Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Promoting crime

Instapundit links to a couple of pieces about the alarming rate of burglaries in Britain, especially “hot burglaries”, which take place when the resident is at home. Dave Kopel points out two reasons why “hot” burglaries are far more prevalent in Britain than in the US. One of them, of course, is that guns are legal in America. He writes:

[W]hen an American burglar strikes at an occupied residence, his chance of being shot is about equal to his chance of being sent to prison. According to a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about half a million incidents every year in which an American burglar is scared away by a victim with a firearm.

Putting aside the issue of guns, the British homeowners are still at a terrible disadvantage. For example, if 300 pounds of what the British call a “yob” (or what Americans call “white trash”) kicks down a woman’s front door, and begins pummeling her with his fists, her only hope might be to fight back with a kitchen knife. In America, the woman’s use of the knife would be plainly legal. In Britain, the woman would be presumed to have illegally escalated the confrontation (the yob was just using his fists, and she escalated by using a deadly weapon). The government could put her on trial for attempted murder, and she would have to prove to the jury that she responded “proportionately” to the attack.

Mark Steyn, in an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph, writes:

One of the key measures of a society's health is how easily you can insulate yourself from its underclass. In America, unless one resides in a very small number of problematic inner-city quarters or wishes to make a career in the drug trade, one will live a life blessedly untouched by crime. In Britain, alas, it's the peculiar genius of Home Office policy to have turned the entire country into one big, rundown, inner-city, no-go slum estate, extending from prosperous suburbs to leafy villages, even unto Upper Cheyne Row.

There is no columnist I enjoy reading, and agree with, more than Steyn, but I take issue with his first line here. Surely a better measure of “a society’s health” would be not how you can insulate yourself from its underclass, but the nature and extent of the underclass itself. And there, too, Britain’s welfare state has been a failure. No one writes on that subject better than Theodore Dalrymple, and here’s one of his finest essays: “The Frivolity of Evil”.

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