Raymond Chandler, godfather of the hardboiled detective novel, offered a piece of advice to fledgling writers:
"If the plot flags, bring in a man with a gun". Nigel Farage, who attended the same school as Chandler - Dulwich College in London - has clearly taken this adage to heart. Perhaps in a bid to divert attention from his party's embarrassing manifesto, which he has disowned, the Ukip leader's latest pronouncement has been to declare the virtual banning of handguns in the wake of the Dunblane massacre a "kneejerk" reaction and "ludicrous". He wants the restrictions lifted.
To reinforce his point, he added: "If you criminalise handguns then only the criminals carry the guns." Full marks to Dulwich for teaching him logic; and to Farage for making a fool of himself. As Ukip's influence grows, and with it Farage's persona as a reasonable sort of cove rather than head of a party founded on ugly prejudice, I would ordinarily have been delighted to see him reveal a decidedly unappetising side to his character. Sadly, though, the subject is too important to take any pleasure in seeing him emerge in his true and dangerous colours.
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During his murderous spree in Dunblane Primary School in 1996, when he killed 16 pupils and their teacher, Thomas Hamilton used four handguns: two Browning pistols and two S&W magnum revolvers. In response to this tragedy, the Firearms Act was tightened, restricting possession of small firearms to all but the handful who could prove legitimate need of them.
Quite why Farage wants guns to be put into more hands is interesting. Scary, you might even say, particularly given the politics he espouses. But is this simply the idiotic blithering of a man whose ethical code appears to have been lifted from the Middle Ages, when an Englishman might have been obliged to defend his country or property against marauders and foreigners? Or does Farage have reason to believe there is an army of British citizens desperate to be allowed to own a handgun and return to a lifestyle that the Blair government so cruelly thwarted when it imposed the ban?
Of course, even if half the population was baying for change, it should carry no weight. One of the things Britain can be proud of is that its level of gun crime, and the number of deaths caused by guns, is exceedingly low. Of the relatively few firearm offences committed - a figure steadily decreasing - it seems the majority relate to airguns, which are not licensed, and imitation guns. Relaxing controls on those able to own a handgun can only produce more accidents, or killings. The question is, why would someone want one?
With the exception of the police and the military, there is scarcely anyone who can justify keeping a small firearm. The same goes for rifles, which are an essential tool only for those who work in the countryside or on farms, for keeping down vermin and culling or killing injured or ailing animals. Meanwhile, those who make a case for shooting as a sport must surely recognise they are on thin moral ice if they believe their right to enjoy this pastime is greater and more compelling than the nation's right to be protected from those like Hamilton who could run amok with their weapons.
Because we can be very sure that more guns mean more killing. No matter how stringent licensing regulations or how rigorous police inspections, a number of any gun-owning community will inevitably misuse their weapons, or have them misused by those who can get access to them.
In Scotland, following the fatal shooting of a toddler, Tommy Sheridan was not the only one who urged a ban on airguns. Sadly, the power to legislate on guns remains with Westminster, yet the fact that even airguns cause widespread concern is surely the best riposte to Farage's proposals.
Eye-watering rates of gun crime in supposedly civilised countries such as the US show what trigger-happy policies can lead to. The very idea of welcoming more weapons into the country is like inviting a return to the Wild West. If Farage were widely respected and likely to be listened to, his remarks would be troubling indeed. One can only hope his comments will be recognised as nothing more than a maverick politician shooting his mouth off. He should be fitted with a safety catch.