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.)


spencer

You are making the wrong comparison. If you want to have a gun in your home you should evaluate the chances that it will prevent a robbery with the probability that the gun will be used to kill a family member. The data implies that the later course is much more the likely outcome.

Is it worth your child's life to maybe, possibly,
perhaps prevent a robbery?

ctcarton

No balletto, I'm saying that people are irrationally afraid or each other and that this environment of fear and distrust (that the media encourages) _plus_ the proliferation of guns makes our communities and cities more dangerous for everyone.

ctcarton

That should read "irrationally afraid of each other".

conor

A cop gave me some advice once. If you shoot a home intruder, first, make sure he is dead. Then, shoot all around where the intruder died. Tell the cops you feared for your life and just started shooting. It will look like you were really in fear and not a cold, calculating killer.

Re: deterrence. Sure, allowing people to kill people who commit crimes will lead to less crime. But over deterrence is a social cost, too, and leads to mistakes (like the drunk guy pounding on a previous commenter's door).

frankenduf

I think the world would be a better place if everyone in MO had a gun (population control)- but seriously, I was home when 2 (or more) kids busted in my door- I was arguably lucky that they ran when I yelled menacingly- yeah, these kids were punks, but Goetz is wrong- they don't deserve to die- that's why we have a justice system- to sort these issues out

capnjack

i'll admit rite off the bat that i didn't actually read this article. i simply could not get past the very first sentence, that bit about "For years, I've begged my wife to let me buy a gun." if u wanna gun go buy one, with any luck u'll find ur balls along the way. personally, i'd recommend that u remain unarmed, lest u find urself in the awkward position of having to beg ur wife's permission to shoot the guy who's breakin' in to ur house.

editorguy

From the people who brought you "the death/inheritance/ParisHilton tax", "creation science," "free speech zone", "regime change/WMD/rogue nation/spreading democracy" and a twin classic, "pro-choice/pro-life", may we introduce:

"Instant death penalty."

aardvarkious

Response to balletto, #2:

But would he have beat her to death if she had not shot him? It is quite possible he was just a burglar with no intent to touch her and would've run if she had made noise instead of shooting him.

iahawkijake

I had an oppportunity to discuss firearms with a McHenry County Sheriff (far northwest suburban chicago) a few years back.

--as a disclaimer
I'm a hunter who grew up with guns in the house(shotguns and rifles) and I currently own 3 .12 guage shotguns.

Our conversation steered towards me talking about the guns I have and that I was thinking of purchasing a handgun (in the event of a intruder).

The sheriff strongly discouraged me away from such an acquisition:
1. He claimed that many of the intruder calls that he responded to where the intruder fled before entering or presenting themselves to the victims, ran off after hearing the rake of a shotgun. (The sound of pumping a a shell from the clip to the chamber). He even went as far to say that it was the number one deterent for fending off an intruder.
2. Handguns, unless practiced with a lot, are extremely difficult to shoot and hit the target.
3. Handguns are high velocity, if you miss the bullet will likely go through a wall and hit something that you did not intend to hit.
4. In the event of an intruder you are likely to be jittery, making the shot even harder.

Last summer was the first time I had an opportunity to shoot a handgun. Like I said, I've been a hunter for the majority of my life and consider myself a decent shot. Standing 20 feet away from a 30 gallon jug...I hit the jug twice out of 10 shots. I could not believe how difficult it was to hit the target. Granted I'm sure I could get better with practice, but put into a situation where the adrenaline would kick in...I saw exactly what the sheriff was talking about.

A couple of suggestions to anyone who may be considering a gun acquisition with home safety as the reason.
-Get a shotgun, not a handgun
-Use birdshot or buckshot instead of slugs as ammo
-Get formal gun safety training
-Practice

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elfy

balletto: "So what's with the UK, where handguns and most other firearms are outlawed, and their massive increases in crime the past few years?"

Which massive increases would these be? Crime as a whole has dropped. Some violent crime has increased a little, but domestic burglary has pretty much halved in the last 10 years.

paadams

I just recently took the CHL class in Texas so I can carry concealed. I am all for owning guns for home/personal defense but I wan to highly emphasize the need to practice. I shot a perfect score, but i've been shooting all my life and spent 8 years in the military. Put safety first and use common sense if an intruder enters your home. Never shoot blindly, identify your target, and fire at least 2 rounds.

Now if you can tell the person is drunk, a kid, etc just call the cops and let them handle it. If you actually fear for your life, then keep shooting till he stops. Remember the object is to "stop" him not kill him. That was the lady's mistake in the previous post that got beat to death. She didn't stop him.

Crash

Even if I weren't a gun owner, I would find the old law -- that required you to jump out of the window rather than defend yourself if an intruder burst into your home -- patently offensive. Guns are not the only deadly force that homeowners might use to defend themselves. I keep an axe by my bed: it's safer for me, because an axe is not a loaded gun, and because they don't shoot through walls, but it's still plenty deadly to the intruder.

I'm glad that in Washington, if I wake up to find someone unexpectedly rummaging through my bedroom, I can use this axe without having to first think about whether the guy is armed and whether I can convince a jury that I was truly in fear for my life.

The law isn't so much about reducing crime as it is about my right to defend myself in my own home.

suntzusjb

balletto:
"Booger off the bang switch?"

You need a writting course as much as some of the respondents need a gun safety course.

The reason the bat makes an efficient home defense weapon is that it fulfills its primary function, to reasure the homeowner without as much of a threat to that same homeowner and his family.

I once knew a man who owned an Uzi that he said was for home defense, but if you need that much reasurance you have already lost.

Gun ownership is fine. Gun safety courses are great. However, the only safe way to keep a gun at home is unloaded, which limits its usefullness in home defense.

coverclock

I'll reiterate what many others have said:

[1] Your first line of defense is a cellular phone with a lighted dialpad sitting in the charger on the nightstand. (I have one.)

[2] A shotgun is preferable to a handgun. (I own two 12 gauge shotguns and maybe a dozen handguns as well as several rifles including three the government insists on classifying as assault rifles.)

[3] No matter what kind of firearm you have, you need formal training. (I've taken and passed two tactical shooting classes.)

[4] No matter what the law says, the police will investigate it, and the forensic experts are smarter than you are when it comes to crime.

Just for purposes of context: I think of myself as a pro-gun liberal. I'm registered as an independent. I have two college degrees. I am a member of both the NRA and the ACLU. I have a concealed carry permit. I voted for George Bush in his first presidential election, not in the second, and will probably never vote for any Republican ever again. I believe in an armed citizenry.

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Crash

I'd like to agree with Coverclock in #33 and clarify, reiterate a point I tried to make earlier: guns are not the only deadly force that homeowners might use. The law also covers a kitchen knife you might grab off the counter, or even that baseball bat; the claim has been made successfully in court that a bat is a deadly weapon. If you keep a bat next to your bed, and clobber a robber with it, you're using deadly force.

balletto

#29:
Uk crime statistics for all violent crimes against persons:
http://www.crimestatistics.org.uk/output/Page38.asp
Much of the increase is due to a rise in less serious offenses:
http://www.crimestatistics.org.uk/output/page44.asp
...but the point that crime in the UK has dropped since the imposition of draconian gun controls is debatable, due to various claims that the UK government's statistics are flawed and misleading.

#31:
I am not a lawyer, but if I were you, I'd think long and hard about using an axe on someone, "without having to first think about whether the guy is armed."

Lethal force is lethal force. Don't you (or any other poster/reader) delude themselves thinking that using a certain weapon (firearm or not) makes such force more or less of a legal problem for the user.

#32:
The phrase I used was, "booger hook", aka), keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire.

Sometimes a colloquialism can be an effective teaching tool, my apologies if I was too trite. A more formal depiction of the 4 rules of firearms safety can be found here:
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/hunter_education/homestudy/safety_first/4rules.phtml

All:
I find it laughable that anyone would think that getting close to the intruder to use a bat or bladed weapon is a better option than using a firearm to defend yourself. "Winning" a fight in these circumstances involves:
1. you not getting hurt, the chances of which greatly increase, the closer you get to the bad guy.
2. the intruder being dissuaded from hurting you, either by using reason on him, or by using force.

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egretman

It is fortunate that the described law is at least limited to the defender's home, albeit broadly defined

Not in Texas. The new law here is that you can shoot to kill in your home, outside or inside your car, or at your workplace. Which was the law in Texas for the home. But now extends to car and job. In any of the three places, you no longer have to retreat in the face of a threat.

Also if you shoot to kill, you are now presumed innocent.

It's a great big social experiment. We are the guinea pigs. It's going to be fun to see how it works out.

Davey

I realize that I am way down on the list of posts for this, so it may not be seen, but a data set exists for this and is just waiting for a well-known, Chicago-based freakonomist to break it down for us. Florida enacted the very same law a few years ago. Would be interesting to see what the data show happened after the law was passed.

egretman

...oh...I forgot to mention that we Texans are now free from civil liability for our actions under the new law.

Yall come on down!

egretman

...was yesterday the forth of July or were those bullets going off outside?