Vigilante justice only makes crime worse

I wrote this opinion piece for the Irish Independent earlier this week.

GALWAY City Councillor Padraig Conneely is being irresponsible in suggesting that putting a burglar on a slab would put an end to robberies in his area.

Shooting burglars does not solve the problem of crime. It causes the problem to escalate, because criminals who fear being shot will be more likely to arm themselves.

And it causes us all to live in a society where guns and violence are accepted as part of everyday life.

We’ve seen how that worked out during The Troubles, where thugs controlled the streets and summonsed petty criminals to be shot in the knees.

In 2008, the US Supreme Court upheld the right to possess a gun for self-defence. That overturned a gun ban in the District of Columbia, which had found that for every intruder stopped by a homeowner with a gun, there were four gun-related accidents within the home.

The same committee had found that guns were more often involved in deaths among relatives and friends than in criminal activities, and that a quarter of anger-related shootings occurred within families.

There is no easy solution to the problem of crime, but vigilante justice makes it worse. And that is not even taking into account the psychological trauma of knowing that you have shot a person.

My wife and I once came home to find people burgling our house. They had locked the front door from the inside, as I discovered when I tried to open it. Our response? I rang the gardai, shouted that they were on the way, and the intruders fled.

Most burglars do not want confrontation. And those that are prepared for a fight are more desperate to win.

It may be different for you. You may be a martial arts expert, or a professional boxer, facing a burglar whom you are confident that you can apprehend. But for most householders, the most prudent response is to avoid confrontation.

The best advice may seem so old as to be boring, but it remains the best advice. Install and set a burglar alarm. Keep your doors and windows locked. Report suspicious activity to the gardai. Don’t leave cash or valuables where they can be seen. Don’t leave implements outside your house that could be used to break in.

Install a security latch, and don’t let anyone into your home unless you know who they are. Don’t hire tradespeople who call door to door.

Be proactive: in our area, we as neighbours collected money to jointly install security gates on the lane behind our houses. That effectively stopped a spate of burglaries, without anybody getting shot.

It may sound macho for a councillor to announce that he will act like he is in a Wild West movie, but we can aspire to a more ethical society than that.

Vigilante justice only makes crime worse

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