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Let the UK Be a Lesson

United Kingdom FlagAs an American I am chronically aware that many of my fellow citizens don’t pay much attention to what is going on in other countries.  By no means is that an across-the-board statement; it’s just something I have made note of in my interactions with others as I travel about the country.  It’s not unusual for Americans to be so unabashedly and ignorantly ethnocentric that they don’t have the slightest idea of what is going in the rest of the world.  Who am I kidding? Many don’t even know what is going on in this country.  Jay Leno is good at pointing this out from time-to-time in his late night talk show antics (and here). Most Americans know that something is going in in Iraq but many don’t realize that Iran is different than Iraq and they certainly don’t know why Israel is so despised by them.  Most of us know that Princess Diana died a while back but don’t know that the recent royal wedding was that of Diana’s son.  And I can almost guarantee that many, if not most, Americans don’t know that owning a gun is pretty much completely illegal for citizens in the United Kingdom.  That’s right.  The only people carrying guns in the UK are the criminals.

I am about as pro-gun as any person can be so I consider it appalling that people in the UK have been stripped of their right to protect their life and property.  Criminals don’t abide by laws so the gun-carrying thief breaking into somebody’s home in the UK must feel pretty confident about his chances; he knows that the odds are in his favor that any opposition he encounters is going to be unarmed.  If a UK citizen owned a gun in defiance of the law and used it against the thief he would be in as much (or more) trouble as the robber.  In the UK, they would both be considered criminals.  I find this to be very, very sad:  defend your family and your property and become a criminal for doing so.  Rest assured that if that same guy broke into my house here in Virginia he would have a six-pack of Coke can sized exit wounds in his back.

But how did guns become illegal in the UK?  Was it done in one fell swoop?  Nope.  It was done in stages, a tactic often used to disarm (literally in this case) the opposing voices.  Despite my pro-gun position I didn’t sit down to write about gun control.  I continue to be concerned with the fate of reptile ownership in the United States.  But the history of gun control in the UK serves as a excellent timeline that illustrates our likely fate unless we get our act together in very short order.  Here’s how things went down in the UK:

  • 1988 –  In the wake of the “Hungerford Massacre” the Firearms (Amendment) Act of 1988 was passed.  This law made it illegal to own semi-automatic rifles, pump-action rifles and military weapons that shoot explosives.  The law also implemented registration requirements and a requirement for “secure storage” of allowed shotguns.  Handguns (pistols) were not impacted at all by this law.
  • 1997 – In the wake of the “Dublane Massacre” ownership of almost all handguns was banned.  One of the key selling points of the law was that a very limited number of people would be impacted (fewer than 1 in 1,000).
  • 2006 – The Violent Crime Reduction Act was passed and this made it illegal to buy/sell air weapons by mail order.  This includes things like Airsoft guns.  Yep, in the UK it is even illegal to own a fake gun because it looks too much like a real gun.  Hilarious.  Tragic.  Sad.

The path from there to here was implemented through a simple concept:  divide and conquer.  In the late 1980’s UK pistol owners were apathetic about the proposed ban on rifles because it didn’t affect them.  “Why should I care if they ban shotguns?”, they said.  “I only keep pistols and bolt-action rifles.”  In an act of self-preservation they stayed silent, letting their rifle-owning neighbors have their rights extracted through the legislative process.  Those same people who thought they were safe found their rights removed less than a decade later.  The politicians who pushed this law through the UK’s legal system were smart to leave pistol owners out of the fight in 1988.  Attacking the whole gun-owning population of the UK would have been tantamount to the Humane Society of the United States trying to make pet dogs illegal in the wake of an escaped Nile Monitor killing someone’s Terrier.  Patient and resolute the anti-gun movement capitalized on high-profile tragedies to further their agenda.  Baby steps.  Little-by-little they got it done.  And look at the UK now…

Now let’s turn our attention to things here in the USA.  Large constrictors are under attack.  Most of us know that.  And many bearded dragon breeders, ball python breeders, corn snake breeders and leopard gecko breeders could care less.  Why?  Because they don’t keep large constrictors, of course.  That should sound eerily similar to the same apathetic mindset held by UK pistol owners back in 1988.  And look what happened to them less than a decade later.  Every time there is an isolated incident in the exotic animal community the anti-pet movement gains a little more traction to push through another limiting piece of legislation.  Whether it is done state-by-state, the Lacey Act or through the federal law making process, they are as patient and as resolute as the anti-gun zealots in the UK were.

I know how the end of reptile ownership is going to happen.  If we continue on our current path it will mirror what happened in the UK.  The voices of opposition in the UK screamed, “you can’t legislate a madman”, meaning that a ban on firearms would not stop the next massacre from happening.  If someone wants to get a gun and go on a shooting spree it will happen.  No law is going to prevent that.  My screams as a reptile owner have been of a similar vein.  I oppose any legal limitations on the rights of responsible pet owners.  No matter how responsible a pet owner I am there will always be someone out there who is not.  That person will do something stupid and my rights will be removed as a result.

But why?  Why do the actions of a few lead to restrictions on the many?  The answer is simple:  Legislation is a bludgeon tool.  It lacks finesse.  Laws have not, can not and will not deal with subtlety and nuance.  They are a widely cast net that frequently catches huge numbers of unintended victims.  I have already heard it said.  “Our inspectors are not trained tell the difference between a Burmese python and a Boa Constrictor so the most simple course of action is to ban them both.”  If that’s the case then how would a local law enforcement official tell the difference between a blood python and a burmese python?  Simple: He can’t.  Well, we better ban blood pythons too …just to be safe.  And when the time comes to ban ball pythons you can rest assured that Angolan pythons will be thrown out with them.  They look too similar.  And so it will happen; our compartmentalized herpetocultural community will fall in small group after small group.  And each group will remain silent as the others are attacked.  It will probably take the next decade or two to happen but the writing is on the wall.  The anti-pet movement is more than ready to wait us out and I have not seen evidence of the community having the stomach for a long fight.

Is there an alternative to legislation?  Yes!  It’s called self-regulation.  And this is where there is a fundamental divide within society.  Proponents of large government believe that it is the government’s responsibility to take action to provide for and protect its citizens.  Supporters of small government believe that protection is indeed the government’s responsibility but ‘providing’ is the realm of private industry and government should stay out of it.  The government should not regulate the commercial interaction between provider and consumer.  In a system of self-regulation the industry controls itself from within; it’s a commercial ecosystem that has its balance upset when the dirty fingers of legislation are inserted.  Whether we are talking about banking, exotic animals or pharmaceuticals the concept is the same; the industry regulates itself and acts in a responsible manner, no government intervention needed.  In the end the consumer is the real regulator because it is only where there is mutual benefit in a transaction that the transaction can take place.  Even though I would rather not pay $130/month for my iPhone I still do because I find value in the trade.  If my iPhone bill were to double to $260 I would no longer see the value and I would discontinue my service.  The provider is always going to push the edge of course; they are a for-profit entity and will always work to get as much as they possibly can without pushing me past the limits of my perceived value.  In this delicate balance between consumer and provider we don’t need the government to come in and control mobile phone price plans.  Doing so screws up the natural balance of commerce.

When an industry fails to self-regulate it provides a powerful foothold for the supporters of government regulation (banking and health care come to mind here).  And that is where we are today in the reptile world.  There is no shortage of idiocy in the reptile trade.  Someone out there is not securely keeping their reticulated python or rhino viper.  Another guy is selling Burmese pythons and eyelash vipers to 14-year old kids at a trade show.  And let’s not forget the guy who is keeping hundreds of snakes in horrible filth with no food, water or climate control.  None of these people are you, right?  Of course not.  It always seems to be someone else that is screwing things up for the hobby.  The problem is that the consumer:provider mechanism for self-regulation is seemingly absent.  The only thing an individual can do is take care of his/her own business; keep their animals secure, well-fed, watered and in a suitable climate.  They cannot control what another keeper is doing.  This appears to suggest that government regulation is a viable solution, doesn’t it?  Without changing what we do as a community, the answer, unfortunately is ‘yes’.  The ability to own a reptile in the United States will not survive if we stay on our current path.

But how do we self-regulate?  This is a tough question.  As a person purchasing a green anaconda I know what my responsibilities are.  But what about the seller?  It would seem like a no-brainer to say that a person would not sell a baby anaconda to a minor but that has been proved wrong more than once.  Should the seller take steps to make sure the person buying is fully prepared to responsibly undertake the long-term ownership of the animal?  Is that realistic?  No, it’s not.  The retail community doesn’t support it.  If I put somebody through a gauntlet of questions before selling them a green anaconda at a trade show they are just going to go to another table and buy it from the wholesaler who picked up a 20-lot of them earlier that day and could care about nothing other than their method of payment.  The long-term impact:  I am not economically viable and another person owns a green anaconda that is doomed to get sick and die …but not before it escapes a few times because he thinks that putting a book on the screen top of his aquarium is going to keep the snake from pushing its way out.  Because the community is unable to regulate itself it is primed and ready for government intervention.

Reptile community self-regulation seems viable only if there is widespread individual self-regulation and this illustrates the “you can’t regulate a madman” problem.  The reptile community is too large and too diverse in both number and intelligence for there to be any realistic chance to self-regulate.  Aside from “lock in a sock” forms of keeper-on-keeper physical violence I don’t know what the answer is.  But I do know that if things don’t change we are going to start losing our rights at an ever-increasing rate.  And the only people we can truly blame when its over will be ourselves.


Colin Weaver


  1. Ashley Bennett December 7, 2011

    Well as someone who has lived in the UK and Australia give me gun control any day of the week. How often do you hear of mass shootings in either of those 2 countries ? I have never ever been in a situation where I have felt I have needed a gun. The problem is gun ownership is so entrenched in the US psyche that it is considered normal to own and carry a gun. No thanks, I will live in a country where the overwhelming majority of people DO NOT own guns.

  2. Author
    Colin Weaver December 7, 2011

    Well at least we have reptiles in common… but I’m going to assume it stops there.

  3. Ashley Bennett December 8, 2011

    LOL, yes I think our love of reptiles would be our only common ground. I just don’t understand Americans obsession with firearms, all it seems to have done is create a massive amount of gun related crime.

  4. Mike Schultz December 21, 2011

    Perhaps the reason there is more gun-related crime in the US is due to the 300-some million population, in comparison to the UK being around 60million and Australia in the low 20millions? If illegal, it might be a little harder to obtain a gun, but I’m thinking the crime rate in general would remain about the same. And for those intent on using firearms, I don’t think the people using them with the sole intention of committing a crime would mind very much if they became illegal. “Oh, I was going to shoot this guy, but I realized owning a gun was illegal. Damn, foiled that plan.”

  5. J-N.Turcotte January 21, 2012

    I am with you on the fact that all people in this reptile hobby shouldnget together against theses acts. I am ok with reglementation but neger with total ban.

    But I think you are totally out of your mind to compare snakes to guns. Gun’s owner do kill peole, not snakes.
    And it been prooved long time ago that the more people carry gun, more people will use it, more chance of using it and more criminal violence there is.

    Look at all the country who have banned guns, they all have less crime than in the states or other country where it is legal. And by less, i speak of %.

    To come back to reptiles, I think what is going on in the US is bad but is directly related to the mind of society it is. Anything to prevent others to suffer. Prevention for the freedom of some.
    The problem is nothing in regards to freedom.
    I always tought that someone who knows the fact will always make the right decesion if correctly educated. At least in a society, but misinformation IS the problem and INFORMATION IS THE KEY OF THIS BATTLE.

    Inform and win

  6. Author
    Colin Weaver January 21, 2012

    “And it been prooved long time ago that the more people carry gun, more people will use it, more chance of using it and more criminal violence there is.”

    Proved by who? Using what as a measure? Let me guess: If I don’t get it, you can’t explain it to me. Anybody who is enlightened and intelligent knows it to be true and if I don’t agree… well, you know.

    An by percent (%)… come on. Everybody can find a statistic to support their position. For instance the percentage of citizens who are victim of assault in the UK is much higher than it is in the USA. I can defend my position by saying that people are less willing to perpetrate an assault in the USA because they are more aware of the fact that their intended victim is carrying. In the UK, not so much. As an attacker in the UK I will carry a gun but I know none of my victims will be armed.

    And the UK has a much higher percentage of rape victims than the United States. Gosh, I say, if women were armed they would be better able to fend off their attackers. Women in the UK have been stripped of their right to defend themselves.

    See? Percentages are bullshit. We can all use them to satisfy our perspectives. Anti-gun people always try to throw shootings in people’s faces while they ignore other numbers that might tell them something else.

  7. Adam February 5, 2012

    I carry concealed when I buy groceries. I carry when I carry when I go to the bank. I carry when I go answer the door and discover that it is just a girl scout trying to sell some cookies. Yes, if you see me on any given day you can assume that there is a gun about 2 seconds away from being in my hand. That shouldn’t concern you any more than the few hundred million missles that are driven by incompetent people every day.

    People like me are NOT the ones that any society needs to worry about. People like me are the ones who MIGHT just save your life when confronted by a junkie looking for his next hit. Or the degenerate gang bangers looking to kill or rape you just for an initiation. Or the insane group of extremist PETA freaks trying to set your house/breeding facility on fire.

    Wake up people!

  8. Paul February 8, 2012

    Yeah yeah guns are horrible and they kill people. These comments show how easily people can be set in their ignorance. this is the thinking that will get our snakes taken away from us when people say “snakes? those scary slithery things that can murder you with poison and choke your children to death? HORRIBLE! BAN THEM!”

    Nobody seems to be mentioning that knifings happen MUCH MUCH higher in the UK, especially per capita compared to the united states. I dont know if any of you have been attacked with a knife, but I have, and I can tell you, I’d rather be shot than stabbed to death.

    I live in the united states currently, and the state that I’m in (NH) has one of the most lax gun laws, I could go out now and buy a hand gun and not need a carry permit as long as it isn’t concealed, and if it is, its a 1-2 week application for $10 they have to give me within 2 weeks or I can prosecute whoever I submitted my app to.

    There is no specific law for purchasing guns at a specific age in NH, you could go buy a long gun at 16 if you wanted. Did i mention i live in the lowest violent crime state in the entire country? In fact, violent crime per capital is lower than the UK as well. But they could if they wanted to. The town im in now, i drive 9 miles to work, i pass a gun factory and THREE gun stores. There were 18 per 100K people violent crimes in my town. The national average is 328 per 100K.

    I grew up in MA, one of the stricted states when it comes to gun laws, The town i grew up in (a very nice upscale town on cape cod) had 309/100K last year. One of my friends was killed and his car stolen when i was 17 by a man who had a gun he obtained illegally. You think he cared about gun laws? The sad thing, is his father was a “gun nut” and if he lived in NH, I guarantee you he’d have had a gun in his truck when he was held up.

    But anyway. your mileage may vary. criminals will still find ways to murder people, why not let law abiding citizens be able to defend themselves on an equal ground than someone who purchased a firearm illegally..

  9. Elise December 11, 2012

    I completely agree. I can’t believe how bad the gun laws are in the UK, and I hope the same doesn’t happen to North America (I actually live in Canada, where unfortunately, our gun laws aren’t even a quarter as good as yours). Your drawing the comparison to the laws about reptiles is completely accurate. I hope everyone can take something away from what you’ve said. Really great article.

  10. Voo July 14, 2013

    As a “newbie” so to speak in the reptile world, I’m trying to gain as much information to make informed decisions in the care of my animals. I ran across this post and I truly appreciate the blogs posted here because they shed light on subjects that I wasn’t even aware of. Taking into consideration when I first started reading this blog, I would honestly say I was all for having larger snakes (reticulated pythons and anacondas, etc) being banned or heavily regulated. IMHO and as an outsider coming into the reptile world, all I have heard about and seen (yes, Nat Geo) is that these reptiles are purchased by many irresponsible owners and after they get too big to care for, their owners discard them without thought to public safety or the safety of the animal. I’m speaking of the growing problem of wild retics and other non-native pythons in Florida as an example. Anyway, so I was all for banning these animals or heavily regulating them.

    But I can appreciate the co-relation you are giving between the UK and their gun ban and what could possibly happen to my growing ball python hobby in the US. I could say, “It isn’t affecting me so why should I care”. And we ban the retics or other large reptiles. But then are the anti-reptile population satisfied with that or are my ball pythons and my right to own ball pythons on the line directly after the ban. A very thought provoking argument, I truly appreciate it. While I am rethinking my stance, I still am concerned with the irresponsibility with large dangerous reptiles. What is the proposal for some type of moderation for these animals and to keep them from getting into the wrong hands but allowing responsible owners and collectors to enjoy their reptiles?

  11. Colin Weaver July 14, 2013

    Voo, Thanks for your comment. I always appreciate it when people take the time to read what I write.

    Much of the basis for any removal of a man’s (e.g. human’s) rights is that the law/directive/mandate/policy serves the so-called “common good” or the “public good”. The truth is that there is no such thing. It is treated as an individual entity, though. There is me, you, our families, coworkers and our friends. We all exist. But we are led to believe that we create a collective super-being called the ‘common good’. At best it’s an average and it’s not uncommon for an average to poorly represent the individual contributors to the average. The common good is not real; there are only individual men. What is good for me is not good for you (and vice versa). If I am zero and you are one hundred than the third entity, the ‘common good’ is fifty. It represents neither of us yet it is always given precedence over us. The common/public good is nothing more than an ethereal man we hoist up and proclaim to be the needier party. How can you argue? In one corner there is you. And in the other corner is the “common good”. Who are you to say that you supersede the good of all (despite the fact that there is not such thing as the ‘good of all’)? Well, for starters, I do. The common good is not only false, it’s elastic and transient. The current gang with the most political power (or the most weapons) is the common good of the moment. The anti-pet movement trumpets the banning of reptiles (starting with the big one’s) as being in the benefit of, you guessed it, the common good. The only way the benefit of the common good can be accomplished is to trample the rights of individual men. And when that happens the one thing I know for sure is that ‘good’ is not shared in ‘common’.

    There is no ban that I will accept. I accept no compromises (just giving up large constrictors, for example). A man has the right to keep the pet of his choosing. He does not have the right to inflict that choice on others. If a man chooses to keep a pet of a certain type he also chooses all of the consequences of that ownership. I would support high levels of individual accountability for people who keep pets in a way that irresponsible (yes, I know full well that there may be much debate on how to define ‘irresponsible’) but I will never support the stripping of one man’s rights in a preemptory fashion in order to prevent some other man from acting irresponsibly. Doing so only punishes two people, one without justification or cause.


  12. Voo July 26, 2013

    I can appreciate your argument. I look at it from three perspectives, the owner, the animal and safety of the public. I am all for a responsible person having custody and care of large constrictors and even poisonous snakes. The key word is responsible. The problem is that I can easily go online and purchase a large constrictor by simply “adding it to my cart” and payment. There isn’t a vetting process to verify if I am responsible owner. And after 18 year old Tommy who thought it would be so cool to own such a dangerous creature finds himself no longer wants this animal and dumps the animal alongside the road. Or worse, they end up neglecting the animal or killing it off.

    Then the animal itself. The animal pays for the irresponsibility of the owner. It is left to wander and find shelter/food for itself. This is still a living being that is vulnerable surviving in the wild, and if it is captive bred, what are the chances of the animal’s survival? Also, if the animal isn’t so lucky to live in an area suitable for it, it won’t survive. If it does (such as the Florida Everglades), then it becomes a danger to the public.

    Then there is the safety of the public. These animals, once a pet, are now a threat to public safety just for trying to survive. They end up feeding on local resident’s animals and there are reported cases of them attacking and killing human beings. Again, I’m a Nat Geo junkie and I’ve watched the Venom One team time and again respond to calls regarding African Rock and Reticulated pythons that are loose and endangering the neighborhood. Or they are scraping up the remains of these animals in the middle of the road. This is all because 18 year old Tommy wasn’t equipped to responsibly care for his animal.

    It’s a sad story for all involved. Here is my question, though, is there a process in place for ownership of a poisonous snake? If so, would it be reasonable to expect the same process of ownership of large constrictors? In regard to your original post, there is a process here in the US for handgun ownership. So would it be fair to have a process to own these types of animals? Not necessarily a numbered limit to how many animals I can care for but a bit more than “click here to buy”. Some happy median.

    I ask this of myself as well. Would I be willing to submit myself to some type of regulatory process to be able to own my BP’s? I honestly can answer yes, I would. I think it’s the responsible thing to do. If I wanted this animal that much, I should be willing to subject myself to some type of questioning or background check. I should be willing to be patient and have the best intentions for this animal. Just the thought of some kind of questionnaire may turn off the irresponsible and brash from purchasing these types of animals (I don’t have all the answers, so please forgive the fact that I do not have a proposal of my own). I also think that if this were the case, it would give the anti-pet population much less leverage in trying to ban these animals all together. I don’t want to punish the responsible for the common good but I do think that there should be some type of safety net for these animals and for the public safety. Again, thank you for a thoughtful argument.

  13. Colin Weaver July 26, 2013


    Thank you for commenting. It seems that the summation of your perspective is one with which I do not agree: legislate to the lowest common denominator. Because there are a few that will act irresponsibly we must force everyone to endure the burdens of their ineptitude. Put simply, this is unacceptable.

    I recommend you reconsider what you see on NatGeo TV. Those shows are made to entertain and are not a true reflection of reality. National Geographic has sold it’s soul with that absurd excuse of an educational television channel. And while a large constrictor is a potential danger to a small house pet that does not put them in the category of “danger to the public”. And yes, it is true that large constrictors have killed humans but it has never happened in the wild in the United States. For some perspective, please read this: http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2009/12/is-my-burmese-python-going-to-kill-me/. The “safety of the public” argument is tired, illegitimate and a complete fabrication by those who want to see exotics-as-pets made illegal. Please don’t let yourself be fooled by their propaganda.

    I will support stiff penalties for people who keep large constrictors or venomous animals in a way that is a flagrant danger to others. I do not have the right to tell you what type of animal you can keep. The opposite is also true. This extends to the government as well. I do not support a government telling me what animals I can own. But if I own one in such a way that it is “inflicted” on my neighbors then I deserve to suffer the consequences of my irresponsibility. This is what it means to be personally accountable for your actions. What you are suggesting is that responsible people be held accountable for the irresponsibility of others in advance of any wrong doing. Legislating to the lowest common denominator is a dragnet that scoops up everybody in hopes of catching the few. It is a flagrant violation of liberty. Both political parties are notorious for doing this today. It sickens me.

    And FWIW, I don’t support the government telling citizens that they can/cannot own a gun to protect themselves. The protection of an individual’s life is his responsibility, not the government’s. It is a appalling that people in our society have been subdued into thinking that it’s OK for the government to put limits in place on how they can defend their own existence. To tell some people that they can defend their life with a knife or a bat but not a gun is absurd.


  14. James Barber October 24, 2014

    The problem is not being able to prove who the irresponsible owners are without say micro chipping animals and registering the animal to the owner. Then say Tommy’s anaconda is loose eating the neighborhood cats Tommy now has some answering to do, and Tommy can now be held accountable for his actions. If Tommy wanted to sell his anaconda he would have to transfer ownership of the animal. It cost 10 to run a background check in Florida to verify I can legally own the firearm Im there to purchase. If there where a way to put something like this into effect then the only person they would have the right to address would be the irresponsible owners. I believe you should be able to protect your self and your family by any means necessary, I believe we should be able to choose the pet of our choice and I believe that the people who are irresponsible should be held accountable for their actions, and I also believe that if there was a system such as chipping and registering the animals then there would be a lot less irresponsible owners knowing they could be held accountable for their actions. There is a extreme amount of money in the reptile trade with some snakes selling for as much as 20,000.

  15. SamSlade September 28, 2015

    A great and intelligent article. |Here in the UK i would ahve to be very careful about the amount of force I used to confront an burglar in my own home, or i might get sued! In a recent case, a hap came home to find his wife and children bound and gagged by intruers, whom he chased off. He caught up with them and dealt out immediate justice with a baseball bat. guess who got imprisoned?

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