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by Peter Moskos

October 1, 2011

Burglary, Guns, and the UK

One of the thing 2nd-Amendment advocates love pointing out is the England has a much higher burglary rate than the US. Best I can tell this is due the mostly to the publications of one professor.

The subtext (or main text) of the more guns equals fewer burglaries argument, of course, is that if the government restricts guns (the U.K. has strict gun control laws) then burglars become fearless and break into our home, steal our property, and rape our children.

In the US, thanks to God and guns, we shoot our burglars. Ergo there are fewer burglaries. Hence our properties (and children) are safe.

Could be true... but I've always been skeptical of this line of thought. Mostly because I simply do not believe that any crime (except public drunkenness, hare coursing, and being pale and chinless) is more common in Britain than the U.S.

Well best I can figure (looking at those pesky figures we call "facts") burglary in the U.S. is much more common than burglary in the U.K.

So why the confusion? Over here in England and Wales (that's a statistical unit in the U.K., which is really what I'm refering to when I say the U.K.), if you're trying to get into a property with intent to "cause damage," that's burglary. "Attempted burglaries" are counted as burglaries in the U.K. Not in the U.S. In the U.K., you don't have to steal something to be a burglar. You don't even have to break in!

Now I'm not here to tell you which is a better definition of burglary. Frankly, I don't give a damn. But I do want to point out that the official stats for burglary in the U.K. are going to be much higher than the official stats for burglary in the U.S. because burglary in the U.K. is defined much more broadly.

In the U.S., a UCR-defined burglary means you broke into a place to commit theft. In the U.S., criminal trespassing as a seperate charge. In the U.K. it's burglary. In the U.K., even attempted criminal trespassing is burglary. That makes a big difference in the stats.

So what are the stats?

Each year, according the UCR, there are roughly 2.2 million reported burglaries in the U.S. With 311 million people, that's a U.S. burglary rate of about 700 (per 100,000).

According to NCVS (survey) data, there are 3 million burglaries in the US, or a rate of 960.

In England and Wales, the BCS is the equivalent of the NCVS (in that it's based on random survey). According to the BCS estimate, there were 745,000 domestic burglaries in the last fiscal year. But get this... and this matters:
[Just] three in five domestic burglaries involved entry (452,000, the remainder were attempted burglaries) and about two in five involved loss (298,000, the rest being accounted for by burglaries with no loss, including attempts).
So by U.S. definitions there would be 298,000 burglaries in England and Wales. Given 53-million people, this is a burglary rate of 560 per 100,000, lower than the equivalent U.S. rate of 960.

Now let's look at reported crime (the UCR equivalent): "The police [in England and Wales] recorded 258,148 domestic burglaries in 2010/11." Assuming that same ratio of "2-in-5 involved entry" holds true (and it may not), then by the UCR definition there would be about 100,000 police-recorded burglaries in England and Wales. This is a rate of 200, much lower than the equivalent U.S. rate of 700 per 100,000.

No matter how you slice it, there is more burglary in the U.S. than England and Wales. And we have more guns. Many more guns. Seems like this matters, especially if you believe that more guns equal fewer burglaries. You're not going to find supporting evidence in the U.K.

So what do gun lovers have to say? I don't know. But usually they comment pretty freely.


Anonymous said...

The English definition of burglary is so complicated that it's usually the thing they go back to at the end of police training school and teach a second time. One example they teach is that if you're drinking in a bar and you go into the kitchen intending to steal a bottle of wine, that's a burglary (even if you don't steal anything), because you have entered a part of a building as a trespasser with intent to steal.

It's also important to make the distinction between residential and non-residential (i.e. commercial) burglaries, and things like burglaries of outbuildings, garages and so on adjacent to houses.

Next year our burglary statistics may well go up, because every shop and other premises that was looted during the August riots will count as at least one offence of burglary.

David said...

I'm ready for the burglarers, as I write this my Glock 19 resides on my hip.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I wish there was a way to get this info out to more people because I hear this falsity repeated all the time.

Jay Livingston said...

What Anon #2 said. This "fact" about UK burglary gets tossed around a lot by the gunslingers.

The residential/commercial disaggregation should also be useful. Guns like David's Glock are deterring only residential burglaries (unless armed propiertors are sleeping in their shops).

PCM said...

I'm just talking residential burglaries here (commercial burglaries are not such "signal crimes").

I have little doubt that a homeowner with a gun could handle a home invasion better. If I were burgled, I'd prefer to have glock. But one problem with guns is a "commons" problem: better for the individual... worse for us all.

The other is that most burglaries do not happen when the homeowner, armed or not, is home. A gun-owning homeowner could even encourage the burglar, since there are probably other guns to steal.

But those are all secondary to my main point: a gun-loving America does *not* have a lower burglary rate than don't-attack-your-burglar England. (though such stories are vastly overblown... I don't think anybody has been convicted here--though they have been charged--for chasing and hurting a burglar)

In both countries you have a right to self-defense. And if you're the victim of a burglar in your house, that will always be defined pretty broadly.

Anonymous said...

Alright. Here's what you need to look at -not the number of burglaries- but the % that occur in occupied houses while the occupants are home, bringing on the risk of confrontation. In UK, that percentage, to my knowledge, is much higher. A group of thugs really has nothing to fear from a British householder, and they know it.

I would also suggest you look a little closer at your closing sentence. I think you will find that the right of self defense is not broadly defined in Merry Olde, not even close. The cases are out there - start with Donald Martin if you want to.

As a side note, speaking anecdotally (I have relatives in UK, and have spent a little time there) fear of crime in England, especially property crime, is much higher in 'good neighborhoods' than it is here. Whether that is a social plus or social minus I leave to you and your readers.

Your framing of this as an issue of the commons is interesting - and requires more thought. You don't have to believe John Lott's cooked numbers to recognise that quite a few crime victimisations are prevented in the USA by the presence of a gun, and you don't have to belong to the Brady Bunch to understand that yes, people get killed by other people with guns.

In the past 30 years, gun ownership has in the US has greatly increased, while murder, and violent crime rates are way down - however, only a fool takes correlation to be causation. This is just a fact.

The switch to unleaded gas could be equally responsible - hard to say.

The line between 'criminals', and 'law abiding citizens' is not nearly as bright or clear as some advocates make it out to be, but even in the massively armed USA, gun violence, statistically speaking, is truly a problem of the black and poor, far less so for everyone else, especially the working and middle class palefaces who actually own most of the guns.

Which, of course, makes it a problem for society at large - we are them and they are us, after all, no two ways about it. We dance together - like it or not.

Your work is greatly appreciated.

My Regards

Maryland Hunter

PCM said...

Thanks for the comment.

And I'm quite a fan of Garrett County venison, just FYI.

Hillary said...

It sounds like comparing British burglary rates to American burglary rates takes a few extra steps. You can't compare exactly because they don't have the same definition. You would have to either include trespassing for the US statistic or leave out burglaries where the burglar did not actually break in for the UK statistic, which would require a lot of sifting through individual cases!