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The Denominator Is Important:

I just read an article on whether people in their homes should be free to use lethal force against burglars even when they don't have specific reason to fear death, serious bodily injury, rape, or kidnapping from the burglar. One question that arises, of course, is whether they have enough general reason to fear injury from such crimes -- just on the theory that someone who will break into their home may also attack them further -- that they should be allowed to assume that the burglar may mean them harm, and use lethal force on that assumption. Here's the relevant discussion:

[B]urglary, from a statistical standpoint, does not appear to be a particularly violent crime. The vast majority of burglars appear to be unarmed, and the vast majority of burglaries involve actual or attempted theft of household property, rather than violent crimes.... Indeed, the incidence of violent attacks by intruders during burglary is quite small. Violent crimes (generally defined as rape, robbery, and assault) were committed during only about 3.8% of all burglaries committed during a ten-year period studied by the Department of Justices.
Sounds like a pretty telling statistic, no? But then let's look at the small print in the footnote:
It should be noted, however, that when a household member was present, the incidence of violent crimes was considerably higher -- about 30.2%.
It's to the article's credit that it mentions this fact, but shouldn't this go in the text, instead of the 3.8% statistic, rather than in the footnote? After all, the percentage gotten when the denominator is only those crimes where there's someone whom the burglar to attack (30.2%) is rather more relevant than the percentage gotten when the denominator is all burglaries.

Guest101:
The most pressing question that these statistics present is how it's possible to have a 3.8% violence rate when there's no one home. Does kicking the guard dog count?
2.7.2008 7:56pm
Dave N (mail):
Guest101, good question. I am guessing it had to do with people who came home and surprised the burglar.

Overall, though, if someone is coming into MY home to take my things, I shouldn't be required to assume he is not violent. If someone wants to break into my home while I am there, let him worry that I will definitely do him harm if I can.
2.7.2008 8:12pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I think that's 3.8% of all cases, whether or not there was someone home. For example: 30% when there was someone home, 0% when there was no one home, and someone was home 10% of the time.
2.7.2008 8:13pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The 3.8% violence rate is overall, including both cases when nobody's home and cases where someone is. This is a strange number to present -- as statistically meaningless as the percentage of violent attacks in all homes including those not burglarized at all.
2.7.2008 8:14pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Reminds me of one time when I went shark diving, and the guide explained how harmless sharks were by presenting the tiny number of shark attacks. When what I wanted was, for comparison, the number of people who were putting themselves into a similar position as I was.

For example, if sharks were so incredibly lethal that no one went near them, we would have zero shark deaths, but it wouldn't be very useful for me in evaluating whether to go near sharks!
2.7.2008 8:15pm
therut:
How is one to determine if the offender is going to cause physical harm? Ask them? Then believe them? Ask pretty please? Beg for mercy? How long do I have to do this before they have me restrained, dead or is chocking me and I will start having brain damage at 4 minutes and death absolutely in 6 minutes? Are there certain questions I have to ask? What is the POINT of the article----------STUPIDITY or is some government grant money involved?
2.7.2008 8:57pm
JohnO (mail):
I just set my spring gun every night before I go to bed so I don't have to worry about a burglar getting more than three feet inside the house.
2.7.2008 9:16pm
CEB:
JohnO,

Do you have some mason jars you need to protect?
2.7.2008 9:23pm
Jason F:
I don't think the 3.8% statistic is completely meaningless as it -- when viewed in light of the 30.2% statistic -- indicates that the ovwhelming majority of burglaries are committed when nobody's home, i.e. burglars go out of their way to find empty houses to burglarize. That said, the 30.2% statistic is very relevant and shouldn't be burried in the footnote.
2.7.2008 9:49pm
ArtEclectic (mail):
Real life example.

Last July I was home alone (SO was out of town) at around 8:30 pm, sitting at my computer. Front porch light (on motion sensor) goes off. I wait a few moments but no knock on the front door comes, I look outside and the front porch is empty. About 10 minutes later I hear a noise from the back of the house of something falling over. I assume one of the cats has broken yet another item and go to investigate. I walk out into my dining room and spin as I look around the room looking to see what was knocked over - out of the corner of my eye I see a movement of something tall at my bedroom door. Just a flash of movement,nothing concrete. As I am about to dismiss it, I notice one cat slinking around on feline high alert...looking for a place to hide. All the odd things start to add up and I decide to take precautions. I go into my kitchen and grab the biggest knife out of the block and begin to walk towards the bedroom. I look into the room, find it empty and as I am about to walk away thinking I am clearly losing it when I notice my other cat on the bed all freaked out. She's on high alert and looking at the closet, which I can't see into from the door. I watch the cat skittle off the bed to hide, she keeps looking over her shoulder at the closet the whole time.

There are times in your life when you "just know" and this was one of those times. I step into the room and crouched in my closet is a young black man. I hold the knife on him and he climbs out of my closet. You can stand on your soapbox all day long, but when it is you with a strange man in your home and not knowing what his intention is, you are ready to do whatever it takes to protect yourself. I had no idea at the time whether or not he was armed and I will tell you this with 100% certainty -- if he had made one move that appeared threatening he would have left my house in a body bag. I am dead f'ing serious.

As it turned out, he wasn't armed and certainly hadn't been expecting to encounter a woman with large knife ready to do business. By the time the cops and crime scene folks were done I learned that he had pulled the screen off my bedroom window and climbed in that way. My lights were on, television on, car in the driveway. He knew I was home. Later I learned from detectives that I was one of 8 homes he'd hit that month and several of the other victims had also seen him in their homes.

The trial was two weeks ago, he got 19 years.

You can try to imagine what you would do if it were you, but nothing will ever come close to having it actually happen. It is a split second decision in which you have to decide, based on no information, whether or not your life is in danger. You cannot know whether or not an intruder is a threat to you life. HE IS INSIDE YOUR HOME UNINVITED AND YOU HAVE IDEA WHAT HIS INTENT IS.

Don't think it can't happen to you. I used to think that until 8:45 pm on a warm summer's evening last July.
2.7.2008 9:55pm
Helen:
Perhaps it's not true in all states, but where I live the "burglary" of an occupied home is defined as "home invasion" and is treated as a violent crime -- and the state does not have to prove that the intruder knew that someone was home. So 100%, not 30%, of intrusions when a household member is present are considered violent.
2.7.2008 10:09pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
In New York City in the 1970s we were told that the crime rate at night in Central Park was very small. I always responded: “So what?” Everybody knew the park was extremely dangerous at night, and virtually no one ventured there. A 0/0 tells you nothing about the danger. Ditto for Morningside Park. However, the latter was dangerous even during the day. I once walked through it midday on my way to Columbia University, and it was completely deserted. I have no idea of what contemporary conditions are like.
2.7.2008 10:11pm
SomeJarhead (mail):
Well Professor, give us the source already; no point in protecting the guilty!
2.7.2008 10:20pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
David Schwartz, you mean you don't care about the hitherto unsuspected problem of burglar-on-burglar rape and assault?
2.7.2008 10:23pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
“I just read an article on whether people in their homes should be free to use lethal force against burglars …”

Well who wrote the article and where was it published? It’s probably not a newspaper or popular magazine article because they generally don’t use footnotes.
2.7.2008 10:28pm
MXE (mail):
It's to the article's credit that it mentions this fact, but shouldn't this go in the text, instead of the 3.8% statistic, rather than in the footnote?

Prof. Volokh, you are absolutely correct. The question of how I should react to a home invasion is meaningless unless we take the premise that I'm at home when it happens. And if so, it appears there's a roughly 30% chance a family member or I will get beaten up or worse.

You'd better believe I'd hand a burglar a buckshot sandwich sooner than take those odds on my family being violently assaulted.
2.7.2008 10:30pm
Chris Smith (mail):
I am appalled by the CEB link.
I can grasp that booby-trapping property, in general, is a bad idea, as it could endanger public servants like firemen.
OTOH, the capacity of lawyers to look past the fact that injuries are acquired as a direct consequence of committing a crime is one of those feats of mental gymnastics that Joe Average types like me are simply _proud_ to eschew.
Shame, shame, shame.
2.7.2008 10:39pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
ArtEclectic:

that was a helluva read, I'm glad you came through it in one piece

and:

yes, Professor, we need the publications name- agendae and all that.
2.7.2008 10:49pm
Fub:
therut wrote at 2.7.2008 8:57pm:
What is the POINT of the article----------STUPIDITY or is some government grant money involved?
I was told there would be no trick questions in this thread.
2.7.2008 10:49pm
GV:
This is really interesting. What article is this from?

Federal sentencing law provides for a sentencing enhancement for aliens convicted of illegal re-entry if they previously committed a “crime of violence.” That phrase is defined, in part, as any offense that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force will be used against person or property to commit the crime. Substantial risk has been defined to mean a “strong probability.” The Supreme Court has said that the classic prior offense that meets this definition is home burglary. While home burglary itself does not necessarily involve the use of physical force, there is a strong probability that the burglar will inadvertently come across someone in the home and then be forced to use physical force to subdue the individual to complete the burglary. If it is true that less than four percent of all burglaries end up resulting in the use of force, can we really say that in your typical home burglary, there is a strong probability that physical force will result?
2.7.2008 10:57pm
Kazinski:
The burglar can cut his risk of bodily harm, death, or even of arrest to zero, by deciding not to intrude in someones house. Seems to me that the home owner should have the option to reduce their risk by any means necessary.
2.7.2008 10:57pm
Chris M:
ArtEclectic,

Intense situation, and glad you're OK! As your story unfolded, I couldn't help thinking "how can she investigate with only a knfe?"

I usually have a handgun nearby in my home, and if all I could grab was a knife, I'd feel very under-protected. I think a gun improves your odds (especially if he were armed), but probably doesn't lessen the terror you must have felt.
2.7.2008 11:28pm
Guest2010:
Maybe I'm missing something, but how might one commit rape, robbery, or assault in the course of a burglary when there are no household members present? Shouldn't that statistic be much closer to 0%? Should I be worried about the family dog?
2.7.2008 11:40pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
“Maybe I'm missing something, but how might one commit rape, robbery, or assault in the course of a burglary when there are no household members present?”

The denominator counts all unauthorized entries including those where people were at home. The numerator counts violence done to the occupants for all events in the denominator.

Your confusion lies in thinking that a “burglary” means the unauthorized entry into only an unoccupied dwelling.

At least that’s how I see it.
2.8.2008 12:00am
Mr. Liberal:
Maybe I am weird, but I always read footnotes. I do not consider things in them to be buried. In fact, I might take note of a fact in the footnote more than facts in the main text.

What I do not read are endnotes.
2.8.2008 12:37am
theobromophile (www):

The most pressing question that these statistics present is how it's possible to have a 3.8% violence rate when there's no one home. Does kicking the guard dog count?

Margin of error at plus/minus 3.9%. ;)

(Okay, I know that it's because roughly nine out of ten homes are unoccupied when the robbers enter, but that's not a fun answer.)

Besides, who wants to take a roughly 1/27 chance of being raped?
2.8.2008 12:48am
Something Wicked:
Even if 3.8% is the incidence of violent crimes among only occupied households; is that enough? Seems to me to be a case of risk vs reward. The severity of the outcome, rape, murder, etc. justifies the use of deadly force. The criminal should be the one accepting all of the risk. I think any home owner of involved in a burglary should assume, reasonably, that there is more than one perpetrator and respond accordingly.
2.8.2008 12:53am
Gov98 (mail):
Once you enter someone else's house at night, you're life is forfeit, it's just that simple. It's not to the homeowner to protect the intruder's life. Ancient and Moral law recognizes this.

Exodus 22:2, "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed;
2.8.2008 1:02am
theobromophile (www):
Even if 3.8% is the incidence of violent crimes among only occupied households; is that enough?

Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six, and all that. Better still yet to not even be judged by twelve.
2.8.2008 2:13am
TLove (mail):
Law school fades I guess (as noted above). I thought burglary was when nobody was home, and robbery was when somebody was home. Good thing I don't have to take the bar exam again (and corporate finance contracts don't define burglary and robbery).
2.8.2008 2:23am
ArtEclectic (mail):
Chris M - you go to war with the army you have. If I had owned a gun, it would probably have been in my bedroom – which means he would have found it first and I’d have been the one who brought a knife to a gunfight. I doubt many people who do keep firearms in their home carry them from room to room “just in case.”

I learned a fair bit from the detectives on the case, the most important being that the first place a burglar heads for is the bedroom. If you’re at home, where is your wallet right now? Where is your wife’s jewelry? If you own a gun, where is it? The answer for most people is “the bedroom.” Which is why that is the first place a burglar looks - the bedroom drawers, nightstand drawers, top shelf of the closet. We consider our bedrooms to be sanctuaries and assume that it is the one “safe” place in the house. It isn’t.

This post was the second time recently where I’ve seen someone question the decision of a homeowner in a threatening situation and it just torques me. People have no idea how fast that decision has to be made at the time and how little information the homeowner has to go on. You don’t have time to loll around debating whether deadly force is necessary or not, you only have time to make immediate decisions on whether or not your life is in danger and you’ve got next to no information about your intruder to go on.

This guy didn’t get anything from my home, but he did rob me of forever of my sense of security. I can never, ever feel safe in my own home again. I didn’t sleep for 3 nights after the break in, despite literally having a knife in my hand in bed. Every noise echoes a thousand times. I still jump at noises some nights. By the time I’d finished reliving the experience again in writing my previous post I was shaking. It’s near midnight and unlikely I will sleep tonight despite two glasses of wine to settle my nerves. Even though that guy is behind bars, there is no erasing the moment in time – it is a life altering experience and anyone who thinks that I, as a homeowner facing an intruder, should have had one moment of hesitation about using deadly force can take some of my sleepless nights for me.
2.8.2008 2:57am
Mr. Liberal:
ArtEclectic,

I am completely sympathetic to your situation.

I do think we should fully consider the factors you mention (i.e. the difficulty of making a decision with limited information, etc.)

On the other hand, one cannot excuse cold-blooded murder and call it self-defense either. There are situations where one does have time to think.

I think an inquiry into the particular situation is always appropriate, taking into full considerations the factors you mention.
2.8.2008 3:16am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
In Roman law, it was assumed that anyone surreptitiously entering a home at night was prepared to use lethal force and could therefore be killed. The law is: Si nox furtum faxit, si im occisit, iure caesus esto. "If one should commit a surreptitious entry at night, if one should kill him, let him have been killed lawfully." (If you know classical Latin and this looks funny, that's because it is archaic Latin.) The householder could even subdue the burglar, take him out into the street, and kill him there.
2.8.2008 3:33am
A. Zarkov (mail):
ArtEclectic:

For the very reasons you discuss, people I know sleep with their loaded guns within easy reach. After they get up, they hide it outside the bedroom.

The US public’s willingness to employ deadly force provides deterrence against home invasions. In the UK home invasions occur far more frequently than the US. There the invader is almost guaranteed to face an unarmed occupant.

I hope you can recover from that dreadful experience. Fortunately unless you live in a high crime area, such invasions are pretty rare. To gain an increased feeling of security, you might consider taking Krav Maga (Hebrew for “close combat”) lessons. Many people find such lessons extremely useful in gaining a sense of control and security.
2.8.2008 5:36am
MaverickNH:
In considering the justification for use of deadly force (brandishing a gun or using one, in this case), where does one stand on the criteria of the burglar's Ability, Opportunity and Intent to cause death or great bodily harm?

The burglar doesn't ring the doorbell to be invited inside or call ahead and make an appointment - the bugler uses stealth and force to achieve illegal entry. If knowing a homeowner to be home, the bugler uses the element of surprise and/or force to to achieve their ends.

Even if "only" 3.8% or 30.2% of occupants are harmed during a bugery, what statistical demographics about me, as the victim, and the burgler, do I have on hand to figure my odds of harm during a "hot" burglary? None.

It's a small fire - it will likley go out on it's own.

It's a deep cut - but the bleeding will likley stop on it's own.

That's the tornado siren I hear - but it will likely miss my home.

In what emergency crisis situation, do we assume the best and take no immediate and positive action to avoid harm?

Apparently just a burglary of your home. The Brits tried that one out and Joyce Malcolm weighs in on the outcome in "Bashing Burglars: Why the English common law right of self-defence should be restored"
2.8.2008 8:35am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

Not to sound as the naive European, but 19 YEARS???? For an unarmed burglary???
2.8.2008 9:34am
Virginian:
In the context of a discussion regarding use of deadly force against a burglar, the 3.8% statistic is completely meaningless and in fact misleading. Of course burglary is not a violent crime if no one is at home. Duh! But if someone is at home, it is violent 30% of the time. That is very significant.
2.8.2008 9:38am
p. rich (mail) (www):
Liberal anti-gun dimwits should have a survey handy to issue to the burglar when he breaks in. The purpose would be to ascertain whether or not he is a nice burglar. Milk and cookies should be available for consumption during follow-up clarification and subsequent diplomatic discussions.
2.8.2008 9:41am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
martinned... yes, 19 years. For breaking into someone's house, while they were home... actually, for breaking into a lot of people's homes while they were in them. By my lights, it's a lenient sentence, and he should count his blessings that none of those people killed him.

Not to be the naive American, but why is it that Europeans always seem to be looking for ways to excuse and minimize anti-social, dangerous, criminal behavior like that?
2.8.2008 10:04am
xx:
Prof. Volokh: The 30% number seems less startling given that the article is including "assault" as a crime of violence. Seems like an assault would occur in nearly 100% of cases in which a household member is aware there is a burglar in his or her home. If you know there's an intruder in your home, the odds you wouldn't have an imminent fear of bodily harm must be miniscule.
2.8.2008 10:09am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@PatHMV: I'm not excusing anyone. I just tend to think that 19 years is a bit excessive for someone who, as far as I can tell from the commenter's story, never hurt or threatened to hurt another human being. 19 years is an appropriate sentence for someone who commited, say, first degree manslaughter. (Life in prison for a murderer.) As far as I'm concerned, a burglar has repaid his debt to society after serving, say, 5 years.

(Just checking my country's penal code for the maximum prison sentences:
- Simple stealing: 4 years.
- Burglary: 6 years.
- Stealing with the use of violence: 9 years.
- Burglary with use of violence: 12 years.
- Stealing or burglary with use of violence resulting in death: 15 years.)
2.8.2008 10:25am
Nick P.:
Chris M:

My rifle is in my bedroom closet, so it wouldn't do me any good if I were in ArtEclectic's position. I suspect that's a common place to keep guns. Of course, it wouldn't do the burglar any good either; toddler in the house, so the gun is chained and the bolt is locked up separately. I guess what I'd do is trigger the security system and have them listen in while I check the closets.

Martinned:
15 years for murder? Seems a very light sentence. Or is killing someone during the commission of a crime not considered murder in your country?

Does your law distinguish burglary from home invasion?
2.8.2008 10:44am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@Nick P.: A murder is a premeditated manslaughter, committed willingly and knowingly with advance planning. The penalty for that is a maximum of 30 years or life in prison.

As we recently discovered in another thread, the felony murder rule is a uniquely common law creation, unknown to the rest of the world. The 15 years covers a situation where the death of victim was in no way intended. (The intention being to hurt them, to be sure, but not to kill.) Absent this special rule, the defendant could only be prosecuted for negligent homicide (max 9 months in prison), for assault (simple assault: 2 years, aggravated assault 8 years max), and of course for burglary.

As for the difference between burglary and home invasion: what I wrote was my summary of what the law says. What I called simple stealing is defined as "unlawfully taking something that belongs to another, with the intention of taking possession", what I summarised as burglary is described as a number of possible aggravating factors, to wit: "1. theft of cattle, 2. theft during a fire, explosion, flooding, shipwreck, beaching of a ship, railway accident, riot, mutiny or war, 3. theft during the time of night, or from a home, by someone who is there without the knowledge of the occupant or against the occupant's will, 4. stealing by two or more people working together, 5. stealing where the thief gained access by breaking, climbing in, false keys, false orders, or a false costume." Each of these gets you a max of six years, and a combination of 3 with 4 or 5 gets you 9 years. Similarly for the 12 year max category of burglary with use of violence.
2.8.2008 11:05am
Vinnie (mail):
(Just checking my country's penal code for the maximum prison sentences:
- Simple stealing: 4 years.
- Burglary: 6 years.
- Stealing with the use of violence: 9 years.
- Burglary with use of violence: 12 years.
- Stealing or burglary with use of violence resulting in death: 15 years.)


This is why I think the "Governments compelling interest in keeping guns out of the hands of felons" is bunk. Not to hijack the thread when we have a couple going but sentencing should take into account that criminals WILL GET GUNS. Kepp them in jail until you are OK with that.
2.8.2008 11:06am
Just a thought:

@PatHMV: I'm not excusing anyone. I just tend to think that 19 years is a bit excessive for someone who, as far as I can tell from the commenter's story, never hurt or threatened to hurt another human being.


The very fact of breaking into someone's home while the home is occupied, is a threat to hurt another human being. I don't care if the burglar didn't intend to threaten to hurt someone - his very action is a threat.
2.8.2008 11:21am
Kevin P. (mail):
Let me guess. This is another "study" funded by the Joyce Foundation?
2.8.2008 11:22am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
But he did hurt people, martinned. He hurt ArtEclectic. Not physically, perhaps, but mentally. I remember when my own family's home was burglarized by criminals who read my baby sister's obituary and new we would be out of town. That caused a profound shift in our family's thinking, added a great deal of additional grief at an already difficult time. The burglar in ArtEclectic's house put her at serious risk. So he wasn't armed, so what? A.E. had no way of knowing that. Suppose A.E. had killed the guy, under the entirely reasonable assumption that he might well be armed and posed a threat to her life? Then A.E. would have to live with the trauma of having killed somebody, who turned out to be unarmed.

Breaking into another person's home is very, very bad. It poses a very high inherent risk for violence, either by panicking criminals or homeowners defending themselves. To knowingly break into somebody's home is a very serious, violent act, all by itself.

All that said, notice that the criminal did it not just once, but to several other homes in a relatively short time frame. I suspect that was a factor in his sentence. He also may have had prior convictions which increased his sentence.
2.8.2008 11:26am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

You cannot punish criminals based on statistics. If a 30% of burglaries that occur when there is someone in the home result in violence, that does not mean that all burglaries that occur when there is someone in the home should be punished as if they involved violence. The law rightly sets steps, where the crime is more severe, the penalty increases accordingly. Breaking into someone's home is more serious than simply stealing someone's stuff, exactly for the reasons explained by PatHMV. But to say that it is inherently a violent crime, as "Just a thought" does, lumps crimes together that are clearly not the same. For example, the difference in severety between theft and burglary is roughly of the same order of magnitude as the difference in severety between burglary and a burgarly where the burglar threatens violence on the occupants. (Points a gun, knife, etc. at them.) These crimes are not the same, and lumping them all together is not helpful, if for no other reason than that the criminal laws are meant to reflect how appalling each crime is. (This is connected to, but not the same as, the incentive argument that says that, if all burglaries are more or less punished the same, there is no reason for the burglar not to bring a gun to work.)

P.S. Obviously a large part of the 19 year sentence is, indeed, likely connected to previous record and the number of counts. Still...
2.8.2008 11:47am
Chris M:
ArtEclectic,

I didn't mean to sound like I questioned what you did. You did exactly the right thing. If I were in your shoes, without an accessible gun, I hope I would have had the courage to do the same thing. And I understand how terrifying it must've been. I'm glad you're OK.

My comment was simply an attempt to try and put myself in your shoes. From the perspective of someone who does have a handgun within reach most of the time (not in the bedroom), I would have felt under-protected, yet equally afraid. But, like you say, you go with what you have.
2.8.2008 11:53am
ArtEclectic (mail):
PatHMV, you are correct - there were priors and they had him on 8 counts (several with homeowners who had seen and could identify him.)

From the outside looking in, the sentence does look severe. But I understand from the detectives and DA that this type of behavior is very, very dangerous. The thrill of breaking into occupied homes was going to end up with someone dead or seriously injured. It was only a matter of time before he hit the wrong house. Cops are trained to evaluate risk quickly when making decisions about use of deadly force - the rest of us aren't. A situation with a homeowner with a gun in reach and more prone to panicking might have ended very differently. In the words of our local DA "we have to get this guy off the street for a very long time before somebody gets hurt."

So, while the burglar might have been a relatively harmless individual, he was engaging in high-risk behavior that overwhelmingly was headed toward violence when somebody panicked.
2.8.2008 11:55am
SC Public Defender:
Sect. 18. This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any farther than, by the use of force, so to get him in his power, as to take away his money, or what he pleases, from him; because using force, where he has no right, to get me into his power, let his pretence be what it will, I have no reason to suppose, that he, who would take away my liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away every thing else. And therefore it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. kill him if I can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself, whoever introduces a state of war, and is aggressor in it.

....Thus a thief, whom I cannot harm, but by appeal to the law, for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill, when he sets on me to rob me but of my horse or coat; because the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force, which, if lost, is capable of no reparation, permits me my own defence, and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may be irreparable. Want of a common judge with authority, puts all men in a state of nature: force without right, upon a man's person, makes a state of war, both where there is, and is not, a common judge.
2.8.2008 12:06pm
ELBonline (mail):
+1 on "Link to the article, please."

As for blasting burglars: It is immoral to saddle the homeowner/resident with trying to decide whether or not the thug breaking into his house is going to murder, rape, mutilate, or "merely" rob the homeowner. There is no time for analysis during a home invasion. The burden should be on the thug, who should have to decide whether or not it's worth getting shot to pieces to steal some swag.
2.8.2008 12:14pm
FantasiaWHT:
Re: 19 years.

Doesn't burglary have one of the highest recidivism rates of all crimes? I thought I remember seeing that statistic in first-year crim law.

Yep:

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/rpr94.htm

74%, sheesh. I'd say that's a fair argument for needing to punish burglars more harshly.
2.8.2008 12:15pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@SC Public Defender (and possibly others): I have in the past had the argument with Americans about whether it would be lawful and/or justified to shoot someone who walks away with, say, your TV. This question is interesting because it cannot reasonably be maintained that someone who is carrying a TV is a (imminent) threat. The case states that he is walking away, and simply refuses to stop and give you your possession back. As I understand it, there are several states in the US where it might be lawful to shoot in these circumstances. (I suppose it might depend whether the burglar is still inside your house, or on other non-specified circumstances.)

I have always maintained that to hurt another human being in order to protect nothing more than your possessions reflects a disgusting lack of perspective. No mere thing can possibly be more valuable than even the most worthless human being. Much to my surprise, I have often found that this opinion is not universally shared.

Finally, SC Public Defender, I assume your comment is a quote from somewhere? Could you tell me what it is? I don't recognise it...
2.8.2008 12:16pm
A Law Unto Himself:
martinned:

I think the burglar go off easy by being in America.

In your country, it could have been 6 years (simple burglary) * 8 counts = 48 years.
2.8.2008 12:21pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
martinned, on your first paragraph, I would agree with you. I condemned, here and elsewhere, the recent actions of Joe Horn in Texas, who went outside of his own house to shoot 2 burglars who were escaping from his neighbor's (unoccupied) house. Killing simply to protect one's property is not moral, in my view.

But when the burglar is IN your house already, as the other folks here have pointed out, you have no idea what his intention is. You don't know what his intention was when he broke into your house to begin with, and you don't know how that intention may have changed once he found out that you had seen his face and can now identify him and send him to jail.

Burglar in your house = serious risk of death or harm to you and your family = you have a right to shoot the burglar in your house, no questions asked.
2.8.2008 12:23pm
SC Public Defender:
martinned,

John Locke. Second Treatise of Government.
2.8.2008 12:29pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@A Law Unto Himself: My criminal law is a little dodgy. (I only took one course on the subject in the first year of law school, before specialising in other areas.) Consulting the law books, here's the deal on multiple counts:

Art. 57 Penal code (the earlier references were to articles 310, 311 and 312): the maximum penalty is the sum of the individual maximums, but no higher than 1/3 on top of the highest individual penalty. Generally, since there is no such thing as sentencing guidelines here, the judge will simply view the totality of the crimes committed, noting the legal maximum for each, and the total maximum under art. 57, and then impose a sentence that seems appropriate given the circumstances.

@PatHMV: I wouldn't agree without more detail. For example, even in your own home I would say that if retreating is possible, you should do that rather than shoot. Also, I would say that, to the extent that the occupant has some training with fire arms (Is a police officer, military, for example), they may be under an obligation to warn the burglar first, telling them to cease what they are doing and leave/be arrested.
2.8.2008 12:44pm
MaverickNH:
I keep in mind the statement of Christopher Lockwood, European editor of The Economist, in his debate with Dave Kopel on guns: "Burglary is apparently nine times more common in Britain than America, and I am quite prepared to accept that the possibility of a householder's being armed is part of the reason (though surely not the only one: the much greater geographical dispersal of American homes is a factor too). But again, I'd far rather be burgled nine times over than shot with a semi-automatic pistol..." What Lockwood overlooks is the chances of being burgled nine times, beat 8 times and shot the ninth by the burglar (as opposed to the psychopath or family member he imagines will shoot him first).

It's clear that the US is more than an ocean apart from others in views of when violence can morally, ethically and legally be used in self-defense. In this case, the arguement appear to be whether there is even a threat to defend against in the case of a "hot" burglary.
2.8.2008 12:45pm
theobromophile (www):
(Just checking my country's penal code for the maximum prison sentences:
- Simple stealing: 4 years.
- Burglary: 6 years.
- Stealing with the use of violence: 9 years.
- Burglary with use of violence: 12 years.
- Stealing or burglary with use of violence resulting in death: 15 years.)

Okay, he's done this to eight houses. This wasn't one house to get some French bread for his starving family; this is eight houses (or nine, if it was eight prior homes). If the sentences are not served concurrently, that would result in several decades of prison time. So the 19 years is actually pretty lenient.

As for the last one: only 15 years for killing someone in the course of a burglary? Forget the "course of burglary" part - that's still a very lenient sentence, especially considering that there is some element of premediation there. (After all, if you are breaking into an occupied home with a weapon, you likely intend to use that weapon.)


have in the past had the argument with Americans about whether it would be lawful and/or justified to shoot someone who walks away with, say, your TV. This question is interesting because it cannot reasonably be maintained that someone who is carrying a TV is a (imminent) threat. The case states that he is walking away, and simply refuses to stop and give you your possession back. As I understand it, there are several states in the US where it might be lawful to shoot in these circumstances. (I suppose it might depend whether the burglar is still inside your house, or on other non-specified circumstances.)


Am I sure that he's alone? (If I'm at my parents' house), do I have the ability to trigger the security system without harming myself? Can I be certain that he would not drop the TV, turn around, and shoot me? Can I be certain, with any burglar, that he would not rob my house and then decide that it is just easier to kill me, rather than have me identify him and send him to prison? (That happens not infrequently.)

Between the homeowner and the burglar, one is in a position to avoid the undesirable situation. The other had it forced upon him. In an ambiguous situation, place the harm on the person best able to avoid it.
2.8.2008 12:47pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
martinned:

“No mere thing can possibly be more valuable than even the most worthless human being.”


Really? Do you assert that the life of say Charles Manson is worth more than the Mona Lisa? If you don’t know who Manson is, look him up on the web. Why do you assign an infinite value to every human life? Why should Charles Manson have any value to me or anyone else?
2.8.2008 12:52pm
Kevin P. (mail):

martinned:
I have always maintained that to hurt another human being in order to protect nothing more than your possessions reflects a disgusting lack of perspective. No mere thing can possibly be more valuable than even the most worthless human being. Much to my surprise, I have often found that this opinion is not universally shared.


Pardon me, your prejudice is showing. You are surprised that others don't share your self-evident opinion. Do you know why they don't share your opinion? What their reasons are? Or are they wrong and stupid anyway, so it doesn't really matter?
2.8.2008 12:52pm
Just a thought:

Burglar in your house = serious risk of death or harm to you and your family = you have a right to shoot the burglar in your house, no questions asked.
This sounds right to me, in contrast to "martinned"'s position. It seems to me that burglary while someone is in the home is a crime that creates a reasonable apprehension of death or serious bodily harm - therefore, force (even lethal) to stop the burglar is warranted. The burglar's intention to harm the residents is irrelevant.

It's like robbery with a fake plastic, through realistic, gun. The robber might have no intention to harm the bank teller and knows that the bank teller cannot get harmed by the plastic gun - but the robber can still be stopped by lethal force, because he is creating a reasonable apprehension of death or serious bodily harm.
2.8.2008 1:01pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@A. Zarkov: The value of human beings, unlike the value of things, is not measured by their instrumentality. Other people are not instruments for the fulfillment of my needs, wishes or desires, they have value in their own right. So yes, the life of Charles Manson has more value than the Mona Lisa. (I've seen it, and I don't get the big deal.)

@Kevin P.: Like I said, I've discussed this question in the past, and heard arguments for why I'm wrong, and I've never found them to be the least bit convincing.

@theobromophile: Killing someone in the course of a burglary implies some intent to kill, and is therefore punishable as some form of manslaughter. Otherwise, the point of the hypothetical case was exactly to abstract away from possible danger to the occupant, to focus on the question of whether killing to protect possessions is in itself acceptable. (Shooting at a burglar in defense of self or others is in itself quite likely justified, but the question of whether it is in a specific case depends very much on the factual details of the case, which makes for uninteresting debate.)
2.8.2008 1:07pm
Kevin P. (mail):

MaverickNH:
It's clear that the US is more than an ocean apart from others in views of when violence can morally, ethically and legally be used in self-defense. In this case, the arguement appear to be whether there is even a threat to defend against in the case of a "hot" burglary.


I am immigrant to the US and I disagree in part with this. In much of the world, ordinary citizens have very little patience for thieves and criminals and shed no tears when they get shot down or otherwise attacked in self defense, even if they were only stealing property. The prevailing attitude is "Oh, they were the aggressors, shrug". In my hometown some years ago, a gang of armed criminals were surrounded by armed villagers and some of them were beaten to death with cudgels. The police arrived only to collect the bodies and the prevailing attitude was "Cool, we can now sleep soundly at night".

I argue that the US is in line with much of the world in terms of the morality of using force and deadly force in self defense. Indeed, we actually have processes in place (police, grand jury, DA) to verify that force was used lawfully, whereas in much of the world, nobody cares about the poor criminal.

This reticence to use deadly force is mostly prevalent in Britain, some parts of Europe and criminal-friendly lefties in America. Witness Martinned, who would have me inexplicably explain to a burglar who had just broken into my house about how trained I was in using a firearm, and would have me indeed retreat somewhere into my own home. The British often make the mistake of thinking that America is just like their country. It isn't. We're very different, and thank God for that.
2.8.2008 1:07pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
martinned:

“The value of human beings, unlike the value of things, is not measured by their instrumentality.”

I’m not sure what you mean. What is your theory of value? You have not given me or others a reason to put any value on Manson’s life.

Let’s try a different approach. We don’t actually take a life; we shorten it since all people are mortal. Would you sacrifice the Mona Lisa (or whatever material thing you like) to prolong Manson’s life 10 seconds, one day, or one year? We make these decisions all the time. We don’t spend a million dollars to prolong a sick person’s life a day, do we? We always have to make some kind of tradeoff.

BTW others do think that the Mona Lisa is a “big deal.” Don’t you think what some of us consider valuable should count for something? Surely you like some material in this world enough to think it worth shortening Manson’s life even a little to save it.
2.8.2008 1:30pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
@PatHMV: I wouldn't agree without more detail. For example, even in your own home I would say that if retreating is possible, you should do that rather than shoot. Also, I would say that, to the extent that the occupant has some training with fire arms (Is a police officer, military, for example), they may be under an obligation to warn the burglar first, telling them to cease what they are doing and leave/be arrested.


No one must retreat in his own home. Never. It's yours. It is your place of safety and refuge from the world. It is where you and your family live your lives. An intruder into that refuge has abandoned his right to life, because he has put you at risk to lose yours.

Beyond that basic philosophical difference, your attitude is profoundly unrealistic and suggests that you really haven't understood the point of ArtEclectic's experience. When you suddenly see an unwelcome stranger, IN YOUR HOUSE, events happen very quickly, and you have NO IDEA whether the intruder intends to merely take your possesssions or intends to take your life, or maybe rape you or your family members. Even a half-second of hesitation can cause the advantage to switch from you to him, so that you no longer HAVE the option to retreat or to kill him, because he suddenly pulls his gun or his knife or simply overpowers you physically. Make one wrong move, guess wrong about his intentions, and BOOM! you're the one dead or injured, not him.

When a burglar breaks into your house, you have no choice but to operate on survival instincts, and with survival instincts, you must have the attitude that only one of you is likely to survive, and you must be determined that the one survivor will be YOU, not him.
2.8.2008 1:34pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@PatHMV: To be sure, I would certainly agree with you that the victim of the burglary deserves a large degree of deference, but to say that their choice is justified in all circumstances implies completely severing the link between their act and the possible threat to their life. If you have the option of leaving through the back door and going to your neighbour's house to call the police, you are not really in danger. I certainly appreciate the survival instinct argument, I really do, but I'd say that it should not be too much to as that someone think for a moment before they go and blast away.

BTW, I have to ask. (Still @PatHMV) Some of what you say seems to suggest that the home owner's right to shoot the burglar is not a matter of self defence at all, but rather one of principle separate from self defence. For example, when you say "No one must retreat in his own home. Never. It's yours.", the suggestion is that there is a principle here other than self defence. But the sentence that follows goes back to self defence, which neither I nor anyone else I know of would ever disclaim. Which is it?

@A.Zarkov: You raise an interesting issue, and one that is not easily resolved. My idea was based on the economic principle that the value of a good (either its value in use or its value in trade), is based on the amount of utility it can provide to a human being. Goods are instrumentalities that have value only and to the extent that they provide utility. However, to judge human beings in the same way is repugnant to every and any system of morality yet proposed. That said, you are right to note that, in the limit, this distinction cannot always be maintained.

(BTW, I don't think there is any cause to bite my head off over my off the cuff remark about the Mona Lisa. Even though it would not be my choice for greatest painting ever, I would not allow it to be destroyed lightly.)

@Kevin P.: I actually agree with much of what you say. I really don't think it is necessary for you to misstate my position in that way.
2.8.2008 1:56pm
Kevin P. (mail):
I want to add some thoughts about the use of force and deadly force to protect property.

Most of us, by being able to post on this blog, are presumably of reasonable means, and are generally able to insure and/or replace most property that could be stolen from us. But most of the world's population does not enjoy this luxury.

Property crime disproportionately harms poor people because they have very little to begin with.

If someone breaks into my home and I catch him running away from my home with my computer, the tool of my trade, I can afford to let him go (even though the laws in Texas allow me to use deadly force to prevent him from escaping with my property). I can replace a computer without becoming impoverished.

If someone breaks into the home of an poor construction laborer and is escaping with that laborer's tools and truck, letting him escape would leave that laborer unemployed and destitute. I have traveled extensively in the third world and have seen people who have very little and their few possessions can mean the difference between poverty and utter destitution.

So we should be cautious about imposing the luxury of our moral values upon those who can't afford them.
2.8.2008 1:59pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I don't think I'll be considering the elements for burglary as compared to, say, robbery, if someone breaks into my house. I'd smoke him without thinking about it, to make sure I don't fall into that 3.8% category.
2.8.2008 2:04pm
Kevin P. (mail):
martinned,

I went and looked but I am not sure how I misstated your position...

Anyway, my intention was not to offend, but to contrast a wide difference in perspective.
2.8.2008 2:42pm
Chris M:
True story of Texas justice:

A pair of burglars tried to get into a house through a second story window using a ladder that was laying outside. The first enters the house through the window, and was promptly shot by the homeowner. He had enough remaining strength to climb back down the ladder, but died on the lawn. The second suspect (who never entered the house) was apprehended and charged with manslaughter, since a death occurred while he was in the process of committing a felony.

I can live with this morally. Long live Texas.
2.8.2008 3:52pm
visitor from Texas (mail) (www):

but 19 YEARS???? For an unarmed burglary???



For eight counts of burglary, with multiple prior offenses ...

Of which the offender can be expected to serve 3-4 years and then be out on parole for the remaining 14-15, with an early discharge.
2.8.2008 4:06pm
ELBonline (mail):

"If you have the option of leaving through the back door and going to your neighbour's house to call the police, you are not really in danger. " -- martinned

This is nonsense. If you are not reallyin danger, why not call the police from your own home? Because you ARE in danger, and it can't be quantified quickly. And you ARE STILL in danger even if you leave. There is nothing to keep the intruder from following, right into your neighbor's house, and this does happen. Being murdered in your backyard or your neighbor's living room is not an improvement on the situation. At the time of the break-in, you do not know who you are dealing with: burglar, rapist, deranged ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, random lunatic off the street who decided you're the one. The benefit of the doubt in most US states, with some benighted exceptions, rightfully goes with the homeowner.

As I stated above, it is clearly immoral to thrust the burden of figuring out what the situation is on someone who is in their own home, rather than the one who is illegally intruding. A burglar should not have the right of thinking that if he doesn't intend to harm someone he can cart off whatever he likes. Clearly Great Britain has wandered down this road, with disasterous results. This is not the mark of a civilized society, it is the mark of a disintegrating society.

Even a burglary without violence is an assault on civilization - it is much more of an evil than just losing a few insured possessions, and yes, it is worth a miscreant's life to prevent. See the comments above of those who have been burgled, and count me among them -- it is an assault on your most fundamental rights as a human, and it should me met with enough force to repel it, whatever force that takes. The delayed alleged justice of arrest, conviction, imprisonment, "rehabilitation," etc clearly do not provide disincentives to burglars - especially since most of them do not get caught if the homeowner doesn't do the catching. Getting pummeled or shot at the scene does, however, provide some significant disincentives.
2.8.2008 4:19pm
bonhomme (mail):
I have in the past had the argument with Americans about whether it would be lawful and/or justified to shoot someone who walks away with, say, your TV. This question is interesting because it cannot reasonably be maintained that someone who is carrying a TV is a (imminent) threat.

"Walks away with your TV"? That hypo is absolutely ridiculous. You are putting the homeowner into the impossible position of knowing the future. The homeowner would encounter a person holding a TV period, full stop. In that moment there is no possible way of knowing if the thief will simply walk away. The homeowner then, is in imminent danger. I'll issue you a challenge: You stand eight feet from me. I'll hold a TV. You try to do something, anything, in the amount of time it takes for me to do this: 1. Let go of the TV. 2. Draw a pistol from my holster. 3. Shoot you in the chest. I wager you'll have just enough time to tense your muscles and contort your face in fear, nothing more.
2.8.2008 4:22pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
martinned, as others have noted, the point is that, when an intruder breaks into your home, the only sane, rational, survival-oriented conclusion to reach is that your life is in danger from the intruder. At that point, you know only one thing for certain about this person in your home, they have been willing to break the law to enter your property, where you are with your family. If you turn your back on them, if you turn to run to your neighbor's house, there is a good chance you will die.

Now, as a philosophical matter, is it moral to go ahead and kill the burglar if you are absolutely safe, if they've surrendered, you have a gun on them, and they show no signs of any movement whatsoever? No. But that's not the reality in almost any circumstance.

As a matter of wisdom, rather than morality, I generally advice folks to stay in a room of safety rather than confront a burglar. If you and your spouse are upstairs with the kids, and you hear a burglar downstairs, grab your gun, go into the kids room, and sit quietly with the gun pointed at the door. If the handle jiggles, shoot. Going downstairs to confront the accuser risks leaving your family at risk upstairs if the burglar has a gun or manages to take yours, even though it is morally justified. In all events, however, what the safest course of action to take is in any given circumstance is a personal judgment call, which really shouldn't be second-guessed by those acting in the clear light of day with after-the-fact knowledge of details like whether the intruder was or was not armed.
2.8.2008 4:38pm
Aaron:
One philosophical question; why is it that in NO state is Burglary a capital crime? If, as several posters have stated, "He who invades my home has forfeited his right to live," then why has no state imposed the death penalty for simple burglary (or hell, for armed burglary)?

Simple - it is a matter of proportion. Don't let sympathy for victims overlook that basic fact of penology or justice.
2.8.2008 4:52pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Aaron... I don't dispute that point, and that's why, as I pointed out earlier, I condemned Joe Horn's actions in shooting the burglars who had already left the unoccupied house.

My point in making the statement you paraphrase is that the burglar has forfeited his right to life if I catch him there and my judgment tells me that the safest course of action I can take to protect my own life and that of my family is to shoot him. That's not to say that the burglar deserves to die, simply that he has, by entering the house, accepted the risk that he may be killed by the homeowner.
2.8.2008 5:23pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Aaron, the same is true for crimes like kidnapping and rape. Most states allow the use of deadly force to prevent the commission of these crimes, even though they are not capital crimes.

So I am not sure what point you are trying to make.
2.8.2008 5:30pm
theobromophile (www):
To be sure, I would certainly agree with you that the victim of the burglary deserves a large degree of deference, but to say that their choice is justified in all circumstances implies completely severing the link between their act and the possible threat to their life. If you have the option of leaving through the back door and going to your neighbour's house to call the police, you are not really in danger.

Because I don't know whether or not he has friends waiting in my driveway who will shoot me dead. Because a bullet in the back just isn't my cup of tea. Because (assuming I'm at the 'rents house) I have little siblings who cannot easily flee. My job is to protect them, first. I am not going to leave the family dog to be shot or maimed if she tries to be a guard dog and scares the robber.

Oh, as for retreating - because I don't know if they will bring friends. I don't know if retreating will take me away from any phone. I don't know if the burlgar has the sense to cut the phone cord. I don't want him finally coming into the room I'm in and deciding that letting me live is a PITA.

In one sentence: I have NO IDEA of his intentions, his ability and desire to harm me, and whether or not he is alone. My life on the line, and my family's life on the line: you can bet I'll do my best to save us. If he doesn't like it, don't break into houses for a living.

-

Kevin P. made my point before I did. You are allowed to use deadly force to protect yourself against non-capital crimes. Even many forms of murder are not capital, but you are still allowed to defend yourself against them. Just because someone is trying to kill me in the heat of passion, or while sleepwalking, instead of with premeditation or in the course of a felony, does not mean that I don't get to defend my life. We do not require those whose lives are in danger to decide the mens rea of the perpetrator.

---

Final point: while it sounds great to have a post-hoc review of the situation involving the dead burglar, let's be honest. It is burdensome to appear before a tribunal. It is expensive. It can cause people to lose their jobs. Nothing against the court system, but I think we ought to exercise a bit of caution before throwing people in front of a judge. The fact that the judge and jury may ultimately come to the correct and just conclusion does not mean that justice has been served. Frankly, I see no reason why someone who has defended his life and the lives of his children ought to be hauled before a judicial tribunal in the first place.
2.8.2008 6:12pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Amen on the last paragraph, theo....
2.8.2008 6:39pm
Smokey:
martinned has made this a fascinating thread. The comments highlight the differences between Americans, and the subjects of the bureaucrats ruling the EU:
No mere thing can possibly be more valuable than even the most worthless human being. Much to my surprise, I have often found that this opinion is not universally shared.
As Zarkov pointed out, some people are not worth the trade-off.

Suppose for a moment that one person had the means to take out the Hoover dam. In this hypothetical, the police can either kill him - thus saving the dam - or let him blow up the dam, then arrest him later.

Keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of man-years were expended to build the dam, and a similar amount would be required to rebuild it. Millions of people had to give up part of their lives, in order to work to pay the taxes required to build the dam.

martinned still thinks that one human life in this example must offset everyone else's time, effort and money. But as pointed out, we are not denying life; the lifespan of the dam terrorist would simply be adjusted somewhat, based on his anti-social actions.

Which is preferable? Allowing the dam to be destroyed, in order to protect one life? Or killing the bomber before he can act?

The first choice [letting the dam be destroyed] is a real slippery slope, which would destroy civilized society if it applied in all circumstances. As another poster correctly notes:
Clearly Great Britain has wandered down this road, with disasterous results. This is not the mark of a civilized society, it is the mark of a disintegrating society.
Truly, the formerly Great Britain is disintegrating before our eyes. For instance, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown looked the UK voters in the eye, and solemnly promised them that the citizens would decide by secret ballot whether or not the proposed EU constitution would be adopted.

In the event, the people went to the polls and decisively voted down the EU constitution.

Unfortunately for them, the UK citizens serfs voted the wrong way - so their UK overlords promptly passed essentially the same constitution via a treaty - and there was no uprising over being so blatantly disrespected! No political heads rolled. The Brit serfs just rolled over. Pathetic.

I can not imagine that happening today in the U.S. That, and the burglary example above, highlight the starkly different attitudes between old Europe and America.
2.8.2008 6:46pm
gasman (mail):
<blockquote>
..even when they don't have specific reason to fear death, serious bodily injury, rape, or kidnapping from the burglar.
</blockquote>
And under what circumstance that I meet a burglar in my home would I not immediatly and reasonably fear for my safety. Even if the risk of him harming me were an unrealistically low 1%, the relative risk is quite high. That is, on any average night my chance of violent burglar encounter is 1% in any year, or .0027% on any given day. Thus, meeting a burglar has a >300 fold excess risk of something bad happening to me. That sounds like something to rightfully be concerned about. If I have the means to I will neutralize the threat first, then call the police rather than wait to see if the encounter goes well or not.
2.8.2008 9:47pm
Mike Gallo (mail) (www):
As someone who has had their house broken into and possesions taken, I pose this:

I spent many, many hours earning the money to buy my prized guitar (an expensive one-of-a-kind), not to mention the fact that I had to first gain employment at a guitar shop to be able to afford it at all (with an employee discount). So, my possession was not worth money. It was worth time. What is life made of, if not time? Part of my life was taken, and though my State's laws do not allow the use of lethal force to protect property, I would have felt no moral objections to killing the thief had I cauight him in the act, or seeing him have many, many hours of his life taken away by a lengthy prison sentence.

The value of humans is most certainly "measured by their instrumentality;" we define ourselves through our choices, and not just the act of being. Admittedly, I would have used an Adolf Hilter vs. Monet's "Sunset in Venice" analogy, but I also don't get the fascination with a tiny little portrait of a homely woman...
2.8.2008 11:55pm
Vinnie (mail):
I think what most people are missing is that a home owner is not punishing a a home invader if they shoot them. It is not punishment. If I am not paying attention and trip and drop my ice cream cone it is not punishment. It is a natural consequence of not paying attention to where I put my feet because I am distracted by an ice cream cone. I took that risk. I don't expect somebody to make a diving catch to save my snack, they might get hurt. The home invader takes his own risks. I wont increase my risks to alleviate his.
2.9.2008 12:19am
A. Zarkov (mail):
“Adolf Hilter vs. Monet's "Sunset in Venice" analogy, but I also don't get the fascination with a tiny little portrait of a homely woman...”

How about Charles Mansion versus a Stradivarius? I picked the Mona Lisa because it’s the most famous painting in world, the object of much study, scrutiny and fascination. It was stolen in 1913. During WWII the French moved it from the Louvre to Château at Amboise and then to the Loc-Dieu Abbey, and finally to the Ingres Museum in Montauban. Obviously many people regard it as having much worth. Incidentally, it measures 30 x 21 inches, hardly a “tiny little portrait.” Not that size matters in art. A Faberge egg has great worth largely because of its small size. The Coronation Egg for example has a value of nearly $4 million. I confess that a Faberge egg is the one art object that I lust for. If I had the money I would buy one.
2.9.2008 12:31am
JohnEMack (mail):
Sometimes, laws can have unintended consequences. In Minnesota, violation of an order for protection involving contact in the respondent's own home constitutes a burglary, for reasons too arcane to detail here. But the upshot of it is that under Minnesota law, applying the "we- can-shoot-non-violent burglars" analysis, it may be possible to legally shoot your ex if he walks through the front door of his own house.
2.9.2008 10:02am
theobromophile (www):
John,

What type of order is "an order for protection"? A restraining order? Because, last time I checked, if some abusive jerk violates a restraining order and she puts a bullet through him - well, don't abuse her in the first place and we wouldn't have this problem.
2.10.2008 1:27am
Dan Weber (www):
Theo, a restraining order is not proof of abuse, even though lots of society treats it that way.

Still, getting a TRO is a pretty clear notice to go talk to a lawyer, who will obviously tell us not to enter the house.
2.11.2008 11:28am
Deoxy (mail):
Martinned,

Mike Gallo makes the perfect point, for which there is no rebuttal. In a world of finite resources, NOTHING can be valued infinitely, including people.

You have stated an ansolute, which you yourself acknowledge is insufficient. Your absolute gives you no guidance on when it is morally OK to kill someone over stuff, even though you acknowledge that, in at least some circumstances, stuff is worth killing people for.

Therefore, you are spouting rubish. While you may certainly disagree with the specific choices displayed in this thread on when in it morally acceptable to kill over property (indeed, you may even continue believing your rubish if you like), realize that such positions are still far superior to an inherently useless and wrong-headed position, such as the one you are advocating.
2.11.2008 1:17pm