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March 09, 2007

Guns, self-defense, and burglary

Best Christmas Card Ever, originally uploaded by changoblanco.

Heaven forfend, Matt Yglesias wants a gun to defend himself against burglars. (Matt also enjoys target practice, which seems like a perfectly good reason to buy a gun, but not a very good reason to keep said gun in the home.)

I don't mean to minimize Matt's concern about burglary. B&Es are a big problem in his neighborhood. His friend and neighbor Julian Sanchez had a nasty run-in with a burglar just a few weeks ago.

I've never understood why anyone would keep a gun in their home to protect themselves from burglars. If you has a violent stalker ex, or someone who was was bent on invading your home in order to hurt you, I could see the rationale for being armed. But buying a gun to protect against burglars is no protection at all. It's not like you're going to stand guard every night to deter them.

Turning on the lights to find the gun is enough scare off the average burglar. I know at least a half-dozen people who have scared off burglars (deliberately or involuntarily) just by alerting the would-be thief to their presence. The burglar isn't there to fight you hand-to-hand for your iPod. Confrontations with the homeowner go against the whole burglary business model.

Inserting a gun into an interrupted burglary is probably unnecessary and likely counterproductive because you have no idea how the burglar's going to react. Desperate criminals are human, too. I'm not pointing this out as a plea for compassion. I'm just noting that strung-out junkies at gunpoint are at least as likely to do something stupid as your average person. Maybe they're armed, too. Maybe they'll panic and try to get the gun away from you. Maybe they'll succeed. Or, maybe you'll panic and shoot them.

It might make sense be armed if you were someone who couldn't call the cops (i.e., a drug dealer), or if you kept your entire lifesavings in uninsured jewels in a candy dish on the kitchen table. But does anyone really want to risk physical violence to protect their consumer electronics? That's what insurance is for.

You can get really good renter's insurance for a lot less than you'd spend on a handgun, a gun safe, ammo, and a gun club membership (for the target practice you'd need to be effective in an emergency).

Keeping a gun at home to protect against robbers seems like an especially silly idea in a big city where the police can arrive at the scene in less time than it takes to open your gun safe, load your gun, and confront the burglar.

If you're already getting burglarized, do you really want to add to your problems by confronting a desperate criminal with your own loaded weapon? That's as dumb as trying to fight a mugger for your wallet.


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I imagine this line of reasoning won't get very far with gun fanatics. Notice, I didn't say gun owners, I'm just talking about the guys that have this fantastical, almost pornographic, relationship with their firearms. [Read More]


Friend of mine keeps a shotgun around. The iconic sound of racking a shell should be enough to scare people off.

If you need to you can hit people in the dark.
he uses rock salt, which will hurt like hell but shouldn't kill people.

At it's root, I think the whole gun thing is mostly about the fact that males don't have enough heroic roles in this society. Having a gun and some ammo in the closet helps prop up the insecure guy who needs to think he is protecting the family and somehow warding off evil intruders.

And a Happy Christmas to You, Too!

Well argued.

totally off-topic, but you would be great for this:

Well argued, as Marc says, but reasoning that is completely lost on anyone who's skittish enough to think they'd better get a gun to protect themselves and their families from "all the crazies out there." Few humans are truly capable of accurate cost/benefit analyses.


Your friend has it exactly right. He also won't risk his neighbors with a miss. Unlike a handgun. And the point about the sound of a shotgun shell be chambered is spot on. even thinking about that sound makes me cringe a bit.

What if the rock salt doesn't scare them off? Do you keep another weapon handy to finish them off with if they decide to fight back?

My self-defense weapons of choice are a shotgun loaded with rock salt + axe.

My self-defense weapons of choice are a shotgun loaded with rock salt + axe.

I think a baseball bat would be plenty after taking a few rounds of rock salt. But an axe would do in a pinch.

The axe isn't as lethal as a sword against an unarmored opponent, but it is able to penetrate plate armor.

How does one load a shotgun with rock salt?
Is this a "load your own" activity?
Black powder?
Ebay shells?
I have never seen these at Dick's, though I have heard this
practice referred to since I was a kid.
Please dish.

How does one load a shotgun with rock salt?

I was assuming a load-your-own activity replacing the buckshot or birdshot (the metal pellets) with rocksalt. Knowing the internet, though, it's likely there is a site that sells all the major shotgun shell sizes filled with rock salt. If not, it'll be available soon.

BUTLER: Patty, come here. Who the hell was this Bill Roundtree?

PATTY: Well, he was real well-known.

BUTLER: I mean, who said he shot him?

PATTY: I told you. Everybody. He shot him with a derringer.

BUTLER: That man? That man never killed anybody.

The folks at Season Shot sell edible spiced birdshot pellets. I bet the cayenne-based ones would really smart.

The folks at Season Shot sell edible spiced birdshot pellets. I bet the cayenne-based ones would really smart.

Ouch...that stings!

The druggies know that if they try to steal my housemate's PS2, first I'll pepper them with rock salt, then I'll hack them to death. Then I'll pour rock salt on them.

They know this, and avoid our apartment. I think they have some grudging respect for me.

first I'll pepper them with rock salt, then I'll hack them to death. Then I'll pour rock salt on them.

Now that's just adding insult to injury.

I'm thinking this rock salt thing is something of a "rural" legend.
Modern shells don't seem friendly to this sort of activity and
who would want to fill their shotgun with powdered salt?
I was wondering if people just said "rock salt" to make the non-violent
folks fell better about people being shot.
Just wondering, as I really don't know.

Now that's just adding insult to injury.

You mean "in-salt", right?

It's all fun and games until one day when Matt's out, the babysitter's on the phone, and li'l Spackerman and a friend start rooting through Matt's drawers for toys.

> At it's root, I think the whole gun thing is mostly about the fact
> that males don't have enough heroic roles in this society. Having a
> gun and some ammo in the closet helps prop up the insecure guy who
> needs to think he is protecting the family and somehow warding off
> evil intruders.

Global Yokel: You really should try to avoid engaging in such contempt without investigation.

For most people, the whole gun thing is about not wanting to be attacked by violent people. In many places, the fear of being attacked is just that, fear. In others (like DC, Houston, LA and Detroit, to name a few examples), it's more than just a fear, it's a possibility that cannot be ignored.

Perhaps in your corner of America you can walk around at night with $100 bills pinned to your shirt and not risk getting robbed or anything, but where Matt lives in DC (like in my town, Houston), it doesn't exactly work that way.

Now Lindsay is mostly right when it comes to burglars, in that they can be scared off easily. In the past, I have simply shouted something like, "honey where's my M-16?" loud enough for the would-be intruder to hear me. And it worked great - he took off.

If burglaries were the only thing one had to worry about, she would be right, one wouldn't need to really own a gun at all. And for years, I never owned a gun and felt perfectly safe - and quite manly, I guess - not owning one.

But not that I live in Houston, where home invasions are a regular occurrence - one occurred just a few blocks from my home recently, in fact - things have changed, and now I own guns. You see, home invasions differ greatly from burglaries, in that the intruders brazenly burst into your home - literally kick down your front door - and typically shoot all adult males present, usually to death, then rob the place and at least some of the time rape adult females if they feel so inclined.

Because of this violent tendency on their part - and because the last owner of my house had a son who was a drug dealer who had a track record for not fulfilling his orders very well, apparently - I cannot accept Lindsay's advice - or your criticism - and go without a weapon, since if my home is invaded, I can almost certainly expect to be shot and likely killed. It would be severely unintelligent of me to leave myself exposed to that risk, knowing the risk is there.

So I choose to keep a pair of shotguns in my house: one upstairs and one downstairs, just in case. If I am more than likely going to be killed by a home invader, I intend for the would be home invader to work very hard for it!

But I own two shotguns simply to stop a possible home invasion. Period. And having served in the US Army - and fought in one of Mr. Reagan's colonial wars - I know how to use weapons. But I would love to live in New Zealand, Vermont or Vancouver or wherever, where maybe I could live without owning any guns. (If Vermont had a bigger job market, I'd move there in a heartbeat - ironically, they have very liberal gun laws, btw.) Honestly, I would, because I hate guns. I don't consider guns to be fun, I don't consider them to be toys to play with, I don't like hunting, I don't even like first person shooter video games. I hate the NRA as well, btw, and I consider Republicans to be little more than a legalized form of organized crime disguised as a political party.

But I won't hesitate to protect my life and the lives of my wife and family. And I think it is unreasonable to ask anyone living in a high crime district to forego owning a weapon.

And btw, Matt should forget about pistols and get a shotgun as well. I have never had to fire my shotguns except in practice, but I have used them a couple of times to scare of would-be burglars by simply jacking the pump action handle to intimidate them into leaving.

Totally caving into the gun lobby, methinks.

There are a lot of non-lethal ways to protect the home against burglars. Locks, for starters. Blinding lights, loud noises. Mace. Stun guns. Tasers. Pepper spray.

Unless you think the home invader is specifically there to hurt you, you probably don't need to do much to scare him away.

Having said all that, Matt of course has the right to own a gun. I just don't think it's the right way to go. I think the odds that any gun will be used in "home defense" are slim compared to it being used in anger or by accident.

I think the odds that any gun will be used in "home defense" are slim compared to it being used in anger or by accident.

I had heard (again, may be legend) that statistically the gun is more likely to be used against the homeowner than the intruder.
Another thing I have heard is that a homeowner will say something like: "Stop or I will shoot", where upon the intruder, if armed, will do so. Basically, Lindsay's argument is supposedly supported by statistics, but with no link it is more than unproven. If you do get a gun, get a lot of training, keep it very locked, unloaded, and ammo separate. This is the only safe way to deal with a gun, but it makes it less useful during a robbery, bit of a catch-22 one might say. Maybe a strong light and a bat is better?

as a criminal defense lawyer, i differetiate between home invaders and burglars. a "burglar" just wants to get the stuff and run. home invaders like the excitement that the home is occupied. that said, my advice to people who fear for their safety is to get an aluminum baseball bat or a machete and a can of mace. a high end paintball gun might even be useful not to mention a bright flashlight. if tasers are legal in your area, consider one of those. guns just cause trouble. some peopel even use a hatchet or axe. if your gun is stolen some criminal will be well-armed. you are not likely to shoot fast enough because if you shoot too fast you will end up in jail. if he takes it from you, you are really in a jam. most likely scenario is family member or neighbor is "accidentally" shot. next most likely is child or spouse commits suicide with it. so no guns please but feel free to load up on pre-firearm edged weapons and clubs. your truly. pili

Re: Rock Salt

You would not use table salt to make a rock salt shotgun shell. You would use road salt. Nice big chunks. A shotgun shell is made of 5 parts; a shell casing, a primer, a powder charge, a wad, and the shot load. The shell casing is of course the brass and plastic thing you put in the shotgun. The primer is the little explosive in a copper cap that when struck by the firing pin of the shotgun discharges the powder in the bottom of the shell casing. The wad is a buffer between the powder and shot load. The wad also holds the shot load together down the barrel as it is blown down the barrel as well.

So the steps are as follows: you take a new shell casing, you insert a primer on a shotgun reloading press, you fill each shell with a pre-measure charge of gunpowder, you tamp the wad into the shell casing and then you load a pre-measured charge of shot. You then crimp the top of the shell casing on the press to finish off the shell.

Now would rock salt make it down the barrel without melting? Don't know.

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