VITAL SIGNSrnCRIMErnBurglary and thernArmed Homesteadrnby David KopelrnGuns in the right hands make allrngood people safer —includingrnpeople who don’t own guns. The higherrnthe number of responsible people whornhave guns ready to be used for selfdefense,rnthe safer the public is. Therntremendous degree to which widespreadrngun ownership makes American homesrnsafer from home invaders is one of therngreat unreported stories of the Americanrngun-control debate.rnThe United States suffers from a veryrnhigh rate of violent crime, compared tornmost other industrial democracies. Despiternrecent improvement, the Americanrncrime rate is high for crimes that oftenrninvolve guns (such as murder), and forrncrimes that rarely involve guns (such asrnrape, in which only seven percent ofrncriminals use guns).rnYet, happily, American homes arerncomparatively safe from burglary. Theyrnare especially safe from “home invasion”rnor “hot” burglaries—that is, burglaries inrnwhich the victim is present during thernburglary. As an introductory criminologyrntextbook explains, “Burglars do notrnwant contact with occupants; they dependrnon stealth for success.” The textbookrnis correct; only 13 percent of residentialrnburglaries in the United Statesrnare attempted against occupied homes.rnBut this happy fact of life, so taken forrngranted in the United States, is not a universal.rnIn Canada, for example, a Torontornstudy found that 48 percent of burglariesrnwere against occupied homes, and 21rnpercent involved a confrontation withrnthe victim. In Edmonton, about half ofrnall burglaries are “hot.” A 1982 Britishrnsurvey found 59 percent of attemptedrnburglaries involved an occupied home.rnWhy should American criminals, whornhave proven that they engage in murder,rnrape, and robbery at a higher rate thanrntheir counterparts in other nations, displayrnsuch a curious reluctance to perpetraternburglaries against occupied residences?rnCould part of the answer be thatrnthey are afraid of getting shot?rnIn a survey of felony convicts in staternprisons, 73 percent of the convicts whornhad committed a burglary or violentrncrime agreed “one reason burglars avoidrnhouses when people are at home is thatrnthey fear being shot.” Another studyrnfound that over 90 percent of burglarsrnsaid that they would not even attempt arnburglary in a house that they thoughtrnmight be occupied.rnMost scholarly studies rely on burglarsrnwho are currently incarcerated. One importantrnstudy broke this mold: Burglarsrnon the Job by Richard T. Wright andrnScott Decker. This was a 1994 survey inrnSt. Louis of 105 currently active burglars.rnThe authors observed, “One of the mostrnserious risks faced by residential burglarsrnis the possibility of being injured or killedrnby occupants of a target. Many of the offendersrnwe spoke to reported that this wasrnfar and away their greatest fear.”rnThe fear of armed victims is not limitedrnto the home. Unlike most other nations,rnAmerica allows its citizens to bernarmed for protection not only in theirrnhome but in their place of business. Arn1996 study of 310 armed robbers, byrnAthena Research in Seattle, reportedrnthat many robbers are afraid of armedrnvictims more than anything else. Thernfear of armed victims is why armed robbersrnoften avoid “mom and pop” storesrnwhere the victim may be armed. Instead,rnrobbers concentrate on chainrnstores, where corporate policy frequentiyrnforbids employees to be armed.rnReal-world experiments yield resultsrnconsistent with burglars’ reports of theirrndesire to avoid confrontations withrnarmed victims. In the 1960’s, gun controlrnadvocates in New York City handedrnout window decals, so that homeownersrncould proclaim that their home did notrncontain a gun. The decals quickly becamerna magnet for burglars, and the decalrnprogram was abandoned. The conversernof the New York City “victimizernthis house” program are the real-worldrnexperiments in which cities have forcefullyrnreminded potential burglars of therndangers of armed victims.rnIn Orlando in 1967, the police respondedrnto a rape epidemic by initiatingrna highly publicized program trainingrnwomen in firearms use. While rape increasedrnin the nation and in Florida overrnthe next year, the rape rate fell 88 percentrnin Orlando, and burglary droppedrn22 percent. The same year, rising ratesrnof store robberies prompted a similarrn(but smaller-scale) program in KansasrnCity, Missouri, to train store owners inrngun use. The next year, while the robberyrnrate in Missouri and the UnitedrnStates continued to rise significantly, thernrate fell in the Kansas City metro area.rnThe trend of increasing burglary in thernarea also came to an abrupt end, contraryrnto state and national patterns.rnIn 1982, the town of Kennesaw, Ceorgia,rnhorrified the national media by passingrnan ordinance requiring every homernto have a gun. (Exceptions were madernfor conscientious objectors, people withrncriminal records, and various other categories.)rnIn the seven months before thernordinance, there had been 45 residentialrnburglaries. In the seven months after thernordinance, there were only five—an 89rnpercent decline. Over the next fivernyears, the residential burglary rate inrnKennesaw was 85 percent below the raternbefore the enactment of the ordinance.rnThe ordinance may not have actuallyrnchanged gun ownership patterns muchrnin Kennesaw; the mayor estimated thatrneven before the ordinance, about five ofrnevery six Kennesaw homes contained arngun. But the publicity surrounding thernKennesaw law may have served as a veryrnpowerful warning to persons contemplatingrna residential burglary in the town:rnany homeowner confronted during arnburglary would almost certainly bernarmed.rnNot just in Kennesaw, but throughoutrnthe United States, the armed victim is arnserious danger to burglars. One of 31rnburglars has been shot during a burglary.rnThus, American burglary patterns arernheavily influenced by the perpetrators’rnfears of confronting an armed victim.rnMost burglars report that they avoid latenightrnburglaries because “That’s the wayrn36/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn