Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to a post by Thomas Lifson on the results of a BBC phone-in and email poll that allowed people to propose a new law that they would like to see passed. The winning proposal was a law that would allow home-owners to use any means to defend their home from intruders. Stephen Pound, the MP who agreed to put forward the proposal, said that it was “unworkable”. Lifson’s comment on all this was:
MP Pound’s disdain for popular opinion is typical of not only British, but Western European elites, who consider themselves, and the nations whose public policies they control, to be vastly superior to the uncivilized Yanks, who carry guns and execute vicious criminals. Public opinion polls show that a majority of Britons favor capital punishment, but there is virtually no chance it will be re-introduced to Britain anytime soon.
Segments of the British public have been outraged over the jailing of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who shot a burglar who had broken into his house. In all probability, this outraged fuelled the votes which selected resulted in victory for the self-defense (or ‘vigilante’) law which won the BBC poll.
However, results of phone-in polls are meaningless since the sample is self-selected. It may be that popular opinion supports a law that allows home-owners to kill burglars even if it isn’t in self-defence, but the poll does not tell us that. It just tells us that some people feel strongly enough to phone in (possibly multiple times).
Lifson omits some details about the Tony Martin case to make it seem outrageous. Martin shot an unarmed, fleeing, 16-year-old burglar in the back, while the burglar was begging for mercy, and left him to die. The jury decided that the shooting was not self-defence.
Thomas Lifson responds in an update, writing:
My post was about the BBC’s poll, and its (and the MP’s)arrogant rejection of the results, when they were surprised and displeased by them.
However, the BBC did not reject the results. Pound will advance the proposal just as he said he would, even though he personally thinks that it is unworkable.
Two additional points. The jury who convicted Martin has a vastly better claim of being representative of the community than the self-selected group who want to change the law. The jury decided that Martin had not acted in self-defence. The folks who want to change the law, don’t like the decision of the community as represented by the jury, so they want to stop juries from making decisions on the matter altogether. Who’s being elitist here?
Martin hated Gypsies. He “talked of putting Gypsies in the middle of a field, surrounding it with barbed wire and machine gunning them.” He believed that “Hitler was right” in his policies towards Gypsies. Now, maybe this was all just talk. But if it wasn’t and the proposed law was passed, Martin could implement his own mini-Final Solution for Gypsies, killing with impunity any who broke into his house.
The fact that most homeowners are believed to be armed reduces crime, in my neighbourhood, to statistically insignificant levels.
However, actual crime figures from the US contradict his claim. In The Effects of Gun Prevalence on Burglary: Deterrence vs Inducement Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig find:
The proposition that widespread gun ownership serves as a deterrent to residential burglary is widely touted by advocates, but the evidence is weak, consisting of anecdotes, interviews with burglars, casual comparisons with other countries, and the like. A more systematic exploration requires data on local rates of gun ownership and of residential burglary, and such data have only recently become available. In this paper we exploit a new well-validated proxy for local gun-ownership prevalence—the proportion of suicides that involve firearms—together with newly available geo-coded data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, to produce the first systematic estimates of the net effects of gun prevalence on residential burglary patterns. The importance of such empirical work stems in part from the fact that theoretical considerations do not provide much guidance in predicting the net effects of widespread gun ownership. Guns in the home may pose a threat to burglars, but also serve as an inducement, since guns are particularly valuable loot. Other things equal, a gun-rich community provides more lucrative burglary opportunities than one where guns are more sparse. The new empirical results reported here provide no support for a net deterrent effect from widespread gun ownership. Rather, our analysis concludes that residential burglary rates tend to increase with community gun prevalence.