Paul Jacob

Mrs. Collop went back into her home a second time, retrieving a camera and photographing the would-be burglar as he fled. The young man whose crime was prevented by Mrs. Collop's gnome was eventually nabbed by the police, who arrested and "cautioned" him.

But the police couldn't help themselves; they had to add a discordant note to the whole proceedings. A spokesman for the Devon and Cornwall Police was given the last word in the AP account: "Our usual advice would be not to get involved, but to contact the police straight away." Not get involved . . . why, it's only your own defense! He understood that this "usual advice" didn't quite fit this story, adding, "We do appreciate that in the heat of the moment people react to that situation, and if it results in a happy outcome, that's great."

Well, thanks. Though I'm not sure that the victims who have defended themselves with knives and guns and cane swords and other illegal weapons, and then found themselves prosecuted by British authorities, really appreciate his appreciation.

The question British crime fighters seem obsessed with is that of over-compensation, of individuals taking self-defense up to the next level: the administration of punishment. But it seems to me that British police and prosecutors too often side with criminals rather than with victims who defend themselves. Take the case of Barry-Lee Hastings, who defended his family from another burglar. In an altercation in his own home a few years ago, he armed himself with a bread knife, of all things, and after hearing what he thought was his daughter's cry, confronted the assailant rather than call and wait for the police. In the struggle, Mr. Hastings killed the miscreant ? a wanted man, a career criminal ? and found himself charged with murder. The prosecutor said he'd gone "too far." The jury let him off.

With manslaughter.

Fortunately, a year later a judge came to his senses and let Mr. Hastings out of prison early, deciding that the first judge's five-year sentence had itself gone too far.

The advice and attitude of the police? Dogged in their persistence, it remains the same, case after case: Retreat. Don't defend yourself. Call the police ? "and let us do our job," as one chief inspector put it. "If you take the law into your own hands there is always a danger."

Somehow, he offered no thoughts on the dangers of not defending oneself.

But in Britain the danger too often seems to be the police themselves. It's not just the criminals, whom more than a few Brits seem able to subdue with bread knives and garden gnomes.

When I write these columns and my Common Sense e-letter, and point out the tragedies and crimes and follies of modern political life, I keep in mind that I really appreciate living in America. Even when it gets bad. Even when republican, individualist traditions are being eroded. I often think, "At least I'm not in Britain." But hey: I've got to respect British pluck. Especially that of Mrs. Jean Collop of Cornwall.

No matter what happens in Britain, let's make sure we always have guns for self-defense in America. Otherwise, can you imagine the queue for garden gnomes?

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.