A while back, we wrote about an inane NBC Today Show segment that recommended homeowners rely on car keys and wasp spray to defend themselves against burglars and other home invaders. A former New York City detective counseled viewers to “buy a can of wasp hornet spray in the hardware store or the supermarket [and] keep it by your bedside or the floor… An intruder hit with the spray will be temporarily blinded.” If the spray didn’t do the trick, he advised homeowners to treat the criminal “like royalty” and cooperate fully.
Apart from the likelihood that using any registered pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling would violate federal law, these products are not formulated for use as a human repellant and won’t work like mace or pepper spray.
Another curious strategy against home invasions and burglaries recently surfaced in England, where private possession of handguns is largely banned, other firearms are prohibited or tightly controlled, and where the right of self-defense has been progressively eroded. According to the Colchester Borough Council, “Defensive planting helps combat crime.” The Council has “joined forces with Essex Police and Poplar Nurseries to launch a Defensive Planting Initiative,” to advise residents and businesses on the “the best shrubs and other living barriers” to plant to deter access to a property and thereby reduce burglaries and other crimes.
The Chair of the Safer Colchester Partnership, Pam Donnelly, points out that “living barriers can be one of the best and most attractive ways of securing your home and property against crime. Although it can take some time for plants to grow, the end result really does justify the effort and should deter even the most determined burglar.” However, even this ultra-passive strategy comes with tendrils attached: local authority planning permission, if required, must be obtained, and the police advise the barriers should not leave the property owner “open to civil proceedings” from visitors and trespassers, as may be the case with vampire vines, strangling creepers, and man-eating trees.
Weighing the obstructive merits of a giant rhubarb (gunnera manicata) against those of a fuschia-flowered gooseberry (ribes speciosum) would be quaint but for the fact that the Brits have real cause for concern. Data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) indicates that almost 60 percent of burglaries of dwellings occurred when a resident or someone else was in the home; of those, the percentage where force or violence was threatened or used against the occupant has increased steadily since 2006. The latest CSEW statistics show that in burglaries where an occupant was present and saw the offender, the offender resorted to the use of force or another form of violent victimization in 41 percent of these crimes. The Colchester Borough Council’s website on crime warns that “burglars are breaking into houses while you sleep with the intention of finding your car keys, stealing your car and any other small items they find on the way,” and recommends hiding car keys in a noisy drawer – “but don’t take them up to the bedroom with you.”
Americans, with a constitutional right to armed self-defense and Castle Doctrine legislation in most states, don’t need to bother with cultivating a perimeter briar patch, and may hang their car keys off their bedposts with impunity. Unfortunately for those on the other side of the pond, keeping one’s family safe may mean a moat and drawbridge.