RADIO / Shooting from the chip: Robert Hanks arms himself against some paranoid reasoning and reasoned paranoia

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The Independent Culture
There's an essay in P J O'Rourke's book Holidays in Hell where he describes travelling around Europe about the time that the Americans bombed Tripoli, and in every bar in every town he gets told, 'The trouble with you Americans is you think life is a John Wayne movie.' Listening to this week's Opinion (Radio 4, Thursday) you thought, damn, we were right, they really do think that.

Jan Stevenson, editor of Handgunner magazine, actually went a bit further. John Wayne usually wore a badge. Mr Stevenson's case was that ordinary citizens should be armed; where guns are common, crime is a rarity. In the small town in Alabama where he grew up, everybody had a gun and nobody locked their door. Why, the Stevenson place didn't even have a key - it had been lost back in his grandfather's day. Now he lives in a small town in the Home Counties, where nobody has guns, and by all accounts you don't even mow the lawn without a Kevlar jacket and air cover.

He made a lot of mistakes, the first being to emphasise his Deep Southern background (we've seen In the Heat of the Night). The second was trying to compare Alabama in the Fifties with the Home Counties in the Nineties. Probably people didn't bother too much about locking their doors in rural and semi-rural England 30 years ago; times change.

This wasn't Mr Stevenson's only argument. He also complained that gun laws discriminate against the law-abiding. But then, that's true of most laws; I'm not sure it isn't the main point of laws. Criminals always have an edge on the rest of us, at any rate until they get caught.

The fact remains that, according to the Institute for Small Arms Research (wouldn't you like to know who funds them?), criminals would rather face a policeman than an ordinary citizen with a gun. Statistics show that when criminals meet armed householders, the vast majority of them are caught, put to flight or injured. But at this point the wet liberal stomach churns slightly - what was that about injuring people?

Fortunately, Mr Stevenson was on hand to steady the digestive system, and show that gun laws are essentially right-wing. Britain's gun laws were started as a mechanism for raising taxes ('When have governments ever been straight with us?' he asked conspiratorially). Or they're racist: they've been brought in out of a fear of immigrants. Or they're sexist: many women would like to carry a gun for self-protection. Mr Stevenson didn't come right out and say that if you're against guns, you're probably in favour of rape, but you got the gist.

This was thundering good entertainment, as mild paranoia often is. By contrast, Blind Eye (Radio 4, Wednesday) is large- scale paranoia, and, while Tim Sebastian's four-part documentary has been gripping, it doesn't qualify as entertainment. Sebastian's thesis is that, as national borders become less significant and entrepreneurial culture thrives around the globe, the divisions between crime and business, and between business and politics, have become blurred. Governments have turned a blind eye to crime because criminals bring in investment. Meanwhile, law-enforcement agencies feel ever more impotent in the face of trans- national crime.

The series has been decorated with some striking images - gangs of people trooping into the South American rain-forest to dig up billions of buried dollars, give it a quick going-over with a hair- drier, and then put it back again - and some shocking assertions: politicians won't ever offer an overview of the fight against crime, just bits and pieces - 'because the conclusions are too staggeringly awful to be sold to the public at one go'. This was a fine piece of investigation, knitting together familiar news stories to create a novel and worrying picture. Just hand me that revolver.

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