Do criminals obey regulations?
By Alberto Mingardi
Is deregulation helping terrorists? So thinks The Independent, which points out that “changes made in the Deregulation Act 2015 scrapped an obligation on sellers of dangerous substances” which made “it easier to buy dangerous acids that have been used in a spate of attacks in recent weeks”.
Instead of having to register with their local council, sellers of “reportable substances” are merely required to tell authorities about anyone buying a substance “if the supplier has reasonable grounds for believing the transaction to be suspicious”, such as if there is a suspicion the chemical is “intended for the illicit manufacture of explosives” or “any illicit use”.
The law says reasons for such suspicions could be if the customer is vague or uncertain about how they will use the substance, wants to buy large quantities, is unwilling to provide proof of ID or insists on “unusual methods of payment”.
If none of these take place, people are free to buy and sell powerful acids without any regulation, licensing or registration.
I find the argument to be astounding. For one, regulations impact law abiding citizens and businesses. You need to be committed to play by the rules, that is, for rules to influence your behaviour. If you decided to be an outlaw, you’re very unlikely to be brought in another direction by controls on substances you can or you cannot legally buy.
Our experience with outright prohibition (not even “controls”) of certain substances is that, if there is demand for them, people will find a way to get hold of them.
Of course, costs will increase – as it is in the case of drugs. But would that, higher costs in getting supplies, substantially hinder terrorists?
I think we may agree that if someone decides to participate in a terrorist attack (and even more so, in a suicidal terrorist attack) her mind is pretty much made up. No matter how crazy such a decision may look to us, it is one which will be hard to shake. Can regulation in selling acids really do so?
It seems to me this is hardly an argument: it is more an expression either of blind faith in over-regulation, or of a distrust of any kind of de-regulation, regardless of what has been deregulated and to what extent.
I understand the British left is witnessing an impressive growth of its own consensus, and on a pretty extreme platform, so it needs to grow it even more by denouncing the hypocrisies and incompetence of the Tories. But if a political movement is propelled by this kind of rather badly argued propaganda and demands more of it (like in the case of Grenfell Tower), what shall we expect out of it the day it reaches power?