Forget About Having Your Friends Over for Dinner; in Missouri It’s Your Enemies You Want to Invite

For years, I’ve begged my wife to let me buy a gun. The only reason I want one is that, if an intruder enters my house and tries to terrorize my family, I would like to be able to defend us. The baseball bat under the bed just doesn’t seem sufficient to do the trick. Never mind that I am a total coward and would no doubt hand the gun to my wife and tell her to go fight the bad guy — at least I’d be able to imagine the scenario would play out differently. Smartly, my wife has told me we need a better reason than that to justify owning a gun.

Given my own heroic fantasies, I heartily endorse a new law passed in Missouri which, according to STLtoday.com, stipulates that “people are not required to retreat from an intruder and can use deadly force once the person illegally enters their home, vehicle or other dwelling, including a tent. The bill provides an absolute defense against being charged or sued for using such force.” In most places, you need to prove you were in real danger of being hurt or killed in order to justify the use of deadly force.

From a crime deterrence theoretical perspective, this law makes sense to me. A burglar has no legitimate reason to be in your house. Burglary is a crime with high social costs (victims feel an awful sense of violation when their home is ransacked, even if the burglar doesn’t get much), but relatively low expected punishments for the criminal because arrest rates are low. Most victims never see the burglars, so they’re difficult to catch, as opposed to street robberies. I did a rough calculation many years ago in an academic paper, and if I remember correctly, the risk of lost years of life for burglars who were shot and killed by their victim amounted to about 15% of the total prison time they could expect to serve for their crimes. In other words, if you are a burglar, being killed by the resident should be a serious concern. If this law encouraged more residents to kill intruders, there would likely be fewer burglaries.

On the other hand, this law probably won’t have much real impact on crime. The kind of people that shoot burglars when they catch them in their homes are likely to shoot the burglar whether such a protective law is in place or not. (That is, more or less, my reading of the evidence on concealed weapons laws.) I think that, in practice, they mostly let you off the hook legally if you shoot an intruder. If victim behavior doesn’t actually change, there is little reason for burglar behavior to shift. Even worse, you get a bunch of bumblers like me trying to fight burglars under the new law, and we end up getting shot.

The law does bring to mind some interesting possibilities, however. If there is someone you dislike so much that you want him dead, all you need to do is figure out how to get him to come inside your house, and make it look plausible that he was an intruder. Maybe you could tell him that you are having a late-night poker party and to just let himself in and come upstairs to join the game. Or maybe say there’s a surprise party for a mutual acquaintance, so all the lights will be out, and to come to your bedroom at 2 a.m.

Never underestimate the creativity and deviousness of humans — or the speed with which Law and Order will take the first example of this and turn it into an episode.

(Hat tip: Doug Nelson.)


derfer

Might this not persuade burglers to start carrying gunsd (for thier own defence)?

prosa

Some years ago I read of a woman who shot a burglar who broke into her house late at night. The shot was as perfectly aimed as one could imagine - it went right into the burglar's heart, and according to the autopsy would have caused unconsciousness within a minute and death within a few minutes more.

However, in the minute it took for the burglar to lose consciousness, he beat the woman to death with his bare hands.

suntzusjb

I would say your baseball bat is probably a more effective home defence weapon than a gun most of the time. It can reach the short distance that will likely be between you and a surprised intruder just fine. And it is much less likely to go off accidentally.

squiggie

I for one live in MO and am glad they finally passed this law. I'm not so much worried about home defense because as you pointed out, I own a gun and would not hesitate to use it on an intruder whether this law was in place or not. I'm thinking about car theft and how this will impact that. I'm waiting to hear the first stories of car theft in progress where the thief is shot and killed by the owner and now lawfully so. That, I hope, will start to be a big deterrent to car theft.

Mary Lott-Rosh

More guns equals less crime!

ctcarton

The problem with America is that everyone feels they need to own a gun to protect themselves from the supposed crazy criminal living nearby that they've never actually seen before but who must be there because guys like him seem to be all over the news.

The media greatly distorts people's percepion of the likelihood that they will be a victim of a violent crime. In practice this behaviour simply increases fear and mistrust as well as the proliferation of handguns - the overall imapct of which is a general increase in crime rates rather then increased saftey.

Ken D.

(How far is tongue in cheek in this post? Can't really tell, but . . .) Current self-defense laws are good enough and this is a disimprovement. A key problem here is the Bernard Goetz phenomenon, after the famous subway shooter. The kids who hassled him and got shot were highly unsympathetic, but it was also clear that he was spoiling for a fight and itching to shoot somebody. Now someone with homicidal fantasies, if he picks his spot right, can get a notch on his gun and absolute immunity, without regard to the actual or apparent bad intentions of the deceased. Good news for Mary Lott-Rosh and friends, bad for the rest of us.

anne

I used to rent an apartment in a mid-rise building in St. Louis. There was only one entrance/exit, through the front door. One night someone was banging on my door. Loudly, relentlessly for at least 15 minutes. I'd yell to him to go away and he wouldn't say anything, just kept banging. I was scared and called 911.

The cops showed up (when they got to my door, I answered it holding a pipecutter), and it turns out the guy was drunk out of his mind and thought he was knocking on his own door. Now, as terrified as I was, it doesn't seem right to me that a guy with no ill intent whatsoever can be killed essentially for being inebriated. (By the way, since that incident, I refuse to live in a place without two entrances/exits.)

Isaac

Forget about Law & Order; The Simpsons covered this a long time ago. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact episode, but at one point, Homer learns that if someone intrudes into his home, he's allowed to kill that person. He calls Flanders and asks him to come over, then picks up a baseball bat. Before Flanders gets there, someone (Lisa?) informs Homer that the law doesn't kick in if you invited the person. When Flanders arrives, Homer tells him to go home.

Isaac

anne, it seems that your case would not be covered, because the guy didn't enter your house. If you had left the door unlocked, on the other hand, then yes, the guy could have been in danger.

anne

Sorry Isaac, I meant to say that--that if he had broken down my door or gotten in somehow, he could have been killed for being inebriated.

egretman

You have it analysed very well, Mr. Levitt. Texas recently passed this law.

The NRA has pretty much won the gun rights issue. So how do you kowtow to this constituency that reliably votes conservative if you've basically already won? Simple. You work at the edges of the issue.

Thus, laws are passed giving pre-sumptive innocence to home shooters. Laws are passed to prevent businesses from forbiding right-to-carry firearms at the local diner. Loopholes are passed into freedom-of-information laws to prevent publishing of lists of gun toters.

The NRA is just bouncing the rumble of this issue. Keeping the fundraising going. Waiting for a new generation. They've already won this one.

Relax. Just bend over.

snubgodtoh

I for three (I think that's all of us) live in MO, and I'm undecided, so there you have it, 33.33% of Missourians are for, against, or undecided on the boy Governor's latest endeavor.

Anecdotally, I see this as a legitimate form of middle class teenage birth control. In Missouri lots of subdivisions feature near identical houses. My high school girlfriend lived in this type of neighborhood. One night I snuck through her next door neighbor's window for an after hours trist, luckily it was a spare room. Scary to think a similarly horny young lad in MO could legally have his life ended today for such an honest (albeit not so innocent) mistake.

rmckeon

re #7 Ken D.

how is an incident regarding a subway shooting relevant to a law regarding an intruder in one's own home? Somebody can't pick "his right spot" at all, it has to be his own home.

discordian

As G. Gordon Liddy has said - if you are to shoot someone invading your home, shoot to kill. That was there's only one story to tell the cops.

bkw

I don't recommend handguns for self defence. If you don't practice with one and become proficient in using it safely and accurately, it is more likely to cause problems. A gun is not a magic talisman; just having one isn't going to help you.

For home defense a shotgun is a better option. The small shot will not travel through walls; it is considerably easier to use, and just the sound of a shotgun being racked is a great deterent in and of itself.

Either way -- guns and the like are tools that require training and practice. If you aren't going to invest time and energy into making darn sure you're capable and competent, then don't get one.

If someone does break into your house, if you are armed you should barricade yourself in your bedroom and yell VERY LOUDLY that you are armed and calling the police. This is assuming that you have all your loved ones in the room with you (you can leave visiting in-laws to fend for themselves if you so desire).

If someone is just there to take some stuff -- let them. If they're there to kill you and rape your wife to death ... well, that's what the shotgun is for.

Providing for one's own home defense is comparable to having fire insurance. Hopefully no one will ever break into your house, and hopefully your house will never burn down. But what if? For some people the risk of having firearms in the house outweighs the insurance against a violent home invasion robbery. Everyone is free to make their own choice.

Criminals will do what they want to do regardless of the laws, quite frankly.

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Ken D.

To: rmckeon:

It is fortunate that the described law is at least limited to the defender's home, albeit broadly defined. That still may give a person who welcomes the opportunity to off someone unnecessarily the license to do so, when even a broad self-defense rule as previously existed would not. Maybe the another person in Anne's position would consciously choose to let the drunk in and shoot him. This is not a good thing, and not necessary for any legitimate purpose.

easy2panic

That is why you should have TWO guns in the house; the first being your legally registered one you keep by your bed, and the other being the illegal untraceable one that you place in the burglars hands after you shoot him dead.

balletto

To answer some of the various posts:

#2:
Sounds like a perfect argument for women to carry firearms for their personal protection. Unfortunately she didn't finish the job of defeating her attacker, but at least she had a chance. Without the gun, she would have had no chance at all, against an attacker with the will to kill her with his bare hands.

#3:
Guns don't go off accidentally, they fire when the trigger is pulled. Keep your booger hook off the bang switch, and there won't be any "accidents."

Also, there's a reason why people that put themselves in harm's way on a professional basis carry firearms, not baseball bats.

#6
So what you're saying is that more tools = more criminal acts. So what's with the UK, where handguns and most other firearms are outlawed, and their massive increases in crime the past few years?

Funny, I thought human beings committed crimes, not inanimate objects.

#15:
Actually, you shoot to stop the attacker and end his threat against you or your loved ones. It doesn't matter what story you tell them, they'll likely be able to figure out whether or not the use of force was justified.

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Eduardo S

This is a serious posting. You may be tempted to dismiss it because of the NRA reference. I encourage you to read it and give it thought.

Have you (Levitt) considered taking an introductory class? The NRA's raison d'etre is education. It offers a quite decent Personal Protection course geared toward people in your situation. It can be a long course--one to two days--but it is time well spent. The course covers firearm fundamentals and also an overview of legal issues. Machobullsh*t does not enter into it: instructors are thoughtful and earnest, and students are self-selectedly a mature crowd.

You might leave the class with many more questions than you had going in, but they'll be a different kind of question and you will have the framework to pursue them. You might also learn that a baseball bat might not be such a wise idea: are you skilled (and current) in close-quarter fighting? Do you have the mindset to handle a situation, or do you assume that you'll be able to figure it out in the heat of an emergency? Even though the situation (encounter with burglar) is a fairly rare and unlikely one, you really are better off being mentally prepared for one than trying to improvise.

My background: I grew up completely ignorant of firearms and serious self-defense issues. About 15 years ago I took a couple of NRA courses, and have since continued my education. Your experience will be different, but will be valuable.

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