Guns offer more problems than protection in break-ins

Armed at home.

Apr 15, 2014 at 2:25 pm

The home of one of my best friends was broken into last week. Four guys who have apparently been working the neighborhood broke in through the back door. They were swift and organized — apparently they had assignments as they swept quickly through the house. He wasn’t home at the time, although a neighbor across the street saw them go into his yard and come out a few minutes later.

“They took every pill bottle,” he said. “They were looking for drugs; that’s obvious. When they break in they’re looking for drugs, money or guns. There have been reports of other break-ins like that around the neighborhood. I’m thinking of putting a sign on my back door saying none of that stuff is in my house.” 

He says they dropped a pill bottle outside when they figured it had no value for them. On the other hand, they took his dog. Who knows why thieves take dogs?

My friend has lived in his east side neighborhood some 25 years now. He’s a city employee, one of the people whose pensions are in question with Detroit’s bankruptcy. Now he’s thinking about putting in security doors and an alarm system. But unlike the suggestion from Police Chief James Craig, he’s not ready to get a gun.

“I don’t know if I want to have that around the house,” he says.

So for the time being he’s sitting tight. Although he admits that in the long run, “I’ve got to think about if I’m going to stay or not. I’m taking measures for now, but I have to consider that. It’s not easy to do quickly.”

Another friend of mine has been considering moving out of Detroit. He’s had three break-ins to his condo near Lafayette and St. Aubin, and been mugged at gunpoint twice. In the second mugging he was carrying a box from his car into his home when he was accosted by a guy with a gun. Fed up with it all, he shoved his box into the assailant and went into attack mode. The guy ran off. 

Oh, and he’s had the catalytic converter stolen off his car.

He’s decided to stay for now, hoping his property value will go up in a few years. In the meantime he’s trying to make his place less vulnerable, with plans to replace two large sliding glass doors in the rear of his place with something more secure, trying to figure out if he can put spikes or broken glass atop a wall behind his place, and considering other measures.

The development he lives in was recently ensconced behind a fence with a security gate. I guess it’s safer for him but makes it harder for me to get there. It’s also difficult to turn around if I drive up to the gate and nobody is home. Oops, call before you come.

Seeing recent reports about homeowners shooting intruders who have broken into their homes has caught his attention.

“I hope people get the message that if you go into someone’s house you can get shot,” he says.

But he won’t be one of those shooting. He, too, isn’t ready to get a gun. He was never home when his break-ins occurred; the same goes for my other friend. They didn’t have to face their interlopers. My sense is that robbers prefer not to run into residents either. They case homes and figure out when you’re not there. That makes for an easier robbery all around — in and out with no angry homeowners to contend with.

Living in Detroit can be complicated.

I had a break-in about 15 years ago. I left a window open and someone pushed the screen out. I was sleeping upstairs with a window air conditioning unit and didn’t hear a thing. I never had to confront an intruder.

I’m not a gun guy either, but when I imagine confronting an intruder inside my house I think I’d do whatever is necessary to protect my family. I don’t anticipate that happening. I have a good-sized dog who barks most times when someone is just walking past the house. That’s about the only time he seems menacing. Whenever someone comes inside he likes to rub against them and get some petting. 

I hope just the barking makes anyone contemplating a break-in at my house change his mind. 

The problem with guns is that there are more problems with them in a home than advantages. An Emory University study in the 1990s found that weapons in homes were fired more often in accidents, criminal assaults (not from intruders), homicides and accidents than for self-defense. Results showed there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings and 11 suicides or attempts for every one time a gun was shot in self-defense.  Several times a year we hear about a situation when children found guns and someone accidentally gets killed. A gun in the home does not make me feel safer. If it makes you feel safer I guess that’s up to you.

Even so, in a beleaguered time in a beleaguered place it’s kind of feel-good news when you hear about a fiftysomething woman shooting an intruder dead in her home. It’s an easy-to-understand “good guy triumphs over bad guy” situation. 

In another recent incident a guy shot and killed a 19-year-old man, and injured a 19-year-old woman who broke into his home. The shooter, a 47-year-old man, knew the woman, and, from what I could glean, the break-in was part of an escalating situation. Maybe it could have been avoided with some intervention earlier. But I don’t blame him for protecting himself.

The problem is this: Someday soon somebody is going to accidentally kill a loved one making unfamiliar noises in the house at night. 

Even in cases where someone justifiably kills an intruder, the aftermath can be devastating. My nephew is a detective in Elkhart, Ind. He responded to a case a couple of years ago when a group of young teens broke into a home. The homeowner came out shooting. He killed one and injured another. The case was featured on the Dr. Phil show a few months back because the surviving teenagers received stiff prison sentences for murder. They didn’t kill anyone but a death occurred during their crime so they faced the charges. 

The homeowner who did the shooting did not appear on the Dr. Phil show. My nephew, who has kept in contact with the man, says he didn’t want to appear on the show. He doesn’t want to talk about it publicly, and has emotional problems due to the incident.

You don’t just kill someone and walk away unscathed by the event. When police kill a criminal, they are required to talk to a counselor. It’s standard procedure. Killing someone is not necessarily as simple as “me good, you bad.”

So it’s a tough situation wherein the more immediate sense of safety overrules the more long-term safety of creating a sensible and just society where people don’t feel the need to defend themselves. Even if you feel the need to have a gun, you’ll be safer when getting involved with neighbors and working to address local issues, empowering young people in correct ways and enhancing economic justice. 

It’s a long, hard slog that’s not about instant gratification. It’s easier to just pick up a gun and say, “I’m going to protect me and mine.” However, most of us know the easy way out is seldom the best way.