For people who advocate a ban on private gun ownership, what is their plan in the event someone breaks into their home?
I wrote the following piece on Facebook a few years ago after chasing a thief through my neighborhood while walking my dog late one night in Australia (I’m an American back in the States now). While not perfectly suited to the question, I think it is still relevant and I hope you think so too:
With the current debate on guns raging and with both sides contributing near equal amounts of sound reasonable points along with whack-job crazy assertions, I’d like to relate what happened to me a few years ago.
Here in Australia, almost nobody has guns. They are really hard to come by legally and I would also assume illegally based on the vanishingly small number of gun crimes in this country. The cops are armed, and so are a few hunters, but few others in this country pack heat. Here you get warnings of a serial thief in the neighborhood and to be on your best watch. He’s armed with a small knife. Here’s a link to Australian stats: Firearms, gun law, and gun control. Here is the American stats by the way: Guns in the United States
So with that in mind, I was walking my dog late one evening through a dark park bordered by the backyards of some expensive homes. As I walked, I heard someone shouting, “oi, get back here!” and I saw two teenage guys hop over the back of a fence. At first, I figured they were just goofing around at a friend’s pool party (not uncommon), but when I saw them tear off running like mad, I realized what had happened. I sprinted after them, shouting for them to stop, and sicking the dog after them (he looks scary, but was probably hoping to get a belly rub from them). They darted past an Indian man on a cell phone who I hadn’t seen and who was oblivious to what was going on, and into an SUV they had idling on the street. They were gone, and I was left out of breath and just far enough away to be unable to read their license plate.
The owner of the house, who had stopped at his fence, met with me several minutes later after I called out to him and told him what details I could about the intruders. They had stolen his wife’s bag and run out through the back. Their keys, credit cards, ID, and about $100 were in the bag.
I revisited the owner the following day. He told me that the police had no clue who did it, but that the bag and all of its contents, minus the cash, had been left in front of a police station that morning.
Now, a big part of the reason I chased these guys is that I could be pretty certain that they were unarmed- at least that they weren’t carrying guns. Let’s insert guns into this story by raising their availability here to see how the outcome might have changed.
Scenario 1: Guns are far more available in Australia than is currently the case, but none of us are armed
Outcome: I would not have pursued the criminals out of fear of being shot
Conclusion: Availability of guns would not impact crime in this case and would prevent this bystander from attempting to help
Scenario 2: The homeowner has a gun
Outcome (a): Two teenage boys are dead who would have returned the bag anyway minus about $100. I would call this a tragic loss of life.
Outcome (b): The old man grabs his gun and chases the fleeing intruders who hop his fence. Upon reaching the fence, he observes three people running away and takes a shot at the nearest one. That person is me.
Conclusion: While it’s possible that a minor crime could have been prevented by tragically killing two teenagers, the more likely outcome is (b), and I would be the one killed senselessly. Gun ownership dramatically increases the likelihood of accidental death.
Scenario 3: The intruders have guns
Outcome: They would certainly have taken more time robbing the place and could have killed the owners. They could have also killed their pursuer (me).
Conclusion: The extreme difficulty of acquiring a gun in this country is a fortunate thing.
Scenario 4: I have a gun
Outcome: Seeing the men hop the fence, I pursue. Hoping that they aren’t just goofing around; I fire shots in their direction. I fire five or six shots, at least several of which miss, and one strikes the Indian man I hadn’t seen.
Conclusion: Regardless of whether any of my shots strike the criminals, the injury or killing of the innocent bystander I failed to notice would not justify my actions, and the result would be tragic. Gun ownership dramatically increases the likelihood of accidental death.
Scenario 5: Everyone is armed
Outcome: Pretty much any Quentin Tarantino movie
Conclusion: Fewer guns are probably a good thing
So, my opinion? Well, in this crime, guns in the hands of anyone- criminal or law-abiding- would have led to tragedy in almost every scenario I can envision. So I guess I’m happy that Australia has such strict and restrictive gun laws. Do I favor the same in the US? To some extent, yes. I certainly believe in the second amendment, but just as there are laws against libel and slander in a country with first amendment rights, there need to be responsible laws for restricting access to guns while still allowing reasonably limited ownership.