(The justice secretary, Ken Clarke. Photograph: Ho/Reuters, from the guardian)
I would like to state my complete lack of confidence in Ken Clarke and the British public right now.
Ken Clarke has said recently that he intends to push through reforms that will allow home owners to defend themselves against burglars by any means necessary, and supported this by saying that he thinks that an elderly lady should be allowed to stab and kill a teenage burglar.
Worryingly, after listening to some debate on the issue, I gather that Mr. Clarke’s proposals have accumulated significant support. I say worryingly because this policy is clearly not based on common sense or evidence but is clearly just a ploy to appease the public, appealing to their most primal instincts.
My feelings on this issue are similar to my feelings on the death penalty. Like the burgular idea, the death penalty enjoys popular support in this country, and like the burgular idea, I feel the public are misinformed and not nearly rational enough.
The key issues for me are these. Firstly, if people are going to be allowed to stab or shoot (dismember? torture? castrate?) burglars, then burglars, instead of turning up with a screwdriver and a balaclava, sneaking in and running off with your T.V., they’re going to turn up with a sawn-off shotgun, to guarantee that they get what they want. Meeting violence with violence is only going to escalate the problem. It’s the same reason that despite popular support, the British Police are not being issued with firearms.
It’s because evidence has shown that when you become more pro-active in your defence, you increase the scale of the threat. Criminals will simply obtain guns in response, and the problem is immediately scaled up.
Allowing people to use excessive force on burglars would lead to a necessity amongst criminals to have guns, which would fuel the importation of guns into the UK, which would mean UK police would all have to routinely carry guns, which would lead to more shootings, more deaths and ultimately the kind of deadly mess America is in now.
It may seem sensible, but it’s a slippery slope.
This leads me to my second point which is that all of this talk of fighting burglars with new legal powers is missing the point. It’s tackling the symptom and not the cause. It’s putting a plaster on a giant wound in our society. Burglars burgle houses because they’re homeless, or addicted to drugs, or they’ve grown up in poverty, where they’re told that they’ll never become anything so they might as well steal. These are desperate, poor people. The way to tackle this issue is to address the reason for their desperation, not to tell every pensioner to keep a knife under their pollow and sleep with one eye open. This is Britain, not Baghdad.
You may be wondering, since I have such a strong opinion, what I would do to address this issue.
My answer: absolutely nothing that involved giving more power to homeowners. And why?
Because the law already strikes a good balance.
The current law already allows home owners to use reasonable force to defend their homes. It also states that this is the force which the homeowner feels is necessary in the situation.
So, if a pensioner is being burgled, and they take a knife, fearing for their life and they stab and kill a burglar, then a hury can only come to one conclusion. They feared for their life, they felt the force was necessary, therefore the outcome was fair.
All you have to show is that the force was reasonable, and that you had good reason to do what you did.
People often point to the case of the farmer, who shot a burglar and was jailed. This case is used as an arguement that we need more power to defend ourselves, but this case shows no such thing.
What happened was, in the middle of the night, the farmer heard someone downstairs in his house. Instead of calling the police or shouting a challenge, the farmer took his shotgun, stood at the top of the stairs, and fire into the dark, seriously injuring the burglar. This was simply excessive force. The person in the dark could have been a child running away from home, or a drunken teenager or a confused old man who thought it was their own home. The burglar was actually unarmed. Either way, the force was excessive, and the farmer was rightly convicted.
All of this misses what is for me, the main point.
The most important point is this: why, as a society, would we want to encourage people to take their lives into their own hands for the sake of a T.V. or laptop. Confronting burglars is inviting violence, and it could so easily backfire.
As a society we should be tackling poverty, social deprivation and encouraging people away from crime. As homeowners, we should be getting smarter, not more violent. The vast majority of burglars are repeat offenders, they are simply difficult to catch, so why don’t we focus on that?
Ultimately, meeting these people with violence is dangerous, but if they are threatening your life, the law allows you to do so.
Other than that, if we are so in love with our possessions that we want to rise our lives for them then we are going mad.
Let’s get smart, not violent.
So why did we invade Afghanistan?
Because of 9/11?
To remove the Taliban?
To educate the people?
Too often we let our emotions get the best of us. We see an apparent act of aggression as justification to charge head long into conflict without regard to consequence.
We should not justify any more unnecessary conflicts with our support in the hope of bringing freedom or justice from the barrel of a gun.
Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya…
When will we learn?
Come on, New York!
“Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.”
- Sydney J. Harris, American Author & Journalist
Tony Benn in the Houses of Parliament against Thatcherism and privatisation.
This man is a legend, and I love the story about when he was on the train =)
Stay Calm and Keep Barking!
(This image is from The Guardian. Click for original source.)