Saturday, August 2, 2014

GateHouse: Police, crime and armed citizens

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
August 1, 2014
Theodore Wafer is on trial in the Wayne County Court in Detroit. The 55-year-old Dearborn Heights resident is accused of shooting to death 19-year-old Renisha McBride with a shotgun as she knocked on the front door of his home before dawn one morning last fall.

The trial is reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin case. Martin a black man was killed by a white man. McBride, a black woman, was killed by a white man.

Although McBride was recorded telling police that the shotgun fired by accident, he is claiming self-defense. Much the same way George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in Martin’s death.

Wafer’s lawyers have said he believed McBride was an intruder and his “shoot first, ask questions later” approach is justified. In Detroit, there is a surprising advocate for this approach to dealing with crime.

The Detroit News lead a recent story with this: “Fed up with crime, some armed Detroiters have developed itchy trigger-fingers—and Police Chief James Craig said lawbreakers are getting the message.”

According to the News, “the city has experienced 37 percent fewer robberies in 2014 than during the same period last year, 22 percent fewer break-ins of businesses and homes, and 30 percent fewer carjackings.” The chief believes that an armed populace is an important factor in reducing violent crime. Thugs, muggers and thieves are afraid of law-abiding citizens with guns.

“Criminals are getting the message that good Detroiters are armed and will use that weapon,” Craig told the News. Not surprisingly, the chief was featured in an NRA publication cover story, and his position mirrors what Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said in the wake of the Newtown massacre, “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun … is a good guy with a gun.”

Does an armed populace reduce crime?

An independent research paper published in Harvard’s Journal of Public Law and Policy examined the correlation between gun laws and death rates.

According to Boston Magazine, the paper found, “If more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death, areas within nations with higher gun ownership should in general have more murders than those with less gun ownership in a similar area. But, in fact, the reverse pattern prevails.”

However, another study in Massachusetts, this time at Boston University, compiled data on firearm homicides from all 50 states from 1981-2010, to determine whether there is a relationship between changes in gun ownership and murder using guns.

According to Think Progress, the research revealed that “for each 1 percentage point increase in proportion of household gun ownership … [the] firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent.” A statistically significant movement in gun ownership could increase murders by as much a 12.9 percent.

The concept of self-defense has a long and favorable tradition in both early and modern American jurisprudence. In 2005, additional protections for self-defense began to emerge, reported The Christian Science Monitor. That year Florida became the first state to expand the castle doctrine — the idea that one’s home is one’s castle — to include public spaces. Since then about 30 states have enacted expanded castle doctrine laws known as “stand your ground.”

Chief Craig is far from an anomaly in law enforcement. Last year, conducted a comprehensive nationwide survey of rank and file police officers on gun control. More than 15,000 law enforcement professionals responded.

The survey concluded, “Police overwhelmingly favor an armed citizenry, would like to see more guns in the hands of responsible people, and are skeptical of any greater restrictions placed on gun purchase, ownership, or accessibility.”

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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