Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Eric Zorn/Home Invasion (Just Dial 911? II)
****Post has been updated below****
Eric Zorn is unhappy with Hale DeMar and the hero status some have accorded him. He writes in his Sunday Chicago Tribune column:
Hale DeMar, the Wilmette homeowner who shot and wounded a burglar inside his home last December, was celebrated as a hero by gun-rights groups nationwide.
But a look at recently opened police files in the case suggests that DeMar acted more like a vigilante than a hero--that it wasn't necessary for him to shoot the unarmed intruder to defend himself or his children, as he has claimed, and that he all but welcomed the confrontation in his home.
I wrote about this incident last February. The short of it is that Mario Billings broke into Hale Demar's home twice in 24 hours. The first time he stole several items including the house keys, the second time he was shot by DeMar. Eric Zorn's first major complaint is that DeMar "all but welcomed" Billings back by failing to immediately change the locks when the keys were stolen.
But would that have done any good? After all, the first time Billings broke in he did it quite easily without the house keys. Given that, how can we say with any kind of confidence that changing the locks would have prevented a second break in when it did not prevent the first?
Zorn's second crticism is that when Demar's security system alerted him to the breach (the second time) he should have immediately called police and stayed upstairs. But would the police have arrived at the scene in time? Maybe - though they didn't the first time. Because of that I think it a bit unfair to say that DeMar should have taken up a defensive position and relied on the police to do the rest when an intruder who may or may not be armed, and may or not be alone, is lurking downstairs.
Of course, if Billings had been armed and a better shot than DeMar, his children might have only memories of him left today. And if Billings had also been after the children instead of simply salable items to feed what he told police was his crack habit, they too might have suffered serious harm if their father's Charles Bronson routine had gone agley. Without a doubt this is a plausible "what if?" that Zorn puts forth. Of course, what if Billings (knowing the kind of loot that was inside) had come back with several more armed recruits intent on a big score, even if it meant violence against the homeowners? If Demar waited at the top of the stairs and shouted warnings it could have just as easily led to tragedy. There is the problem. Evaluating what-ifs is always dangerous. Once you allow yourself to make changes to history, you can demonstrate that any outcome is possible simply by selecting all of the what-ifs neccessary to make it come about.
For all DeMar knew, Billings would have kept coming back until he was caught - something that is not an easy thing for the police to do. As a recent victim of a home invasion, I understand all to well how difficult it is for the police to catch these guys, and I understand all to well how it feels knowing that someone out there knows how to get into your house and exactly what you have of value inside. I cursed Mayor Daley for Chicago's hand gun ban for several nights in a row as I slept with a couch pushed in front of a broken down door and a kitchen knife and pepper spray next to my bed for security. If DeMar decided the best way to protect his family was to be the aggressor on someone who broke into his home, rather than wait/hope for the police I can't second guess that. Even more compelling is that Demar's action is what finally put Billings in jail. If Eric Zorn would have done things differently for whatever reason I also wouldn't second guess that. Both Zorn's way and DeMar's way could lead to tragedy, or not. Both are difficult decisions with a lot of variables, including gut instinct, that must be considered. The weighing of the risks and how to protect one's home and children is a decision best left to each individual, rather than a city council.
I sent Eric Zorn the link to this post and, as he usually does, replied promptly. Below is our correspondence. (His words blocked and in italics)
I have a lot more on my blog today-- actually, billings didn't defeat a lock the first time, he just reached through a dog door. You'd have second guessed DeMar big time had Billings been armed just in case and a better shot than DeMar--- I fail to see how calling 911 and taking up watch at the top of the stairs wasn't way smarter. If Bilings starts to come up, you've got a corner, the dropon him and he's got a chance to run like hell at the first warning shot. Unless you just want to kill him.
Any outcome that isn't ideal will be second-guessed by someone. Maybe DeMar (who knows how good of a shot he is himself) calculated that the risk was greater to wait and hope the police end it than put an end to it himself. Maybe DeMar thought that if he waited for the police there was a good chance Billings would get away, only to come back another day. Or rob and injure someone else on another day. All of those are distinct possibilities. I see this as a case of DeMar wanting to put an end to it that night, he did, and no one was killed. Perhaps that wasn't the best way possible, but I don't know how one could prove it was or wasn't. In a harrowing situation such as this, I am willing to cut DeMar some slack for his decision.
In short, an intruder broke into a man's house, with children home, for the second time in 24 hours. Said intruder suffered non-lethal gunshot wounds and is now in prison. It just seems hairsplitting to devote a column to second guessing this all.
Hmm, well I suppose I don't disagree with much that Eric says, just his implication, which seems to be that DeMar is a shoot to kill irresponsible gun nut, and something could have gone wrong. (See Eric's follow-up column from today, and also more from his blog, here) I see a home got broken into for the second time in 24 hours by the same guy. Homeowner wounds criminal non-fatally, criminal is in jail. To me that is a satisfactory enough ending. Obviously that is not the case for others.
You give DeMar every last benefit of the doubt and ask no hard questions of him. Which is your right. But come on!
Change the locks.
If you can't change the locks, get your kids out of the house.
When the alarm sounds, call 911. It takes 10 seconds and then you know help is on the way.
He had all day to plan for this re-invasion and this is what he planned...no "harrowing situation" excuse, please.
And why is it hairsplitting to second guess him when so many people didn't seem to want to ask even basic questions about this matter before turning him into a hero?