Self-defence, shooting burglars, and sexual harassment

BurglarA headline caught my eye recently: “No charges for Oklahoma teen mother who called 911 to ask permission to kill burglar“.  The story is about a woman who called police to ask if she could shoot an intruder if he entered her home. He entered; she killed him with a shotgun.  In a country where gun ownership is prevalent, and in some communities even encouraged, you would think that would be a deterrent to burglars and other intruders.  But with 215 justifiable homicides in 2009, it would seem not.

But what is a deterrent? The death penalty? Abolition of hanging in the UK didn’t appreciably increase the murder rate, and death row is overflowing in the USA.

Perhaps people living in a great environment are less inclined towards crime? The government of the Seychelles would disagree,

Fear of being caught maybe? Anecdotal evidence suggests that, rather like Norman Stanley Fletcher, imprisonment is simply viewed as an occupational hazard – and for some even an educational opportunity.

So, if there is no adequate deterrent, should we be allowed to shoot burglars – or, in the UK where we can’t own guns, perhaps politely berate them with golf club? (I think a mashie niblick would be most appropriate?)  What use of force is proportionate?  Both in the US and the UK we are lucky that the legal system recognises self-defence, especially in the case of home invasion, as it would seem that not all cultures are equally lucky.

Another article I read today was about “Eve teasing“, or sexual harassment/assault in India.  When two men tried to protect their friends from such assault they were stabbed to death. In crowded street. In the evening.  No visible deterrent. What should they have done – or been able to do.

And finally, the protectors.  I have many friends in law enforcement and they do a brilliant job in the face of adversity. But every so often we hear about rogue policemen who give the rest a bad name, and cause us to trust those we don’t know just a little bit less.  I have seen some dreadful overreactions, some dismal behaviours, and some examples of brilliant policing – but I cannot tell which is under the uniform today.

So, what is the answer? Four hundred or so words is insufficient for me to even scratch the surface of such immense subjects, but let me leave you with some questions to ponder:

  • which country has the highest incarceration rate? does that mean the crime rate has dropped there?
  • how should we be able to protect ourselves from theft, assault, burglary and so on?
  • should we protect ourselves, or rely upon the protectors?
  • what is an adequate deterrent?
And perhaps importantly: what would you do if a burglar, armed with a knife, broke in through your front door?