Vital Signs

Burglary and the Armed Homestead

Guns in the right hands make all good people safer—including people who don't own guns. The higher the number of responsible people who have guns ready to be used for selfdefense, the safer the public is. The tremendous degree to which widespread gun ownership makes American homes safer from home invaders is one of the great unreported stories of the American gun-control debate.

The United States suffers from a very high rate of violent crime, compared to most other industrial democracies. Despite recent improvement, the American crime rate is high for crimes that often involve guns (such as murder), and for crimes that rarely involve guns (such as rape, in which only seven percent of criminals use guns).

Yet, happily, American homes are comparatively safe from burglary. They are especially safe from "home invasion" or "hot" burglaries—that is, burglaries in which the victim is present during the burglary. As an introductory criminology textbook explains, "Burglars do not want contact with occupants; they depend on stealth for success." The textbook is correct; only 13 percent of residential burglaries in the United States are attempted against occupied homes. But this happy fact of life, so taken for granted in the United States, is not a universal.

In Canada, for example, a Toronto study found that 48 percent of burglaries were against occupied homes, and 21 percent...

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