Saturday 18 January 2020

If forewarned is forearmed, then count me out of the showdown

Louis Jacob finds the 'make my day' aspect of the home defence bill worrying, along with its potential grey areas

IS anyone else ever so slightly freaked by this new legislation which, if passed, will allow property owners to use lethal force against intruders?

In the United States, for obvious reasons, it as known as the castle doctrine. The more cynical refer to it as the "make my day" doctrine -- an obvious reference to a famous one-liner Clint Eastwood used before mowing down an obviously guilty criminal type.

Although it was only recently adopted by Britain in 2007, Italy in 2005, and now ourselves, the Castle doctrine goes all the way back to Ancient Rome, and the dictum: Quid enim sanctius, quid omni religione munitius, quam domus unusquisque civium? Roughly translated: "What more sacred, what more strongly guarded by every holy feeling, than a man's own home?"

I would like to make a couple of things very clear. First, in no way do I see this as a human rights issue -- give me a break. I couldn't give a fiddler's about some thug getting a hiding, or even losing his life for that matter. On a righteous and romantic level, rough justice of this type appeals to us all.

Second, as far as I'm concerned, when you breach that sacred sanctuary that is a person's home, you've got to live or die with the consequences.

But this idea of "stand and fight" in a high-tension, hot-blooded situation (though undoubtedly noble) scares me, and I believe that the timing of this bill -- when there is so much disappointment and anger around -- is off. It sets a dangerous precedent.

Also, there are too many grey areas. Dermot Ahern states that while "the new bill does not specifically provide for the use of lethal force, the commission has recommended that lethal defensive force was permissible to repel threats of death or serious injury, rape or aggravated assault and false imprisonment by force".

The alarm bells are ringing. It just sounds too subjective to me. How can you define any of these things properly? How can you judge what a dead man's intentions were?

This cannot be something that comes to the people via Chinese whispers and hearsay. People need to know exactly where they stand and what their rights are.

We are going to have to be very clear about what constitutes premises and what constitutes intrusion. And we are going to have to make sure that people actually know what a licensed firearm is.

All this may sound academic, but the fact remains that people will interpret this bill as they see fit and the scope for skulduggery is huge. There can be no room for ambiguity.

There are other problematic areas, too. Fine Gael Councillor for Ballinrobe, Patsy O'Brien, said, "Some people will end up by themselves [in old age] and they need to feel protected in their own homes, so it has to be welcomed."

This is fair enough, and I would agree that defenceless senior citizens should be afforded every protection possible. But is it really a good idea to be encouraging the elderly to stand their ground and take on intruders, on their own, without any back-up?

Come to think of it, how many people in this country are equipped to defend themselves against (in all probability) young men with a thuggish nature and nothing to lose?

I just worry that this is not the way to go about it. I do worry about the "make my day" aspect to it. There is the question, too, that if intruders can expect more resistance, will they be better prepared -- and, on a more sinister level, better equipped/armed?

What disturbs me the most is the proven fact that if you

pull a knife or a gun on someone and you don't know how to use it properly, you are as likely to lose your own life. We live in a country full of vicious armed criminals and angry disillusioned citizens. Is it really a good idea to be encouraging a show-down?

Also alarming is the fact that Fine Gael was in absolute agreement -- which tells me that it's what the people want, and that is understandable and fair.

But if someone broke into my house, I'd hide myself and my loved ones in the nearest wardrobe the second I heard the alarm, and I'd allow the insurance company to deal with it in the morning. Although I'm no coward, I'm no Clint Eastwood either -- and, in the cold light of day, "stuff" just ain't worth it.

Sunday Independent

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