I refuse to live in fear. I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I have a civic duty. I have to do it. Burglars are not human, they are vermin. I try to be a good person, to do what I should, be a good citizen.

Those are among the words uttered by Byron Smith shortly after he murdered two teenagers in his home last Thanksgiving. There had been numerous break-ins in Smith’s neighborhood near Little Falls, Minnesota. Byron set a trap, making his home look vulnerable and unoccupied. If the burglars were to break into his home, they would come in a certain way, and end up descending the stairs into his basement. There, he set up a sniper’s nest of sorts, with food and beverages and ammo, and waited. Eventually the trap was sprung. One of the two teenagers that had been carrying out these break-ins descended the stairs, Smith shot him dead, and dragged the body out of sight. Then the second teenager came down the stairs, and he shot her. She did not die easily, so he shot her a few times. Then he said a few words into the recording machine that had been running the whole time. Eventually, but not right away, he reported the incident. There are more details, but that is the gist of what happened.

Byron Smith was convicted of homicide. It turns out that setting a trap for possible home invaders and then killing them is not considered one’s right. Or, as Smith might put it, one’s duty.

There are two things about this incident I’d like to point out, one pretty straight forward, the other likely to be controversial. Let’s start with the straight forward one.

The chances of this working are slim. If there are burglaries happening in your neighborhood, and you set up a trap like Smith did, the chances that the trap will work are not high. But the trap did work for Smith. I know this is only a single incident, but think about this for a second. It is safe, though not statistically provable by any means, to assume (or at least, guess) that for every trap-setting Byron Smith there is a large number of others doing the same thing but not getting results. In fact, there are probably a few people who have actually managed to trap people this way, but did it differently than Byron, less overtly, and that we don’t know about. My point is simply this: Among the gun owners in this country who feel it is OK to arm themselves with the expectation of killing one or more intruders, it is likely that a non-zero percentage of them are just like Byron but maybe a tad smarter, or a tad less interested in falling on the proverbial sword once the deed is done.

The second point is that anyone who decides that it is OK to arm themselves with the expectation of killing an intruder is at least a little like Byron Smith. Oh, no, you may say, a person arming themselves is simply trying to protect themselves and their families from danger, they are not attempting to kill someone. But that does not really make a person that different from Smith. There are multiple alternatives to killing intruders. One set of alternatives has to do with keeping intruders out to begin with. Smith made it easy for the intruders to enter his home. What about a person who has $350 to spend on protecting their home, and has the choice between reinforcing the possible entrance ways vs. purchasing a firearm? If one purchases the firearm and keeps it loaded and handy, but has easily broken doors or locks, that is a little like setting a trap, because it is relatively easy for someone to break into your home and, once they’ve broken in, relatively easy to shoot them. That is a passive setting of a trap.

Think about all the different aspects involved here, most of which can be ascertained from looking at the Smith case. Do you feel that taking a life is equivalent to protecting your home? Are you prepared to own a dangerous weapon? Are you prepared to keep the weapon ready and loaded? Did you spend money and effort on arming yourself instead of securing your home better, under the false assumption that you can’t really stop a determined burglar? Did you avoid making it clear someone was home? Do you find yourself checking on your firearm and making sure it is extra handy, instead of taking other action, when you hear about break-ins in your neighborhood? Just how much like Byron Smith are you?

I suspect that the majority of people who arm themselves are not a lot like Byron Smith. But is it OK to be half like him? 10% like him? 1% like him?

If you want to contemplate these questions, I ask you do do one thing as part of that process. Listen to the tape Smith made. Listen to the whole thing, and do so along with reading about descriptions of what happened, what he confessed to, what he was convicted of.

Here is one of the many available descriptions of the event.

Here is the tape. Listen to all of it and imagine yourself being a little like Byron Smith. Or, perhaps, ask yourself how much like Byron Smith is your neighbor, friend, relative, or enemy?

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich
    On the Muddy Banks, or the Banks of the Muddy, whatever
    May 3, 2014

    Years ago, when I was in Texas, a home security expert came to give a talk to us at work. She made several points that hit home to me, lessons that keep me mindful to this day. It turns out that she was working for a company that sold a legal version of pepper spray, but even after that full disclosure she talked about the following ways people can protect themselves from burglary:

    1. Burglars do not want to face a confrontation with the residents. They want to get in, get stuff and get out. They don’t want to be endangered (despite the high risk of such in their chosen professions.)

    a. If you have no dog, set out dog dishes anyway. Preferably on the patio. Even more preferably, dog dishes appropriate for a big dog. Burglars do not want to face big dogs.

    b. Set out big muddy workboots on the patio. Gives the illusion that there is a construction worker inside. Sexist, perhaps, but still something that the burglars would rather avoid.

    c. Set light-timers, random if possible. A potential burglar casing your house will be suspicious that you keep odd ours.

    d. Shut the garage door, especially when the car is not in it. Don’t advertise that you aren’t home.

    e. Motion-sensitive lights. Obvious reasons.

    2. Guns. In order to keep your loved ones safe from accidental death or injury, guns should be locked and encased and secure. This means that if there is a burglar in in the house who awakens you, it takes time and makes noise to retrieve and load and arm the guns. They are pretty much useless when there is an intruder.

    a. If you keep a gun in your nightstand, against all caution and safety rules, you will be able to retrieve and arm yourself more quickly. However, your eyes are not dilated when you are startled from sleep and it can take several mindues for them to adjust to the light. A burglar’s eyes will have been adjusted to dark or dimmed light well before you. They know this and will use this knowledge against you. In order to shoot to kill someone, you need to know where to aim and you need to do it quickly and accurately, or the intruder may be able to wrest your gun form you. Think it can’t happen? It happens to cops and they are trained not to let it happen.

    b. If you have kids or college age students who either come in late or surprise you coming home, are hard to discriminate from burglars when you are startled awake and can’t see very well. You wouldn’t want to kill your child, or your roommate, would you?

    3. Pepper spray, or something similar, needs not be so accurate. It has a wide spread and will incapacitate a burgler. While they are incapacitated, you have time to bind them and call 911. I would rather call the cops and tell them to come and arrest an intruder than to call an ambulannce and the cops because I had killed someone who was about to take my television.

    I can think of nothing that I own, or have owned in the past that is worth as much to me as the value of a human life, even that of a burglar. I would rather see someone do 90 days at a work farm for stealing my stuff than to live with the knowledge that I had killed someone.

    And that’s why I don’t keep a gun in the house, and that is why I think that Smith was given the proper sentence.

    After she gave that talk, we had a lunchroom discussion among us coworkers. He had been a Dallas cop, and was a conservative “pro-life” Christian. He made the point that according to Texas law, self-defense included leaving your house with your

  2. #2 Mike Haubrich
    May 3, 2014

    (cont) “someone leaving your house with your” personal property. I told him I thought that would be immoral and no longer self-defense because at that point the homeowner is no longer in danger.

  3. #3 Noadi
    May 3, 2014

    I have weapons but not for protection, I enjoy target shooting (I say weapons not just guns because I have bows and crossbows in the house as well) but I don’t expect them to protect my house from burglars. I expect my big noisy dog to be much more effective for that. The apartment building I used to live in I was the only occupied apartment out of three on my side of the building for about a month and someone broke into the building one night. I have no idea who because as soon as my dog barked just once with her deep hound baying they took off before even reaching my apartment door. I’ve always loved having dogs for companionship but after that I will never live alone without one again.

    Property is just that, property, things. I could never use any of my weapons to kill another person for breaking in to steal stuff. I just couldn’t. I would have to be in fear for my life or my nephew’s lives to even consider it (I’m not a violent person, the idea of killing someone makes me sick, but I’d kill to protect those little boys).

  4. #4 corrector
    May 3, 2014

    Disgusting article.

  5. #5 Dan L
    May 3, 2014

    How do you quantify those seemingly quantified qualities of being “.. half like him? 10% like him? 1% like him?”

    I think the article overgeneralizes the tragic and stupid circumstances of this popular murder. I guess that I’m 0.00032% like Byron Smith. I’ll show my work :-)

    In 2010, 16,000 people were killed in homicides (this excludes the 38,000 that used them for suicide, and 225 who were killed without assignation of intent).

    One way to think of it is that 50 million gun owners resulted in the death of 16000 people. Let’s assume that all homicides are mantrapping cases, like Byron Smith’s. That means that the average gun owner, by one measure, is about .032% like Byron Smith.

    Clearly, the number of mantrapping cases resulting in murder is much, much less than that, easily by a factor of 100 and more like a factor of 1000.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    May 3, 2014

    Dan, I don’ t know how one would quantify that, and it is hardly the point. Indeed, the idea that one can’t quantify this easily IS a big part of the point.

    I didn’t realize there was a word for this. Thanks for pointing it out.

  7. #7 jane
    May 3, 2014

    It seems obvious that if 100 million of America’s ca. 310 million people were “like Byron Smith”, this nation would be an even uglier place than it in fact is. (Would you, like most of us, agree to place more typical perpetrators of actual violent crimes in that category? They are still a tiny fraction of the population.) Others of your commenters have tried before to point out that there are reasons for owning guns other than protection from human predators – target shooting, hunting, protection of self or farmed animals from dangerous animals – and it’s been water off a duck’s back. That said, though, human predators are a real danger in some areas, and it is not possible for the average working-class person to secure her house – or an apartment, which she cannot legally modify – to the point where nobody can possibly break into it. You may have heard of the well-publicized recent case in which two men in a rural area spent twenty minutes breaking down the barricaded door of a young widow with a baby. When they broke in before any rescue arrived, she shot and killed one of them, saving herself from sure gang-rape and murder. Did that make her “like Byron Smith?” I would say it made her courageous, if not an outright hero for very possibly saving her baby’s life too. You already think me an Untermensch anyway, so I don’t mind acknowledging that I would do the same without hesitation if my life or my loved ones’ lives were at stake. Every other animal on earth will fight tooth and nail for its life when it is attacked; is that evil?

  8. #8 Double Helix
    USA
    May 3, 2014

    Greg, I would have to say that an incident such as this one almost never happens. I remember only one incident that is only slightly similar to the story at hand: a store owner who set an automatic trap about 40 years ago. I think it was in Miami. This was after his store had been broken into and burgled multiple times. If memory serves, the man was convicted for doing so. I have never heard of any other incident even remotely like this one. The blogs that discuss home defense actually do what you suggest. Better locks, deadbolts, steel doors, panic room, etc. I have been a recreational shooter for about 50 years, and I know a lot of shooters in several states. No one — not even one person — that I know is anxiously awaiting the day that they can kill an intruder. The firearm is the last line of defense when all else fails. Stay upstairs and call 911. Shout down that you are armed and have called the police. Of course, not every intruder is after your TV. Some are intent on mayhem of one sort or another. The advice that I have heard time and time again is to retreat to your designated panic room with your loved ones, call 911, and, if the intruder tries to get in, shout that you are armed and will use deadly force. In most cases, that is all you need to do, for the intruder will flee. As the earlier post by Jane relates above, one rural woman was able to save her life and the life of her child because she was armed and trained. I strongly encourage women, disabled, and elderly people to think about arming themselves as a final defense against “bad guys.” I think that the anti-gun movement in our country today is ignoring these citizens, when I see them suggesting that we just run away or hide. Not everyone has every option available. Gary Kleck’s research suggests that firearms are used in preventing violent crimes more than two million times a year in this country. The overwhelming majority of the time the firearm was not even fired. So, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence, we need to rely on good research. I hope that I didn’t stray too far off-topic. To answer your question, “10%, 1%?” I would say that nearly everyone who is a good citizen and a law abiding firearm owner would say: 0%.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    May 3, 2014

    “Others of your commenters have tried before to point out that there are reasons for owning guns other than protection from human predators – target shooting, hunting, protection of self or farmed animals from dangerous animals – and it’s been water off a duck’s back.”

    Jane, you are doing it again. Making shit up. I have been a strong supporter of gun ownership rights for years. I’ve recently changed my stance but I’ve never declared what it is and no, the world is not made up of people who either agree with Jane or disagree with Jane. Things are just a little more complex than that.

    But you assume otherwise, so you fill in the blanks. Really, you have to stop doing that.

    I won’t bother with the rest of your comment because I chose to fill in the blanks instead of reading it until you do the courtesy to me of paying attention to what I’m saying rather than simply characterizing it in a way that suits you.

    Double Helix: “Greg, I would have to say that an incident such as this one almost never happens”

    Yes and no. First, that’s what I said. This exact scenario never happens. But I also pointed out that even though it must be rare, having the mantrap work must be even more rare. Do the math.

    I don’t really think my point is so obtuse or difficult mathematically to understand. It is like the cockroach theory in economics.

    Having said that, it does actually happen more often than one might think if we just slightly relax the definition to not require that one be a full blow Byron Smith. As I stated, it happened up the street from my house a couple of years ago, clearly (different but similar enough) but the event was not treated as a bad thing by the community because the perp did not document his opinion about it so clearly, and it was a single clean shot with no messiness. There were no charges no court case.

    If a gun nut sits his gun-loving ass in bed with a loaded gun next to him on the night stand and has doors on his house unlocked or easily broken into and he makes it look like nobody is home every single day eventually some kid might walk into his bedroom and he gets to blow the child away. This is the same thing Byron Smith did but less elaborate. This happens far, far more often than once every 40 years. Happened twice in my own stomping grounds in a few years. Has I not been paying close attention, when my neighbor killed the kid a few years ago I would not have noticed because it was not a big news story.

    On top of this, (and I can’t believe I’m explaining to you what I just wrote instead of just telling you to go read the damn blog post) the number of times it actually works and someone is killed must be very very small compared to the number of people with loaded guns next to their night stands and less than adequate physical security on their doors sitting there right now as we speak.

  10. #10 Eric Lund
    May 4, 2014

    <iI would have to say that an incident such as this one almost never happens.

    There was a similar incident in Montana just last week, which resulted in the death of an exchange student from Germany. I can’t speak for others, but I did not hear about the Smith incident until reading of it in reports about the Montana case. In the Montana case, AFAIK there are no indications that the deceased was performing or attempting to perform an illegal act; the gunman was lying in wait for somebody.

    The Montana case made international news because a foreign national died. Since I didn’t hear about the Smith case before it was brought up in the reporting on the Montana case, I must ask: How many more such incidents were there that may have been reported locally (as I assume the Smith case was) but never made national news? That’s in addition to Greg’s point that others may have set such traps but never had anyone fall into the trap.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    May 4, 2014

    Eric, I would like to know that too. I suspect it is much more common than people tend to assume. Between gun owners accidentally shooting relatives or neighbors and gun owners passively setting up traps by not securing their homes but arming themselves, it may be a significant percentage of the category of gun deaths/woundings that don’t fall already into the big categories of suicide, armed robberies, gang warfare, etc.

    I suppose one could make a category that includes those two classes plus “authorized killings” that were not fully justified and work on that problem as a societal issue.

  12. #12 AnnM
    Minneapolis, MN
    May 4, 2014

    Improving locks in your home doesn’t prevent burglars from smashing your window with a metal pipe, knocking out the rest of the window, and entering your home, as in this case. That’s a felony, by Minnesota law.
    The felons already had rap sheets, Kifer for stealing prescription drugs. A juvenile turned one of Smith’s stolen guns in to the police, saying he bought it from Brady.
    The Brady family has possession of Smith’s nine war medals, which may be a federal crime under “stolen valor” law.
    Why hadn’t these thieving felons been arrested before? They were so dumb they even drove to Smith’s house in a car containing stolen prescription drugs from one of their previous burglaries. It sounds like the local police expect the citizens of Little Falls to settle their beefs with criminals themselves.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    May 4, 2014

    AnnM, it is simply not true that hardening the target has zero effect. That is a fantasy held by those who don’t want to bother with it. Burglaries are foiled all the time by precautions homeowners take. Please do not use my blog to spread such a pernicious rumor.

    Otherwise you prove my point nicely with your implication that the people of Little Falls need to take matters into their own hands. Do you? Are you armed and ready? Is the safety on your loaded firearm off, just in case?

  14. #14 AnnM
    Minneapolis
    May 4, 2014

    My point was only that some of my neighbors were arrested and jailed for felonies, including theft and drug dealing, so I wonder why the police in Little Falls didn’t arrest and jail the teens after they committed burglary and drug theft.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    May 4, 2014

    I think because they didn’t put it together until later. Actually, the cops were acting in a relatively nice helpful manner, and let it slip. I guess I’d prefer that over what often seems to happen.

    http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/20205312/little-falls-shooting-earlier-burglary

  16. #16 Dan L
    May 4, 2014

    I’ll hone a finer point on it: Suggesting that there is a 1-in-2 (“half like him”) 1-in-10 (“10% like him”) or 1-in-100 (“1% like him”) chance that any gun owner would behave like Byron Smith is divisive and offensive.

    Not all gun owners are nuts and premeditated murderers, except to an anti-gun nut.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    May 4, 2014

    Dan, I did not say what you claim I said. Read the post again but more slowly.

  18. #18 Dan L
    May 4, 2014

    Yes, that’s not *exactly* what you said. You say that most gun owners are not a lot like Byron Smith.

    Or maybe you’re saying that some gun owners are a lot like Byron Smith. It’s not quite a logical inverse.

    Then you go after the excluded middle, with how okay is it to be half like him, or a tenth like him, or a hundredth like him.
    My objection is that I think you estimate of the frequency of this kind of behavior is high by five orders of magnitude, and that this blog entry is an appeal to emotion (disgust).

    I’m pretty sure I understand what you mean.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    May 4, 2014

    Now that you reread it slower, aside from the backpedal work, you are getting closer!

    I’m asserting that something everyone assumes, with no real data, to be extraordinarily rare, might be somewhat more common. I adduced evidence. You find my proposal unbelievable, so you state I am wrong but you are arguing from incredulity.

    Tell us about your door locks and firearms.

  20. #20 Ralph Humphrey
    At home. Surrounded by weapons. And they're loaded.
    May 4, 2014

    Why should I have to lock my doors to deter garbage from entering my home to steal the stuff I worked for. Screw that!!!!! Come in uninvited with the intent to steal and you won’t have to worry about jail. And I damn sure won’t be making recordings or statements to the police.

  21. #21 G
    May 4, 2014

    To quote a close friend who’s an engineer and lives in a rural area, “doors are a convenience for people with manners.” Large windows, which are becoming more and more popular, are an invitation to smash & enter.

    The vast majority of residential buildings can’t be effectively secured in a manner that will prevent intruders from gaining entry. This is a factor of the perversity of the housing market, whereby properties appreciate in value even though the buildings do not keep pace with current life-safety technology in such matters as natural disaster preparedness (e.g. earthquake bracing, storm shelter, etc.), not to mention energy efficiency.

    In a crime-ridden society, large windows, accessible from the ground, are a life-safety hazard. Putting bars over them merely produces the further perversity of symbolically imprisoning the innocent (not to mention making escape in a fire more difficult or impossible: trading one life-safety hazard for another).

    Research in criminology demonstrates that the most effective deterrent to crime is not the severity of the sentence, but the swiftness and certainty of the sentence: the high probability of being caught quickly, tried swiftly, prosecuted effectively and convicted, and then sentenced to whatever term of incarceration or other penalty is provided by law. A real solution to our crime pandemic necessarily requires hiring more police, using “community policing” methods where officers have good relationships with the neighborhoods they patrol, and having neighborhood watches where neighbors are properly trained to “observe and report.”

    The actual benefit of firearms for home defense comes from the mere fact of “keeping and bearing,” not “using” them. This is essentially a “deterrence” policy, as with nuclear weapons in international relations. But as with management of the strategic arsenal, firearm ownership requires training oneself to keep a cool head and constantly check and cross-check one’s assumptions, and practice until all of this (as well as the mechanical routines of maintaining and operating the weapon) become second-nature. The same can be said for driving an automobile, and frankly we are far too lax in allowing both activities for people who are clearly not capable of doing the minimum things necessary for the safety of others.

    But there’s another factor that deserves a long look.

    Our culture glamorizes criminality.

    Just look at what’s in the movies, on TV, in the popular music, and on the video game console. The fact that one of the most popular video games awards points for running over cops with stolen cars, tells you everything you need to know.

    Bottom line: fix the culture first, and the rest will follow.

    Lastly, if you have a few hundred bucks to spend protecting your house, consider a video & audio recording system that backs up its recordings to “the cloud.” That’s one type of “trap” that’s 100% legal, and with good pictures & audio, it will get results.

  22. #22 L.Long
    May 4, 2014

    Anyone who buys a gun for self defense and is not ready to kill outright is a fool. Anyone who goes to bed with a loaded weapon beside his bed is a bigger fool. You let a burglar takes what he wants while calling 911. More innocent people are shot by startled sleepers then burglars.

  23. #23 Blue Streak Science Podcast
    Santa Rosa, California
    May 5, 2014

    Greg, this was a well-written article about a truly tragic case…gut wrenching.

    Mr. Byron stated “I refuse to live in fear”. However, that is precisely what he was doing. Fear is what made him murder those children, and I think fear is what motivates many people to purchase firearms while willfully ignore the data concerning them.

    After a garage fire a few years ago my wife and I purchase a comprehensive alarm system. If someone breaks in the screeching alarm goes off and the police and/or fire are summoned. Having a good relationship with the neighbors helps, too. (They detected our garage fire while we were asleep!)

    Mike Haubrich’s recommendations are spot on. Don’t live in fear. Live in knowledge and reason.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2014

    G … “The vast majority of residential buildings can’t be effectively secured in a manner that will prevent intruders from gaining entry. ”

    A oft repeated but unsupported statement that is not admissible in this conversation as a fact. Experts actually tell us that burglaries are thwarted frequently, and this is often due to infrastructure. So no, we are not dismissing hardening the target, and therefore, we are also not giving a pass to monsters like Ralph who are laying in wait for the opportunity to kill and get away with it.

  25. #25 Eric Lund
    May 5, 2014

    Let me remind you of the critical point Mike made in the first comment:

    Burglars do not want to face a confrontation with the residents. They want to get in, get stuff and get out. They don’t want to be endangered (despite the high risk of such in their chosen professions.)

    This is why locks are so effective as deterrents. Sure, a determined and competent burglar could enter through a window, if he has decided to hit your house specifically. But unless you’re a 1%er or a drug kingpin (people in those two categories can probably afford to take more thorough security measures), you’re probably being paranoid if you think a burglar would want to target your house specifically. And an incompetent burglar is likely to cut himself badly (i.e., arterial bleeding) if he screws up the window entry. More than one would-be burglar has died of injuries suffered in a botched window entry, without a shot being fired. Most burglars are smart enough to know this, so if it’s too hard (or too risky, because you’ve successfully simulated being home when you’re not) to go into your house via the locked door, he’ll pick somebody else’s house. That’s the whole point of your precautions against burglary (as well as car theft): to make the would be perp choose a different target.

    And if you do have a gun in the house, which is not properly secured and not in your hands, guess what any burglar who does get in your house will go for first. Where I grew up (Miami in the days of the Cocaine Cowboys), that was the most common method for getting guns into the hands of bad guys. Even if you do surprise this burglar by coming upon him with your other gun in your hands, he might shoot you first.

  26. #26 Lawrence
    May 5, 2014

    Happened in my hometown about a year and a half ago:
    http://chronicle.northcoastnow.com/2013/06/27/intruders-shooter-wont-be-charged/

    Long story short, a house was broken into Thurs night. Homeowner thought the burglar would come back to “finish the job” the next night, so he left the windown unlocked that the burglar had used the first time and slept on the first floor with a gun, literally on the floor, rather than the couple’s upstairs bedroom. They also set another TV where the first one had been stolen Thurs night, and left the light on so that it, and other electronics, would be clearly illuminated.

    Sure enough, the guy came back in through that window. Homeowner called out to the guy, and he allegedly made “a motion” at the homeowner. Homeowner shot and killed the guy; no charges filed.

  27. […] I don’t think it’s appropriate to answer deadly, ill-defined paranoia with not-deadly amateur psychology, but there is no doubt that there is a violent and dangerous underlying problem. This is a more […]

  28. #28 Dan L
    May 5, 2014

    ” I adduced evidence. ”

    You didn’t. You argued by anecdote.

    “you are arguing from incredulity. ”

    I didn’t. My argument was quantitative, and the numbers were taken from FBI crime statistics from 2010.

    “Tell us about your door locks and firearms.”

    Sure, Greg. This is my last post in this thread.

    Marlin 336, a 30-30 deer rifle, lever action.
    J Stevens 87A, 22 caliber, built in the 1940s, semi-auto.
    Colt M1911A, a 45 caliber from 1943, semi-auto.
    Ruger Old Army, a black powder cap-and ball revolver.

    All the guns are stored unloaded and separated from their ammunition. None of the guns are stored in the bedroom.

    We have deadbolts and lockable windows, but we don’t use them if we leave the barky dog in the house. A 911 call will bring the sheriff in about 30 minutes: they’re spread pretty thin.

    I’d give up the semi-auto weapons if our legislators had the fortitude of the Australians or the Scotch in the wake of mass murders of children. I’d give up all the handguns, although I don’t think black powder weapons have killed anyone in this century.

    I’d cry to give up the 30-30: My grandfather was a subsistence poacher during the depression and that is what he used.

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2014

    “You didn’t. You argued by anecdote.”

    There is not as distinct a line between anecdote and evidence as Wikipedia may lead you to believe.

    I and others have cited cases that are very much like the Byron Smith case and suggested the hypothesis that this or something like this happens more often than once in a blue moon. I also argued, from logic, that since the chance of something like this actually coming to fruition is low, that for every publicized and known Byron Smith scenario there may be a larger but unknown number of guys sitting there with their weapons ready but their homes unsecured hoping for a shot. This is a pretty solid argument as it is given: As a proposal to consider what might be really going on. I attempt no strong conclusions here.

    Good for you on the door locks and the dog!

  30. #30 AnnM
    Minneapolis
    May 5, 2014

    Byron Smith case

    On this blog, so far no one has said that their house was burglarized or guns were stolen.
    A gun was stolen from my car. (In the western U.S., assume drivers are armed, especially on roads with signs like, “Next gas, 85 miles.” California police have told me to drive as if every driver has a gun and might shoot you if you cut them off.
    I sympathize with Smith. In my case, the person who probably stole my gun also stole three checks out of my checkbook and forged them, so he was easily caught and went to jail—for three felonies, nine months. I got that money back from the bank, but nothing for the gun.
    I have never been burglarized, but I don’t care if people shoot rats, mice, thieves, or burglars in their basement. I thought “vermin” long before I heard Smith saying it on tape.

    The west has a lot of vigilante justice. A boy tried to carjack a woman at a strip mall near me, in California. A man emerged from another car, shot the perp, and began yelling, “Help me. I shot a carjacker.” Some men pulled tire irons out of their car trunks, and began beating the perp, while others queued up to run over him. I’m not saying that’s right, but the fewer criminals running around, the safer we all are.

    Keep doing felonies, and one day your prospective victim gets the upper hand. It could occur in jail, in prison, in the home of one of your victims, or on the street. If Smith wasn’t in prison, would you feel safer in his company or with one of the thieves he killed? Think about it.
    As for me, I watched the ex-wife of the man who stole from me load garbage bags with everything he owned and throw them in a dumpster. I’m satisfied.

    On this blog, so far no one has said that their house was burglarized or guns were stolen.
    A gun was stolen from my car. (In the western U.S., assume drivers are armed, especially on roads with signs like, “Next gas, 85 miles.” California police have told me to drive as if every driver has a gun and might shoot you if you cut them off.
    I sympathize with Smith. In my case, the person who probably stole my gun also stole three checks out of my checkbook and forged them, so he was easily caught and went to jail—for three felonies, nine months. I got that money back from the bank, but nothing for the gun.
    I have never been burglarized, but I don’t care if people shoot rats, mice, thieves, or burglars in their basement. I thought “vermin” long before I heard Smith saying it on tape.

    The west has a lot of vigilante justice. A boy tried to carjack a woman at a strip mall near me, in California. A man emerged from another car, shot the perp, and began yelling, “Help me. I shot a carjacker.” Some men pulled tire irons out of their car trunks, and began beating the perp, while others queued up to run over him. I’m not saying that’s right, but the fewer criminals running around, the safer we all are.

    Keep doing felonies, and one day your prospective victim gets the upper hand. It could occur in jail, in prison, in the home of one of your victims, or on the street. If Smith wasn’t in prison, would you feel safer in his company or with one of the thieves he killed? Think about it.
    As for me, I watched the ex-wife of the man who stole from me load garbage bags with everything he owned and throw them in a dumpster. I’m satisfied.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2014

    Q.E.D.

  32. #32 Edg3y
    May 6, 2014

    Greg’s article makes sense, interesting read. I believe Smith was driven insane by these kids… I wonder if the percentage of people “like” Smith would increase having been harassed, broken into 11 times and $42k of cash and belongings stolen including precious memorabilia? I’ve been broken into a couple of times and it was infuriating… I felt helpless, violated and wanted revenge; certainly not the level of revenge that happened here however I wonder if I’d feel the same after the 11th time? Take a look at this article:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2616183/Minnesota-intruder-trial-jury-DIDNT-hear-Homeowner-befriended-teen-burglars-shot-dead-basement-gang-drove-crazy-year-treating-estate-like-candy-store.html

  33. #33 Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    May 7, 2014

    Shooting burglars, bad. Hiring goons (cops) to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and forcibly inoculate them with HIV (imprison), good.
    “Prisons are built with stones of law
    Brothels with bricks of religion”—Blake

  34. #34 Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    May 7, 2014

    G … “The vast majority of residential buildings can’t be effectively secured in a manner that will prevent intruders from gaining entry. ”
    A “oft repeated but unsupported statement that is not admissible in this conversation as a fact”

    Fact. C’mon, people tunnel into bank vaults if they have enough time. An oxygen lance will cut a hole in a vault door. Brick falls to a sledgehammer. No man-made barrier is invulnerable.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2014

    The fact that rarely highly motivated and capable, well equipped criminals can break into very hardened targets does not mean that if you have good doors and windows, locks, etc. that they are meaningless.

  36. #36 Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    May 7, 2014

    The only way a “good window” deters a burglary is it makes enough noise when it shatters to attract a neighbor’s attention. If your house is out of earshot, you’d need ferroconcrete walls, multiple deadbolts on solid oak doors and steel shutters on your windows, or anyone with a 3′ wrecking bar can get inside in two minutes. Even with those barriers, 1/2 hour, tops if the burglars have a 6′ crowbar. It’s just time, noise, and neighbors that deter.

  37. #37 Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    May 7, 2014

    (Greg Ladin): “If one purchases the firearm and keeps it loaded and handy, but has easily broken doors or locks, that is a little like setting a trap, because it is relatively easy for someone to break into your home and, once they’ve broken in, relatively easy to shoot them. That is a passive setting of a trap.”
    How do you feel about cute chicks jogging alone? Blame the victim here, too? Or should they just lie back and enjoy it?

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2014

    You’ve created a false scenario. There are a number of effective ways to deter burglars. It simply isn’t true that they do whatever they want whenever and wherever they want to.

    Anyone seriously interested in deterrence should contact their local organization (with the city/county/whatever) that helps with this. You can go to a couple of meetings, get some training and information, experts will usually be available (free) to look at your home and make specific suggestions. Then you spend a little money on upgrades and your chances of getting broken into go way way down.

    What works best changes with time and varies with locality.

    For the most part upgrades are more effective and cheaper than arming yourself and you don’t have to kill anybody.

    Of course, if your aim is to kill someone, and that appears increasingly evident to be the objective for some, than just leave your door unlocked but don’t go to sleep, and keep your gun loaded but don’t put on the safety. The life you take might be your own or a family member, but you’ll get what you wished for eventually.

  39. #39 dean
    May 7, 2014

    “if they have enough time.”

    That is the issue, isn’t it? Tunneling into a bank vault, or burning through a door, take time, dedication, and being hidden from view. And is an extremely rare event.

    The comparison of crimes with this sophistication to a breaking and entering is foolish. It’s rather like saying high speed on public roads is not a danger to life since accidents leading to death in Nascar (Or Indy Car racing, or Formula 1) are almost non-existent.

  40. #40 Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    May 7, 2014

    (Greg Ladin): “You’ve created a false scenario.”
    Where?
    (Greg Ladin): ” There are a number of effective ways to deter burglars.”
    Asserted but not demonstrated. The only effective deterrent I see is human attention (neighbors or real-time security).
    (Greg Ladin): “It simply isn’t true that they do whatever they want whenever and wherever they want to.”
    Strawman.

    We have agreed that people with time and the right tools can get through any human-made barrier, right? Most houses aren’t built like bank vaults and cannot be hardened to vault-level at a reasonable price. All it takes to get through a brick wall is 30 minutes and a sledgehammer. All it takes to get through a glass door or window is a rock.

  41. #41 Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    May 7, 2014

    (Me): “if they have enough time.”
    (Dean): “That is the issue, isn’t it?”
    Yes.
    (Dean): “”Tunneling into a bank vault, or burning through a door, take time, dedication, and being hidden from view. And is an extremely rare event. The comparison of crimes with this sophistication to a breaking and entering is foolish.”
    Not at all. We construct a continuum: how much time, how hard the barriers. Your house falls somewhere between a tent in the wilderness and a bank vault in Manhattan.

  42. #42 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2014

    Malcolm, we have come to an impasse. Your argument is limited, incorrect, and your counter arguments have turned into mush.

  43. #43 Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    May 7, 2014

    Greg, we have come to an impasse. Your argument is limited, incorrect, and your counter arguments have turned into mush.

  44. #44 Ryan R
    california
    May 7, 2014

    I am a gun owner, a strong supporter of the second amendment,and I believe in the right to defend my family, myself, and my home against a threat to our lives. Having said that, what Byron Smith did was not self defense. It was an execution. These kids were unarmed, and after the first shot, were no longer a threat. You don’t shoot someone in the head while they’re lying on the ground bleeding unless your primary intent is to kill.

    In making the choice to own a firearm for personal defense, I see it as my responsibility to ensure that my response to a threat is reasonable and appropriate. That means determining when lethal force is justifiable and when the correct course of action is to simply stay behind a locked door, call 911, and wait for the police. If I’m forced to fire my weapon in self defense, I have a responsibility to use ONLY the force necessary to neutralize that threat. I’m not going to shoot to kill. Rather, I’m going to shoot to end a threat, not a life. For example, if an intruder is in my home and armed, ideally I would attempt to disarm and detain them. If the situation escalates beyond that point, the intruder tries to attack despite a warning and a visible gun for example, I will fire. I will keep firing until there is no longer a threat. If two rounds are enough to put an intruder on the ground and cause them to drop their weapon, the threat is over. There’s no need to keep firing. At that point, I’m going to try to keep this person alive until police and medics arrive.

    Backing up some, I would also like to say that there’s no way I’m going to go stumbling around my house in the dark or fire at something I can’t see. If I can’t identify my target, I will not fire. Period.

  45. #45 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2014

    MK, and you are three.

  46. #46 robert suszka
    litle falls mn
    May 7, 2014

    The law enforcement in the little falls area focus on DUI’s, Robbery is mostly ignored and the victim of stolen items are just “out”

  47. #47 Deborah
    May 7, 2014

    There are huge national/cultural differences in what is allowable or considered acceptable in defending oneself or ones home. One of the most interesting parts of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (for me) was where one of the protagonists was feeling threatened, and put a golf club out in each room. Soon thereafter he gets a bodyguard who promptly removes all the golfclubs, because that would (should something happen) show the authorities that the homeowner intended to use physical force in defending his own home. Which is a big no-no in Sweden, evidently. Totally weird to me.

  48. #48 Ryan R
    May 8, 2014

    @ Greg Laden

    I don’t understand your last comment. Could you explain, please?

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    May 8, 2014

    I was saying that MK sounds like he is three years old when he just repeats back what someone else says as his argument.

  50. #50 Calli Arcale
    http://fractalwonder.wordpress.com
    May 8, 2014

    There was a story being passed around the SCA years ago, when I was active in the society, about a lord (SCA heavy-weapons enthusiast) who defended his manor (garden-level apartment) with a deadly weapon (katana). There was a bad lock on one of the two entrances to the apartment, and the landlord hadn’t fixed it. It was a very hot night, and he didn’t have A/C, so he was sleeping in the buff. When he heard the noise, he pulled on the only clothing to hand (a pair of socks) and pulled down the katana from its display rack on the wall. He emerged from the bedroom to find an intruder with a baseball bat in his kitchen. The intruder had just unlocked the other door to allow his accomplice in, but on seeing the resident, charged him with the baseball bat. Note: baseball bats are not good weapons to use against katanas. The resident took one swipe, laying open the man’s forearm. The other burglar fled. The resident then performed first aid on his defeated foe and called the police. The burglar attempted to press charges, but the judge dismissed the case on castle defense grounds. I’m sure the fact that he rendered aid to the burglar helped, by making it clear he only wanted to neutralize the threat.

  51. #51 jpbrooks
    May 8, 2014

    I generally agree with Ryan R concerning (responsible) gun ownership and self defense. Byron just appears to me to be a person who (understandably) became frustrated with home invaders, but who (not as understandably) allowed his frustration to lead him beyond the “boundary line” of self defense. However, while I do believe that responsible gun ownership is a good thing, it’s not yet clear to me how much preparation (firearms training, etc.) should be required to qualify a gun owner as “responsible”, especially in view of the fact that a home invader might himself/herself be armed and trained in the use of firearms.

  52. #52 November Echo
    USA
    June 3, 2014

    Any homeowner who has ever been through a break in (like myself) and has come home to the damage done by burglars getting in and then the interior of the house is also in shambles from the burglars doing their thing, probably has no sympathy for these white trash criminal teens wahtsoever. These teens had PREVIOUSLY STOLEN HIS GUNS! Some revenge was warranted. Regardless of the law, they are dead from their greed and stupidity. No daddy in their house? His absence is part of the root of the problem here. Regardless of the law (not allowing the outright execution of a home invader) these dumb F**K teens are gone because when you break into someone’s house you are risking your life. May the world learn from the teen’s trashy criminal stupidity! I saw the mother of the teen boy killed smiling when the verdict was read, if she could have seen a video of him getting the bullets in his body as well, she might not have smiled nearly as wide…

  53. #53 Margaret
    Minnesota
    July 3, 2014

    Hi November Echo. I agree with you. The weird part is that most of you, along with Byron Smith, would consider me a bleeding heart liberal. I voted proudly for Obama twice ( though I do not consider him a true liberal). However,as far as crime is concerned I am very conservative. My heart breaks that these kids are dead,but they would not be dead if they had not been breaking into houses. They were not innocents. I certainly was not doing that at their ages. Where were the parents? I agree the mother of the boy seems troubling with her grinning. She looks like a meth addict to me. The girl’s parents seem far more decent and genuinely sad. I do not believe Mr Smith is a danger to society and did not deserve Murder 1. I hope he wins his appeal. I have also been the victim of teenage crooks and it is hard to get past.

  54. #54 Greg Laden
    July 4, 2014

    Yes, they were not innocents. But they were murdered in cold blood.