Lawyers, Guns & Burglars

32 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2015

See all articles by David B. Kopel

David B. Kopel

Independence Institute; Denver University - Sturm College of Law; Cato Institute

Date Written: April 14, 2001


This Article looks in detail at a very large positive externality which is overlooked in by firearms prohibitionists: the major role that widespread gun ownership plays in reducing the rate of home invasion burglaries (a.k.a. "hot burglaries"). Because potential burglars cannot tell which homes possess guns, most burglars choose to avoid entry into any occupied home, for fear of getting shot. The entry pattern of American burglars contrasts sharply with that of burglars in other nations; in Canada and Great Britain, burglars prefer to find the residents at home, since alarms will be turned off, and wallets and purses will be available for the taking.

Consequently, American homes which do not have guns enjoy significant "free rider" benefits. Gun owners bear financial and other burdens of gun ownership; but gun-free and gun-owning homes enjoy exactly the same general burglary deterrence effects from widespread American gun ownership.

Part II of this Article looks at the differences between the behavior of American burglars and their cousins in other nations. Part III specifies the risks that American burglars face from various deterrents, including armed victims. Part IV details how burglars choose targets, while empirical data about burglary deterrence are analyzed in Part V. Part VI looks at what happens during confrontations between burglars and victims. Part VII compares and contrasts defensive firearms ownership with other anti-burglary strategies, such as guard dogs. Policy implications and network effects of firearms ownership are explored in Part VIII.

Keywords: burglary, home invasion, gun ownership

JEL Classification: K13, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Kopel, David B., Lawyers, Guns & Burglars (April 14, 2001). Arizona Law Review, Vol. 43, p. 345, 2001. Available at SSRN:

David B. Kopel (Contact Author)

Independence Institute ( email )

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Denver University - Sturm College of Law

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Cato Institute ( email )

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