TriggerFinger


Defending your Castle...


There's a saying in the US that expresses the fundamental principle of self-defense as applied to the most common scenario: "A man's home is his castle." And traditionally, we have held that every man has the right to defend that castle. The law varies on the details: when it's OK to shoot an intruder, whether they need to be in your house or just on your property, how zealously the local prosecutors or police will look for a flaw in your actions. But the core principle is intact. Americans have a recognized right under the law to defend themselves against violent attack in their home by any means necessary.

The saying originated in the UK, where castles are a much larger part of the landscape, and it originated in a right of defense against government intrusion (by means of search, a protection echoed in the 4th Amendment) as well as against criminals. But the UK has forgotten it's heritage, and now faces a long, hard struggle to regain the right of self-defense. To understand just how far they have to go, both legally and culturally, we can consider a recent editorial on the controversy sarcastically entitled My right to kill an intruder in my home? Aye, right.


There's a saying in the US that expresses the fundamental principle of self-defense as applied to the most common scenario: "A man's home is his castle." And traditionally, we have held that every man has the right to defend that castle. The law varies on the details: when it's OK to shoot an intruder, whether they need to be in your house or just on your property, how zealously the local prosecutors or police will look for a flaw in your actions. But the core principle is intact. Americans have a recognized right under the law to defend themselves against violent attack in their home by any means necessary.

The saying originated in the UK, where castles are a much larger part of the landscape, and it originated in a right of defense against government intrusion (by means of search, a protection echoed in the 4th Amendment) as well as against criminals. But the UK has forgotten it's heritage, and now faces a long, hard struggle to regain the right of self-defense. To understand just how far they have to go, both legally and culturally, we can consider a recent editorial on the controversy sarcastically entitled My right to kill an intruder in my home? Aye, right.

So there we have it, in the starkest terms. It's official. Senior police officers in both Scotland and England say it's acceptable for householders to use weapons against intruders in their own house.

We must begin by recognizing that, yes, senior police officers have indeed expressed that it is acceptable for householders to use weapons against intruders in their own house. One of those police officers made his statement to advocate changes in the law to recognize the right of self-defense, and the other was defending the current law on the basis of prosecutorial discretion around the idea of "reasonable force".

"Reasonable force" is what you are allowed to use against a burglar who has invaded your home and attacked you.

The courts have set precedents regarding what reasonable force actually is. Firearms are not reasonable force. Knives are not reasonable force. Canes are not reasonable force. So, apparantly, reasonable force includes the right to challenge your burglar to a boxing match, even if he's a 20-year-old professional criminal and you are a blind 63-year-old. Of course, figuring out that that last case was OK required a three-week murder investigation.

Rather than locking ourselves in the bathroom and whimpering, they say, or phoning for help in an agonised whisper like they do in the movies, we should simply attack any intruders we find in our house, secure in the knowledge that we should not be prosecuted if we injure or kill them.

Should not be, no. But as the examples above demonstrate, if you fight back against an intruder in the UK you can expect to be treated as the criminal.

On no less an authority than Tom Buchan, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, we learn that our rights are primary. "If I heard intruders downstairs, would I lock myself in the bedroom and phone the police and shout: "Go away, bad burglar," or would I go down the stairs? I think I am likely to do the latter . . . I would do what most people would and pick up the first thing that comes to hand."

And as a police officer, he can probably expect to get away with this. The average citizen can't, or at a minimum is substantially deterred.

OK, so let's rehearse this. You are the average woman, 5ft 3in, say, maybe nine-and-a-half, 10 stone, woken from a deep sleep, and you're suddenly aware that someone is in your house. With the prowess of an SAS-trained killer, you slide from under the duvet, picking up the pick-axe handle that you keep lying by the bed.

Disregarding the dark, you glide downstairs and launch yourself at the intruder, ? la Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels, with a 360-degree spinning side kick. Your flying front foot catches your assailant in the solar plexus, sending him smashing against the wall. You do a rapid double chop to his neck with the outside-edge of your iron hands ? pow! pow! ? then you smite him across the jaw with the pick-axe handle, and stamp on his genitals for good measure. Easy peasy.

That's a nice fantasy, and if life was like the movies, maybe it would turn out that way. But reality isn't so pretty. A woman attempting to defend herself from a criminal with a club isn't likely to have much success. Even your average athletic male will be at a disadvantage against the average criminal, who has quite likely come prepared -- physically and psychologically -- for a confrontation.

In the UK, self-defense is not considered a valid reason to own a firearm. That policy leaves women and the elderly defenseless against a significant criminal population.

At this point, one of two things happens. One is that you realise the "burglar" is in fact your husband, sneaking home from the pub. The other is that you wise up to the terminal silliness of the suggestion that the average man or woman, faced with an intruder in the middle of the night, would be inclined to go on the attack...

She's right that most people would not be inclined to attack a criminal invading their home. Because they have been denied the tools of self-defense, they recognize that their chances against a criminal are no better than even and a confrontation would most likely result in serious injury, perhaps even death -- theirs, rather than the criminal's. But we're not talking about people going "on the attack". We're talking about people fighting for their lives against criminals who have broken into their homes and are attacking them!

That's the core value that separates criminals from honest men: violence in self-defense, not in aggression. The criminal picks the time, place, and manner of the confrontation; the only thing their victim can do is defend themselves as best they can under the circumstances. We don't have the right to second-guess what they do in a situation they didn't choose to be in.

It strikes me, in the present scary climate, that locking yourself in the bathroom and phoning for help are acutely rational things to do, for no matter how precious the goods being stolen, they are replaceable. Jewels, DVDs, car keys . . . so what? Lives, as City financier John Monckton and his wife have learned so dreadfully, matter much, much more.

Goods can be replaced, and it may be a good idea to hide rather than confront a burglar if you are not prepared to defend yourself. But this line of argument continues along the mistaken idea that a victim has the ability to choose whether to confront the criminal or not. There is no such choice. The criminal initiates the confrontation by breaking into the home -- and often, in the UK, it's easier to convince someone to let you in and then overpower them than it is to break in through a barred window or locked door.

And then there's the principle of the thing. Submitting to burglary by cowering in your bathroom while the burglars make off with what you have worked hard to acquire does nothing to discourage the criminals from coming back next week. The right to defend yourself, your family, and your property is fundamental.

People in the UK no longer have the right to own effective weapons for self-defense. Their government has removed any options other than waiting for the police. This renders the population helpless to resist criminals, and forces those who are not accomplished martial artists into the degrading experience of hiding in a bathroom hoping that the criminals are only after your possessions and not after you personally.

So do you have a right to resist a burglar in your home? Most certainly -- although the law in the UK right now is reluctant to recognize it. More importantly, though, you have an obligation to do so. An obligation to your own dignity and self-respect.

This is not to deny that there is an important issue to be explored (or exploited, if you're a politician heading up to a general election). A Conservative MP, Patrick Mercer, is putting forward a private member's bill to amend the Criminal Law Act of 1967, making it clear that householders can use force when they find an intruder in their home. "Whatever force is necessary" will replace "reasonable force", under the existing legislation.

How cynical this author is about allowing citizens the right to defend themselves against criminals! Does she ever stop to wonder why people might vote for politicians who supported such a law? Perhaps they are tired of being legally disarmed and helpless. Perhaps they want a government that allows them to protect themselves, since there will never be enough police to protect everyone.

People would only face prosecution if the degree of force was "grossly disproportionate" ? such as that used by farmer Tony Martin when he shot and killed an unarmed burglar in his Norfolk farmhouse.

People are somehow under the impression that, because the burglar was unarmed, he presented no threat. On the contrary. Tony Martin lived in an isolated area and had been victimized by burglars many times leading up to the case in question. He didn't know the burglar was unarmed, and he certainly felt threatened. The burglar should know damn well that by breaking into someone's home he was putting himself at risk. That's all there is to it.

The dangers of heading, gung-ho, down the self-defence road, amending the law rather than applying existing law properly, is that people will resort to guns for self-defence, as they do in the US.

While I don't have any problem with people "resorting to guns for self-defense" (something that is, after all, a perfectly legitimate purpose for a firearm!), I do wonder how changing the law on resisting burglary will in any way change the laws on firearms. Last I checked, handguns are banned in the UK, and long guns are very strictly regulated. The police don't consider "self-defense" a valid reason for owning a firearm, and that's unlikely to change. But it's very telling that this author is so afraid of people having guns that she would rather they be beaten, raped, or dead.

In Oklahoma 12% of burglaries happen while householders are at home; in Britain the figure is over 50%. Why should Britons hide in the bathroom when they can shoot into the darkness and scare intruders off? Guns would start an irreversible spiral of violence which we should do everything possible to avoid.

And here we have the answer. This woman is engaging in one of the psychological compensation mechanisms for being helpless in a threatening situation: she is negotiating, in her own mind, with the burglars. If she agrees not to defend herself, so the reasoning goes, the burglars will surely agree not to hurt her. Thus, she fools herself into believing that she is safe without actually taking any precautions to increase her safety; taking precautions would require facing up to her fear, and to the fact that her government has forbidden her to own the only effective means of self-defense available to the average person.

It is exactly the same impulse that leads primitive cultures to make deals with invisible spirits or gods: those deals, however imaginary, offer a way to cope with things that are otherwise impossible to placate. It is better to sacrifice an ox to the sun god than to feel helpless waiting for the spring to come once again. And it is better to agree not to resist the burglars than to accept the fact that her government will not allow her to defend herself.

The only problem is, the bargain with the criminals is only in her mind. The criminals themselves are very real, and only one thing can stop them: a gun.


This entry was published Sat Sep 24 10:43:35 CDT 2005 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2005-09-24 10:43:35.0. [Tweet]

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