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| SIR - It's rather sad to read David Williamson's question (April 20), "Is it normal in a modern democracy to have access to military technology?" Sad on two counts: it's not relevant to malefactors who have killed and maimed people with home-made explosives and it just parrots something fashionable among the chattering classes that will not stand up to examination.

While commercial explosives are made to high standards of stability and require sophisticated and expensive production methods, crude but destructive explosives can be readily made from easily available common materials by anyone who takes the trouble to find out how to do it. Evil people all over the world do just that.

Referring to modern democracy invites the question whether democracy is separable from freedom. From the days of ancient Athens the use of current military weapons in sport has been normal. The discus and the javelin were primarily weapons of war.

The housecarls (the Anglo-Saxon Brigade of Guards) used the hammer as a specialist weapon - flung over the heads of their own front rank it would strike down enemy troops.

Archery was a compulsory sport for men in the Middle Ages and devastatingly effective in war. If you read novels or accounts of life in Britain 200 or 300 years ago and even later you will come across frequent mentions of sports with a military basis like single-stick and the quintain.

There is no reason to suppose that preventing civilian ownership of firearms has any advantage in public safety. The terrorist and the criminal can obtain any weapon they wish either by illegal purchase or by clandestine manufacture. Only the ordinary, law-abiding citizen can be restricted.

Were the IRA and the UVF more than marginally inconvenienced by our draconian firearms laws? The UVF had a well-publicised factory for sub-machineguns, the arms trade in Italy and Spain relied for generations on parts made in people's own homes and it is well known that there are thriving small-scale workshops in parts of the world like the Philippines and the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Small-arms and their ammunition can be made perfectly well with no more equipment than can be found in any small light engineering workshop. The Kalashnikov rifle was designed with that in mind.

The massacre at Dunblane was appalling but we can be grateful that the evil man responsible used only a pistol. Had he walked in with a few bombs of the kind used in Boston the death toll would have been a great deal worse.

We grieve for those children but, if you count up, you will find that many more children have been killed since by arsonists using no more than a lighter or a box of matches. Do you ban those? Lastly, ask the question, hasn't access to arms not always been a touchstone of the power relation between the ordinary person and the rulers? The first impulse of the authoritarian is to monopolise arms.

DC SAGE Penclawdd, Swansea
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 25, 2013
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