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The mob: World's oldest 'assault weapon'

His name was Hani Abou El Kheir. He is dead.

The 16-year-old was murdered by a mob in a London street as he begged for his life. According to the Daily Mail, a gang armed with blades and wearing “hoods and bandanas” – presumably to cover their faces from London’s omnipresent video surveillance – kicked the boy and stabbed him, leaving him to die. He expired on a hospital gurney two hours later.

The eyewitness account is harrowing. “They had wide kitchen knives and other knives, and they jumped on him like a pack of dogs,” the Daily Mail quotes. “He was shouting ‘don’t do it,” but they just went ahead. … One put a blade in near his ribs. Others then kicked him before just jogging off as if nothing had happened. They put their weapons in socks and then shoved them up their sleeves as they were going. …”

Lurid reports of the killing have described the gang as wielding swords, probably because the notion of sword-toting mobs roaming the streets of London is the sort of thing that sells papers. There’s no doubt that in the U.K. and elsewhere, in countries that have almost total firearms control, there is much more reporting of crimes committed with swords. That’s because, while firearms are less available to thugs and criminals in nations that have never had the gun culture the United States has enjoyed, people who want to harm others will always turn to whatever they can put their hands on.

As the same newspaper has reported, the violent crime rate in Britain is higher than in the United States. Yes, you read that correctly. A nation that has enacted strict controls on almost every form of weapon, including any item carried for self-defense, and which has a near-total ban on firearms, has long had worse violent crime than in America. More than a decade ago, 2 percent of Americans could expect to be victims of violent crime. That’s compared to 3.6 percent of English subjects.

In other words, violent crime is twice as bad in Britain as it is here. It isn’t the availability of weapons that prompted this disparity, for England’s subjects have much less access to weapons than do Americans. Significantly, they also have much less legal room in which to operate where self-defense is concerned, for carrying anything for the purposes of self-defense will cause Britons legal trouble after the fact.

Now, compare the rampant street violence in England and in London to a comparable report in Compton, Calif. A disturbing report from what was once a mostly black enclave contends that rampaging Latino gangs are waging a reconquista in that area, driving out blacks in what can only be a street-level race war. The victims are not other gang members, either. They are simply residents of the area, some of them younger than Hani Abou El Kheir.

“The Los Angeles Police Department says there have been attacks on several black families over the last decade, most of them by Latino gangs,” says one report. The blog quotes law enforcement officials who say the race violence is the work of the Mexican mafia.

“Leaders of the Azusa 13 gang were sentenced to lengthy prison terms earlier this month for leading a policy of attacking African-American residents and expelling them from the town,” reads the report. “Similar attacks have taken place in Harbor Gateway, Highland Park, Pacoima, San Bernardino, Canoga Park and Wilmington, among other places.”

Other reports of the violence claim the gang members are armed with everything from guns to machetes to metal pipes. The machetes are particularly significant, given the power they symbolize. Machetes have been used to commit genocide in Africa and are the trademark of violent Mexican and Latino gangs like MS-13.

So what do these two news stories really have in common? They represent citizens turning to technology of, if not the lowest, then a lower common denominator. Deprived of access to more advanced weaponry, either through culture or by legislation, they respond in one of three ways. The law-abiding citizens go unarmed because they don’t wish to become criminals. The criminals either arm themselves with the best weapons available – they buy or steal illegal guns – or they employ whatever the next most lethal thing is that happens to be nearby.

The closest weapon is another human being.

The mob is the oldest “assault weapon” on the planet. Force of numbers will always enable one group to overwhelm a smaller group. Where citizens are allowed to own weapons suitable for fighting back mobs – the firearms and “high capacity” ammunition feeding devices now vilified as “assault weapons” come readily to mind – they have a fighting chance, such as in the case of the Korean shop-owners who defended their businesses during the Rodney King riots. When you reduce those same citizens to going unarmed or choosing makeshift weapons, their ability to prevail in the face of violence drops exponentially as the number of attackers rises.

It’s impossible to take blades and clubs out of people’s hands. These can be manufactured from a variety of materials, easily worked. Machetes, combat knives, razors … these, like guns, have long been subject to restrictions in England, yet Hani Abou El Kheir was murdered in the street anyway. California has long had an “assault weapons” ban. Armed men still exile families from their homes. That is the power of a mob, armed or otherwise.

How is it feasible to forbid someone a thing they can craft themselves? It isn’t. The citizen can turn a club on a lathe or whittle it by hand. He can take a knife from his kitchen, or he can make one from a shard of Plexiglas. He can pull a pipe from his wall. He can pick up a brick. He can punch and he can kick.

People die when weapons are legal. They die more often when they have been legally disarmed. Hani Abou El Kheir wasn’t the first.

He will not be the last.