Another meaningless poll

Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to a post by Thomas Lifson on the results of a BBC phone-in and email poll that allowed people to propose a new law that they would like to see passed. The winning proposal was a law that would allow home-owners to use any means to defend their home from intruders. Stephen Pound, the MP who agreed to put forward the proposal, said that it was "unworkable". Lifson's comment on all this was:

MP Pound's disdain for popular opinion is typical of not only British, but Western European elites, who consider themselves, and the nations whose public policies they control, to be vastly superior to the uncivilized Yanks, who carry guns and execute vicious criminals. Public opinion polls show that a majority of Britons favor capital punishment, but there is virtually no chance it will be re-introduced to Britain anytime soon.

Segments of the British public have been outraged over the jailing of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who shot a burglar who had broken into his house. In all probability, this outraged fuelled the votes which selected resulted in victory for the self-defense (or 'vigilante') law which won the BBC poll.

However, results of phone-in polls are meaningless since the sample is self-selected. It may be that popular opinion supports a law that allows home-owners to kill burglars even if it isn't in self-defence, but the poll does not tell us that. It just tells us that some people feel strongly enough to phone in (possibly multiple times).

Lifson omits some details about the Tony Martin case to make it seem outrageous. Martin shot an unarmed, fleeing, 16-year-old burglar in the back, while the burglar was begging for mercy, and left him to die. The jury decided that the shooting was not self-defence.

Update: Michael Peckham, Kieran Healy and Kevin Baker also comment.

Thomas Lifson responds in an update, writing:

My post was about the BBC's poll, and its (and the MP's)arrogant rejection of the results, when they were surprised and displeased by them.

However, the BBC did not reject the results. Pound will advance the proposal just as he said he would, even though he personally thinks that it is unworkable.

Two additional points. The jury who convicted Martin has a vastly better claim of being representative of the community than the self-selected group who want to change the law. The jury decided that Martin had not acted in self-defence. The folks who want to change the law, don't like the decision of the community as represented by the jury, so they want to stop juries from making decisions on the matter altogether. Who's being elitist here?

Martin hated Gypsies. He "talked of putting Gypsies in the middle of a field, surrounding it with barbed wire and machine gunning them." He believed that "Hitler was right" in his policies towards Gypsies. Now, maybe this was all just talk. But if it wasn't and the proposed law was passed, Martin could implement his own mini-Final Solution for Gypsies, killing with impunity any who broke into his house.

Update 2: There's been all kinds of discussion of this on the web: Hit and Run, Harry's Place, Misha, and Mark Steyn. Steyn claims

The fact that most homeowners are believed to be armed reduces crime, in my neighbourhood, to statistically insignificant levels.

However, actual crime figures from the US contradict his claim. In The Effects of Gun Prevalence on Burglary: Deterrence vs Inducement Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig find:

The proposition that widespread gun ownership serves as a deterrent to residential burglary is widely touted by advocates, but the evidence is weak, consisting of anecdotes, interviews with burglars, casual comparisons with other countries, and the like. A more systematic exploration requires data on local rates of gun ownership and of residential burglary, and such data have only recently become available. In this paper we exploit a new well-validated proxy for local gun-ownership prevalence---the proportion of suicides that involve firearms---together with newly available geo-coded data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, to produce the first systematic estimates of the net effects of gun prevalence on residential burglary patterns. The importance of such empirical work stems in part from the fact that theoretical considerations do not provide much guidance in predicting the net effects of widespread gun ownership. Guns in the home may pose a threat to burglars, but also serve as an inducement, since guns are particularly valuable loot. Other things equal, a gun-rich community provides more lucrative burglary opportunities than one where guns are more sparse. The new empirical results reported here provide no support for a net deterrent effect from widespread gun ownership. Rather, our analysis concludes that residential burglary rates tend to increase with community gun prevalence.

More like this

I do like Lifson's disinglennuousness in his 'update': he offers all sorts of pontificating puffery based upon dodgy premises, then tells Tim to 'blame the BBC'. And the Blimp of Knoxville nods, approvingly.

The general population seem more in favour of the idea than Radio4's results would indicate,
according to the Guardian/Observer's survey from early last year.,13260,942118,00.html
"Do you think it is acceptable or unacceptable for householders to use potentially deadly force to
protect their property against intruders?
Acceptable 68%
Unacceptable 32%

There is strong support for householders using potentially deadly force to protect property against
intruders. The results indicate a considerable level of support for the view that criminals forfeit
certain rights when illegally entering a property. "

The Observer survey seems to be asking a different question. The majority think that it is OK to use a gun to defend against a burglar, but that is already lawful. I'm not sure that support would be as high for allowing the use of "any means" as the proposed law suggests.

The question is actually: "Do you think it is acceptable or unacceptable for householders to use potentially deadly force to protect their property against intruders?" If people understood the question as it was asked, they're saying not that it's ok to use lethal force against a physical attack (which, yes, is technically legal but decided case-by-case by juries) but "to protect their property" which is illegal, unless you interpret "potentially" so broadly to mean a shove that could lead to a fall which could possibly lead to a broken neck or an aneurysm...

Just a point here, the criminal in question is inside your house, correct? The criminal has already broken the law and has the potential to harm you or your family--am I correct so far?

And it is somehow bloodthirsty to want the right to defend oneself and one's family against a person who has already shown utter disregard for the law? It is wrong to want to be able to defend oneself against someone caught in the commission of a crime without fear of legal penalty?

The victim should take the time to determine what is 'appropriate force'? Failure to do so is an actionable crime?

In my opinion, Mr Martin acted responsibly and reasonably in shooting a burglar, regardless of the burglar's facing at the instant of impact. In most of America, this case would have been stopped either by the prosecutors declining to send the case to a grand jury, or by the grand jury itself. I've spent some sleepless nights running from window to window with a shotgun to keep the bastards out, waiting and waiting for the cops to arrive. If any of them had come in, I would have shot them dead without hesitation, and likely faced no criminal charges.

Everyone has the right to do the same, to secure their home and person. Bringing the law in harmony with this basic, fundamental human right is a noble and achievable goal.

I just noticed the bit about how Mr Martin "could implement his own mini-Final Solution for Gypsies, killing with impunity any who broke into his house." Isn't the critical thing here the breaking in, not the Gypsyness? The race of the criminal has no bearing on the rectitude of the shooting.

Brendan Fearon's father has every sympathy for Norfolk farmer Tony Martin even though he shot his son.

The father of the Newark burglar, now serving three years for breaking into Bleak House Farm, said Martin was only protecting his own property and that the three thieves should have known better.

Mr Joseph Fearon (pictured right), Newark Hospital's first ever male auxiliary nurse - now retired, said he loves his 30-year-old son but prays this experience will change him for the better.

Mr Fearon (65) said: "I feel sorry for the farmer.

" It was his house, his home and they should never have been there.

" He was protecting his own property.

" I pity him.

"The worst tragedy in all this is that a 16-year-old boy has needlessly lost his life over a few bits of silver.

"It is such a waste, such a waste."

Brendan Fearon, a key prosecution witness in the Martin murder trial, lived at home with his parents on Mercia Road, Newark.

He suffered shotgun blasts to the legs and thighs when Martin opened up on him and Fred Barras. Doctors found 196 pellets in Fearon's body.

Said Mr Fearon: "People have to be able to protect their own homes from burglary.

"People work hard for what they have got and it must be soul destroying to have it snatched away."

Fearon, a father of one, was able to escape by wrenching a window frame free and scrambling clear.

He raised the alarm by dragging himself to a neighbouring property and the police were called.

Barras was found the next day in an orchard.

He had bled to death from shotgun wounds.

Despite the age difference Fearon (30) and Barras (16) were close friends and Mr Fearon said his son still feels the loss keenly.

He said he still awakes at night with the sound of Fred's screams ringing in his ears.

Speaking of Martin's failure to alert the authorities about the shooting, Mr Fearon said: "To leave like that and not call anyone - that was wrong."

Meanwhile, Fearon and fellow-thief Darren Bark have been split-up since they were gaoled because they clashed on the inside.

Fearon and Bark (34) were both in Norwich Prison where they are serving three years and 3 years respectively.

Both had supervision orders placed on them by gaol warders but Fearon has now been transferred to Weyland Griston gaol in Thetford, Norfolk.

Fearon, whose parents were in court to see him testify, visit him whenever possible.

Bark's parents were both killed in a car crash when he was a youngster and he has been in and out of prison.

His girlfriend Dawn Jessop is now pregnant with his first child.

C'mon Tim, you quote Cook and Ludwig? Where is your virtual grain of salt? These are the same guys who carried out a general gun survey for the US DOJ in 1997, and found, to their dismay that it reported 1.5 million defensive gun uses per year. They somehow explained it away as incorrect, but said that the rest of the survey was reliable. Naturally.

Kevin P, as usual you don't know what you are talking about. Cook and Ludwig gave very good reasons for believing that 1.5 million number was not correct. If you think there reasons are wrong, you have to give actual arguments, not just ignore them.

Tim Lambert wrote:
Kevin P, as usual you don't know what you are talking about.

LOL. What is the reason for this pettiness? Do you automatically assume that everyone you debate with is ignorant?

My copy of the NSPOF survey is

Cook and Ludwig conducted a survey, that in part, dealt with defensive gun uses. (DGUs) In order to assess DGUs, they did this:

Each of the respondents in the NSPOF was asked the question, "Within the past 12 months, have you yourself used a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or someone else, or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere?" Answers in the affirmative were followed with "How many different times did you use a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or property in the past 12 months?" Negative answers to the first DGU question were followed by "Have you ever used a gun to defend yourself or someone else?" (emphasis in original). Each respondent who answered yes to either of these DGU questions was asked a sequence of 30 additional questions concerning the most recent defensive gun use in which the respondent was involved, including the respondent's actions with the gun, the location and other circumstances of the incident, and the respondent's relationship to the perpetrator.

Note that they asked DGU respondents 30 questions. This gave them a huge (and probably skewed) DGU estimate of 23 millions. So they used Kleck and Gertz's criteria to narrow down the range to 1.5 million, which correlated quite well with Kleck and Gertz's findings.

But they found this troubling. (I can only assume this meaning from the next sentence, which begins with Some Troubling Comparisons)

What follows is a few paragraphs of verbal gymnastics while the good professors attempt to explain away this troubling discovery. They meander through a discussion on false positives, but finally, it comes down to this:

The key explanation for the difference between the 108,000 NCVS estimate for the annual number of DGUs and the several million from the surveys discussed earlier is that NCVS avoids the false-positive problem by limiting DGU questions to persons who first reported that they were crime victims. Most NCVS respondents never have a chance to answer the DGU question, falsely or otherwise.

But what Ludwig and Cook fail to appreciate is that in many cases of DGU, the gun is used before the crime is completed to prevent the commission of the crime. If I prevent the commission of a crime, then by definition, I am not the victim of a crime, and hence will be knocked out of the NCVS survey immediately. This simple perspective, which I can attest is very prevalent in the culture of Middle America, does not seem to penetrate the ivory tower of Georgetown & Duke.

As a tangible example, let us consider two recent cases:

  • Case 1:
    The use of a gun to prevent a crime before it was completed.

    The bandit was wounded in the upper body when the owner of the business grabbed a gun from under the counter and fired.

    The suspect ended up with nothing for his effort except "a bunch of lead," said Capt. Ron Stoner, a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office supervisor.

  • Case 2:
    The use of a gun to apprehend a criminal after the crime was completed.


    Combs had stopped to let a truck and trailer heading west on Highway 9 go by ... as the truck and trailer by him passed by, Combs suddenly realized why the trailer seemed so familiar to him.

    "He drove by and I thought 'Hey, that's my trailer!'" Combs said.

    Combs recognized the trailer as the C&C Quality Building trailer he had left parked at his store, Longtown Texaco.

I actually live in the gun culture of Middle America and can assure you that in Case 1, the business owner would not consider himself a victim of an armed robbery. Why? Because he prevented it, that's why, bubba! In Case 2, the citizen might reasonably say that his trailer had been stolen, but after all, since he took it back, he still might not consider himself a victim of a robbery.

Cook and Ludwig cannot seem to understand this simple perspective. Perhaps, being perpetually unarmed, they have no concept of refusing to be a victim.

I am a volunteer for the KABA Operation Self Defense web site. You can read many stories of armed self-defense at: You will note that most of them end with the crime being prevented. I will assert that many if not most of the citizens who defended themselves with guns will likely say that they were not victims of a robbery. And these cases are unrepresentative because in order for a story to get into a newspaper, somebody likely had to get shot. So there are even larger numbers of unreported DGUs where nobody got shot and the presence of a gun resulted in a crime being prevented and a criminal being scared away. Few if any of these cases will make it to the NCVS, which first asks if the respondent was a victim of a crime.

Having said all the above, I will say that attempting to quantify the prevention of aggravated assault is dubious. Unlike many other crimes, assault has many degrees ranging from pushing someone to inflicting a severe life threatening beating. If I prevented an assault at the outset by using a gun, I would likely not know what the end result would have been. This problem is generally not present for other crimes like robbery and rape.

Kevin P, I do not assume that everyone who disagrees with me is ignorant. In this case you have demonstrated that you don't know what you are talking about. You seem to think that the NCVS asks some question like "were you a crime victim?". It does not. The question that is relevant to your first case is "Did anyone TRY to rob you?" If the merchant was surveyed by the NCVS, he would presumably have answered "Yes" and this incident would have been counted by the NCVS as a DGU. The NCVS is designed to count attempted crimes as well as completed ones.You attack Cook and Ludwig as ignorant when you are the ignorant one.

Just a real quick question.
I'm sure you are a normal, empithetic liberal so it should be no problem to put yourself in anothers shoes and answer the question.
IF you were a person out to do harm to another and you had a choice between a person you knew was armed and a person you knew wasn't armed, who would you choose, with all other factors being equal?
You may answer simply with:
A) the armed person.
B) the unarmed person.
Any long winded answer will prove you are trying to worm out and are full of _hit.


I anticipate Tim will not answer. But I am another liberal who on the whole agrees with Tim on gun control issues. My answer would be B. So what?

By Mark Frank (not verified) on 09 Jan 2006 #permalink

The obvious answer is B.

Now explain how criminals would know in advance which houses had guns.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 09 Jan 2006 #permalink

What kind of point can be made with these simplistic binary choices? That children should carry guns to ward off bullies?

But I must say, in light of recent revelations about the Murrican gummint, I'm with the gun nuts these days. Politics makes strange bedfellows...

I'm for gun control, BTW. The opposite reasoning than in 15 is also true: guys aren't such tough guys without guns.



Oh, B. But it's a silly question since I'm not actually out to do harm to another person so it doesn't make any difference. If you want to have a serious discussion, try finding out what criminals would do and how they behave when there are more guns around.

If you want to have a serious discussion, try finding out what criminals would do and how they behave when there are more guns around.

Or see how many tough guys are around when there are no guns.

The chances of getting your *ss beat go up if you have no gun, and thus aren't a big man who'll cap someone's *ss if they look at you the wrong way. Gangsta boy. Homie with a piece.



"IF you were a person out to do harm to another and you had a choice between a person you knew was armed and a person you knew wasn't armed, who would you choose, with all other factors being equal?
You may answer simply with:
A) the armed person.
B) the unarmed person.
Any long winded answer will prove you are trying to worm out and are full of _hit."

Yeah, I'm always looking to do harm to anyone I can, so I just take my advantages as they come.