You should be allowed to brutally kill anyone you like, what are you, communist or something?

There aren't a lot of things to love about reading the right wing press and the assorted blogs that orbit around it, but one of the the few is the sight of grown adults convinced that life in 21st Century UK is exactly like a dodgy 80s film set in the Bronx, that given half the chance they'd be as badass as Snake Plissken, John Rambo and the Punisher all rolled into one bladed, spiky ball of tough-guy awesomeness and the only thing that's stopping them taking out the trash is the lily-livered liberal laws that favour criminals.

In fact, the only thing that comes close to being as good is watching the logical contortions they have to go through to maintain the illusion.

Usually, you get outbursts of armchair-Plisskenism after some tory MP or other pretends we're not allowed to defend ourselves in our own homes, which of course we already are. Clang clang clang, goes Pavlov's bell. "Wuurgh! The law loves criminals and hates the victims! What about my rights? If anyone touches my kids I swear I'll do time!" goes every blowhard in the country.

The last big outburst I can remember came just before the last election, when David Cameron's advisors made him push a matchstick between his teeth, glare a steely-eyed thousand yard stare and growl, "The moment a burglar steps over your threshold and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside. Crime is a disease. I'm the cure."*

 They backed this up by pretending that changing the word 'unreasonable' to 'grossly disproportionate' in a law would make any difference to anything, ever.

Rubbish, right? But it worked! Any suggestion that the law already allows you to defend yourself, backed up with a list of cases where people have killed burglars and been acquitted can be successfully countered with Tony Martin. Or maybe Munir Hussain.

You can't be allowed to defend yourself in your own home because this one guy chased a man out of his house and called his mates to come and beat him with a cricket bat and an iron bar until he was brain damaged and the cricket bat broke, and the man doing the beating ended up going to prison. (And then being let out on appeal - but let's forget that bit). Imagine that!

In the last couple of days, there's been a bit of tabloid outrage over the arrest of Vincent Cooke, who allegedly stabbed an intruder to death at the weekend. It's been a little bit muted because so far there's only been an arrest, but the news has still managed to make the front pages on the strength of the arrest rather than the killing.

Even so, the Sun, which is usually the worst for arguing in favour of being able to stab the shit out of anyone who acts shiftily within a three mile radius of your house, was careful in its coverage to emphasise that he's only been arrested, and two other men who'd been arrested for something similar in recent months had been acquitted on self-defence grounds.

This hasn't stopped a couple of commentators jumping the gun and displaying the 'but Tony Martin' defence of the idea we're not allowed to fight back against burglars, but one has included an interesting new twist.

Steve Doughty, of '5cc tabloid bullshit of the month award' fame has cropped up at the Mail's swanky new blog section, 'Right Minds' with 'Victims should be allowed to fight back against burglars'. So far so meh.

But what's new is that Doughty has looked at the examples the Sun included in its coverage - of the sort that you could have turned up at any time in the last few decades - and used them as evidence that it is okay to defend yourself against burglars now, but in the old days you couldn't, because Tony Martin. It's amazing. 

Creative as it is, it doesn't stand up to five minutes' scrutiny. The reason Martin's case ended up the way it did is because it was complicated. Martin had shot and killed a sixteen year old in the back as he was running away. He did this with a shotgun he owned illegally, since his licence had been revoked after he shot at a motorist. The two burglars he shot apparently thought there was no-one home, and were unarmed as far as I can tell. Martin left the bleeding youth to die.

The two other cases Doughty quotes are way more straightforward. One involves a break-in by someone armed with a machete, and the other involves five men armed with guns and a knife trying to rob a shop. These sorts of cases would always have ended up with an acquittal, but if you'd have pointed out this sort of case before the election to show you are allowed to defend yourself, you'd have been met with the 'you're so not, because Tony Martin' defence.

Doughty's reasoning for the pretend change is that perhaps people were so outraged by the Tony Martin case that the judiciary had to take notice. Ha ha. At least his conclusion wasn't that you can now defend yourself in your home because of David Cameron.

 The right wing blogs can usually be relied on for more of a stereotypical knee-jerk reaction to things when even the press is being a teensy bit more circumspect than usual, and Donal Blaney doesn't disappoint in 'Dead men tell no tales' at Dale & co.** eschewing the mention of the guys who've been recently acquitted. 

Apparently Tony Martin did what a lot of people wish they'd do if they were burgled. I don't know about you, but I think I'd pass on the whole shooting an unarmed, fleeing sixteen year old in the back with an illegally owned shotgun as the result of a paranoid personality disorder thing. Maybe that's just me.

In among the run of the mill "the-law-favours-the-guilty-over-the-innocent" hilarity and the quoting of Cameron's empty macho posturing you'd expect from this sort of thing, there is a little claim that needs a bit of unpicking. It's this:
There's a reason home invasions are less common in states where homeowners make maximum use of their Second Amendment rights. 
Really? This is likely to be purest hogwash. 'Home invasion' is not a legally defined federal offence in the States, so any comparison of rates will be based on something else. Figures about 'home invasions' you find on the internet can often be rubbish.

I have never seen figures that compare states in the US for this sort of thing, and can't find any.*** I did ask in the comments of his piece and on the twitter just in case there actually were some, but wouldn't you know it, people seem to be too busy to reply.

The closest I've ever come is "Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control" by Gary Kleck, a favourite among pro-gun people, in which he compares the rates of burglary in occupied homes from the US, the Netherlands, Canada and the UK.

A few years ago, I wasted a few afternoons reading the study in the British Library and emailing the Home Office and the US Bureau of Justice Statistics only to find out that not only is it rubbish on many, many levels, but people often use it to prove something it doesn't anyway. That 'something' would be anything about 'home invasions'.

Kleck's figures are from the US National Crime Victim Survey's data on burglaries with a household member present. Trouble is, any burglary that results in face to face contact with the intruder is no longer classified as a burglary but a robbery (or whatever crime results from that), so even if Blaney isn't regurgitating some vaguely remembered, well-thumbed claims about Kleck's study that have been passed around and changed urban-legend-stylee over the years, if what he's talking about is based on the US National Crime Survey and burglaries it's useless.

Here's the thing. The reason people who kill or seriously injure burglars or robbers get arrested has precisely bugger all to do with loving the baddies and hating the goodies or PC Gawn Mad. As Blaney's own headline points out, dead men can't tell their tale - they can't let us know how they died. Police arrest people because they need to find out what happened and the person holding the knife might not be telling the truth.****

Blaney, Doughty and much of the rest of the right wing press have jumped to the conclusion that the man who died was a burglar who broke into Vincent Cooke's house armed with a knife in order to rob or do harm, and Cooke was defending himself, his family and his property. This is probably true, but how much more rubbish would the police be if they made the same assumptions when they turned up at a crime scene?

"Honest officer, he broke in and I was in fear for my life - I totally didn't invite him round, stab him several times in the neck and then put his fingerprints on a knife and smash a window. Why yes, I would like a cup of tea thanks." Case closed.

"Absolutely not, officer. I definitely didn't talk him into putting down his knife and then batter him to death with a claw hammer fifteen minutes after he'd calmed down. Two sugars, thanks. " Case closed.

"Why, no officer, I've never seen him before and he totally didn't break in to get the stuff back I nicked from him in a feud and I swear I didn't take advantage of the fact that you no longer arrest people for killing burglars by shooting him in the back. I'll just be loading up the car as you make your enquiries. Ooh yes, a biscuit would be nice." Case closed.

The only way Vincent Cooke or anyone like him will end up in prison is if something more is going on than meets the eye. It's always been the case. Don't believe people who tell you there's been some sort of change, don't believe people who tell you you're not allowed to defend yourself in your own home because this one bloke ended up in prison for shooting a kid in the back with an illegally owned gun while he was running away and leaving him to die.

And just imagine how easy it would be to plan a murder and escape if the police suddenly stopped arresting people for killing burglars. Times that by a gazillion to find out how much easier it would be if a 'burglar' really did forefeit all their rights when they break into your house and you were allowed to kill them even if you weren't in any immediate danger.

"Why yes, officer. I know he's gaffer-taped to a chair and there are bloody pliers on the table next to his ears, and I know it looks like he might have been undergoing some sort of mob-style interrogation when he died of blood loss but look! A broken window! He was a burglar! Yes, I would like help loading my wordly possessions into this 4X4, thank you."

That you need to explain this stuff to grown adults is enough to make you feel like a reception-class teacher. Next week from the pundits, 'Now we're not even allowed to eat glue'. Sheesh.

*I added the last bits myself. I stole them from 'Cobra'. Ho ho. 
**My suggestion for a name for that site was way, way better
***Please put a link in the comments if you've ever seen one. I'd be surprised if it isn't balls.
****I learned about how murderers might lie from Columbo, and because it's, like, all obvious and that. Duh.
Anyone interested in watching all of 1990: The Bronx Warriors (and why wouldn't you be?) it's here on YouTube.

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