When St. Louis Alderman Charles Troupe went to the local police and asked what they could do about the rising crime rate which was threatening his constituents' property and safety, a police commander explained that "there was nothing he could do to protect us and the community … that he didn't have the manpower." It was a warning which is being echoed across the country, where law enforcement officials are admitting more and more frequently that their abilities are limited to responding to crimes and investigating and apprehending the criminals after the fact. Cold comfort for citizens who want to protect their property and preserve their lives.
The advice which honest lawmen, like those represented by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, are giving to citizens is to arm themselves and be prepared to defend their homes and families. As the economy worsens and crime rates rise, more and more responsibility will fall to individual citizens to provide for their own safety. Troupe has seen this need in St. Louis and in a recent statement he called for citizens to arm themselves and prepare for a more dangerous future, acknowledging that "the community has to be ready to defend itself, because it's clear the economy is going to get worse, and criminals are getting more bold." He is urging citizens in his district to purchase firearms and learn how to use them.
Around the nation there has been a dramatic rise in the sales of firearms and in citizens signing up for firearms instruction and training pursuant to obtaining a concealed carry license. This trend seems to be based on an expectation of a rise in the crime rate and a reduction in police services, despite the fact that in many parts of the country the crime rate is actually declining. Yet when it comes to personal safety, fear of uncertain times may play a bigger role than any real threat. As one elderly new gun owner in North Carolina put it, "I'm sick of looking at old people like myself getting knocked down for no reason. I want something to protect myself.” Experts suggest that uncertainty about the future, fear of government interference in gun rights and worries over crime and the economy all contribute to increased concern about crime and increased interest in guns for self-defense. One Virginia gun buyer summed up the common concerns: "It's insurance. With the stock market crash and people out of work, and the illegal aliens in this area, the probability of civil disorder is very high."
All forms of crime have been on a steady decline since the early 1990s, but concern over the threat of crime is higher than it has been in decades. Every year polls show a strong conviction among the public that crime is worse than it was the year before, especially in the nation as a whole, if not in the respondent's local area. In fact, the belief that crime is increasing has risen close to the levels of the 1980s, when crime actually was increasing. This suggests that factors other than a rise in actual crime play a large role in causing people to anticipate the widespread outbreak of crime in the near future. Troubles in the economy may be the largest factor, as increases in concern over crime seem to coincide with periods of economic decline.
Although this anticipatory paranoia has gone unfulfilled in recent years, it is true that during previous periods of economic troubles the crime rate did increase, though not dramatically. There were small upward turns in the overall downward trend in crime during the recessions of the late 1970s and mid-1980s. Yet despite this, all crime remains dramatically down and property crime is down almost 70% in the last 35 years.
Of course, it can be argued that no matter how few crimes there are, if you happen to be one of the targets, that will more than justify whatever precautions you take. A homeowner killed in a break-in gets zero consolation from the fact that he was one of a smaller pool of victims than he would have been part of 20 years ago. It's also little help that the national crime rate is down if you live in Chicago or Detroit or one of the other areas where crime is atypically on the rise. This is why arming for self-defense will always be a matter of individual choice.
The dismaying truth is that despite my belief that every responsible citizen should be armed, with budgets tight and uncertain times ahead, there may be better ways to spend $500 than buying a gun for home defense. Playing the odds, unless the economy crashes more completely than we've seen since the 1920s, you'd be better off saving the money for a rainy day.