both in Hereford in the UK as well as Thailand. Most of his time was spent overseas.
Military life is hard on a family, and the world of Special Operations all the more so. I resigned my commission once I realized I could either be a soldier or a Dad but couldn’t be both. By 2014 Patterson’s marriage had self-destructed. His ex-wife noticed Patterson’s brother poking around their old home and called the cops to report him as a burglar.
Police searched the Patterson home and discovered the Browning Hi-Power pistol Patterson had taken from the Argentine officer, five rounds of hollowpoint ammunition, 177 rounds of 9mm ball, four Enfield revolvers, and some component parts from an L1A1 SLR rifle. The Hi-Power had sat unmolested in Patterson’s basement for 33 years. At that point Albert Patterson, now in his sixties, was well and truly screwed.
Gun Control in England
In 1584 William of Orange was assassinated by an assailant with a wheellock pistol. This led Queen Elizabeth I to enact Britain’s first gun control law banning possession of wheellock pistols near the royal palace. The British Bill of Rights of 1688 states, “That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence, suitable to their Condition, and as allowed by Law.” Suffice it to say that moldy old writ doesn’t carry much weight today.
The Pistols Act of 1903 strived and failed to regulate the possession of handguns in Britain. The Firearms Act of 1920 was crafted to restrict ownership of WW1-surplus firearms by the working class. This act first mandated that British citizens obtain a firearm certificate to own a gun. In 1937 the British Home Secretary ruled that, “Firearms cannot be regarded as a suitable means of protection and may be a source of danger.” Ironic that this edict was issued three years before the epic Battle of Britain. The Firearms Act of 1968 further consolidated British gun laws.
Prior to 1988 there yet remained a thriving gun culture in the UK. I have an ArmaLite AR180 in my personal collection that was produced by Sterling Armaments in Dagenham in the early 1980’s. However, in August of 1987 an unhinged antiques dealer named Michael Robert Ryan went on an undeniably horrific rampage in Hungerford and killed sixteen people. He ultimately murdered both an unarmed police officer and his own mother before shooting himself. This sordid tragedy precipitated the Firearms Act of 1988. This law prohibited pump-action shotguns and self-loading rifles. Sterling Armaments went bankrupt that same year.
An amendment to the Firearm Act in 1997 criminalized the possession of handguns without meaningful exception. It was so oppressive that Olympic athletes were no longer allowed to train with their target pistols. As a result 57,000 British subjects surrendered 162,000 handguns along with 700 tons of ammunition. During this time apparently Albert Patterson was serving overseas and unable to avail himself of the resulting firearms amnesty.
In 2006 the British government further restricted the commerce in primers, air rifles, paintball guns, airsoft weapons, and replica firearms. Today airsoft guns are restricted in the UK to use by members of an organized airsoft site conducting permitted activities and possessing third-party liability insurance. Wow.
I was in the UK a couple years ago. One evening while having dinner with my wife in an English pub I saw an older gentleman sit down at the bar and produce a stack of paper targets he had clearly perforated with an air rifle. While nursing his pint of bitter the man carefully measured his groups and documented the results in a notebook. The whole episode simply reeked of oppressive melancholia.
Albert Patterson’s Gun
The P35 Browning Hi-Power is one of the most popular military weapons in the world. John Moses Browning contrived the gun as a submission for some French military pistol trials. However, the great man died before the design could be perfected. Dieudonne Saive, the Belgian gun designer responsible for the FN FAL rifle, completed the work. The apparently-perfect linkless short recoil action of the Hi-Power went on to drive easily 90% of the world’s combat pistols. If you’re not familiar with the particulars just strip your favorite Glock, SIG, Springfield Armory, or HK handgun. That’s all unfiltered Hi-Power inside.
More than 1.5 million Hi-Power pistols have seen service with around ninety nations. In 1982 during the Falklands War both the Argentines and the British issued their own versions of the Hi-Power. The Hi-Power retains its rabid acolytes even today.
Accumulating battlefield trophies is as old as warfare. A teenaged David took the sword of Goliath after relieving him of his head as depicted in the Biblical book of Samuel. To expect young warriors to go off to faraway lands and risk their lives without bringing back mementos of their service is simply magical thinking.
The 1983 invasion of Grenada was the last conflict wherein American troops were legally allowed to retain captured firearms. An Army officer comrade of mine had his career ruined when his ex-wife reported the Makarov pistol he had smuggled back from the First Gulf War. That same gun could be had at the local pawn shop for less than $200 at the time. A cursory review of the trajectory of British gun control demonstrates that the United States is currently following a similar albeit somewhat delayed path.
The Rest of the Story
In January of 2015 Albert Patterson was arrested and charged with possession of an autoloading handgun and associated ammunition. He pled guilty and explained that his infrequent times at home had never coincided with firearms amnesty periods. The sentencing judge Christopher Plunkett reviewed his exemplary record of military service and still remanded him to a custodial prison term of fifteen months. By way of explanation he said, “In the wrong hands these weapons could lead to the death of police officers or cause all sorts of mayhem. It is this risk Parliament is concerned about.”
There resulted a national outcry, much of it organized by The Sun newspaper. The petition for his release garnered some 160,000 signatures. Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said, “This is another example of our troops being persecuted by a government and courts obsessed with political correctness. An SAS hero who risked his life to defend our country shouldn’t be treated like a South London drug dealer. He should be freed immediately. The country should be grateful for what he did.”
Albert Patterson spent fifteen years with the SAS. Prior to his sentence Patterson had actually been to prison once before. In 1987 he dove through the roof at Peterhead Prison as part of an SAS assault team to rescue 56-year-old Jackie Stuart, a kidnapped prison guard taken captive during a violent uprising. The appeals court explained that the mandatory sentence for possession of such a firearm was five years, implying that this war hero was getting off easy. Patterson’s ex-wife testified that he had never even fired the gun.
The British people seem quite proud of their gun control laws. British police officers seldom carry firearms, and there were only three fatal shootings of British police officers in England and Wales during the eleven years following 2000. However, Britain is not America.
American gun owners currently possess more than 400 million firearms. You and I own twenty times as many guns as there are soldiers under arms in every military in the world combined. Gun control laws will simply never work here. That ship has sailed.
If we outlawed all commerce in firearms tomorrow American criminals would remain well armed until the sun burns out. What future gun control legislation could very effectively do, however, is incarcerate military heroes for non-violent possession of war trophies or precipitate another unnecessary Waco-grade bloodbath. Our own great nation is following a similar track, albeit offset by a decade or two. We’ve got to vote like our freedom depends upon it.
This institutional aversion to firearms now pervades the British populace. Lofty Wiseman, a respected former SAS operator, had this to say, “If you have a weapon in a house with ammunition, there’s always that temptation…you can never say you’re going to use it but different circumstances, state of mind, if it’s there, it can be used so that’s where you must have laws.” To have such castrated pablum spewed by a supposedly free nation’s warrior class is just sad.