Home defence: just how much is too much?

When two youths dressed in the most threatening off all items of clothing; the dreaded ‘hoodie’, peer through your window of a cold January night, while you are minding your own business, peeling the spuds or chopping the carrots, what way would you react? Keep in mind the fact that your baby daughter is sound asleep in her cot upstairs, and you are alone apart from her, in this situation, rather unhelpful presence. Surely it is only human nature to wave the knife that you are already holding to scare off these ‘yobs,’ and insure the safety of your family? This is the debate which has been raging through the newspapers of both Ireland and England for the past few years, but has gained momentum in more recent weeks. The woman in the story described above is former Hear’say singer turned I’m A Celebrity contestant turned Marks and Spencer swimwear model turned judge on forthcoming show that seeks to turn celebrities into opera singers, Mylene Klass.
According to her spokesperson, Klass was not seeking to be a vigilante and does hold the law in the highest regard, but was merely attempting to frighten the trespassers off. Yet, she received a warning from police against brandishing an illegal weapon, even in her own home, that was said to have left her ‘bemused.’ It is a preposterous story, one where it seems the law has more respect for would be burglars than defenceless young women and children in their own homes, but is this the case? With the Conservatives vowing to make it harder for a person tackling a burglar in their home to be prosecuted and the Irish government hot on their heels proposing similar laws, it is an area that needs to be properly addressed.
The last time such a case was in the spotlight in England was the occasion Munir Hussain was jailed after beating a man who tied his family up in their home. On one hand, it is possible to justify Hussain’s actions, but then you read the full story. The intruder was beaten with a cricket bat, and was left permanently brain damaged, reportedly as he was running away. Across the Irish Sea, we are not immune to such cases, there is of course the infamous Padraig Nally tale, of the man jailed for six years for killing John Ward. The outcry at the jailing if the farmer for what was perceived as an act of defending his home against an intruder saw the sentence quashed and Nally acquitted after serving eleven months.
In the reporting of all these stories, the slant that was given was that the law was protecting the criminals at the detriment of the weak, vulnerable and innocent. It is all too easy to perceive such cases in this manner, and dangerously, the Law Reform Commission has been reviewing the area of self defence and has made some recommendations which could culminate in a complete defence of murder and acquittal under the new term ‘legitimate defence.’ Alongside this are proposals that would allow gardaì and prison officers to use lethal force whilst making arrests, dealing with serious public disorders or preventing prison escapes. The Commission has also recommended that the defense of provocation be allowed in murder trials, even if the killing in question does not immediately follow the provocation.
Stated is that the use of force be only allowed as a defence when it is necessary and proportionate, but this appears a mere afterthought, given the strength and ludicrous nature of the recommendations. Whatever gloss that is put on this report, make no bones about it, what it promotes is nothing more than a ‘shoot to kill’ policy, despite the denials of the Law Reform Commission. The idea of “legitimate defence” should make everyone feel uneasy; we are told it will amount to an enhancement of our civil libertes, but in reality it leaves homeowners more vulnerable. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties condemned the legislation as a ‘having a go’ policy.
When one considers the practicalities of actually ‘having a go,’ the proposals seem all the more ludicrous. If we lived in the US, where licensed firearms were the norm, it would make more sense. In Ireland, very few possess licenced firearms and those who do are bound by the law to keep it locked away.
Firearms restrictions leave the householder with no choice but to defend themselves with any household appliance to hand, from the child’s novelty drill to the meat cleaver to the microwave. Unless of course we want to introduce our own Second Ammendment to include the phrase ‘the right to bear arms’ into our own Bunreacht na hEireann!
Or maybe the government should simply supply the nation with tasers, which would simply stun the intruder. Except of course, this would most likely lead to intruders carrying tasers of their own, and hence we have just made robbery a more violent crime, introducing a right to life and self defence competition.
What is the point in attempting to follow the American model, when I’m certain we can all agree that America has very little to teach us with regards to equal rights and liberties in a democratic society? Robbery is a problem in Irish society, but it general, aggravated burglaries are small. There is no need for this new legislation to be enacted; if the government focused instead on getting the youth of society back to work (youth unemployment has risen 149% since the last general election, and now stands at almost a quarter within the under 25s age bracket) then the numbers of burglaries would naturally decline. Surely this is a simpler solution, but knowing the present government, they will shun these suggestions in favour of wreaking more havoc on our society.