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Americans Avoid the Scenes of Crime

by Darren K. Carlson

Many Americans have been crime victims at one time or another. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that U.S. residents (aged 12 and older) were subjected to 23 million crimes in 2002. Roughly three-quarters of those offenses were property-related, while a quarter were violent crimes. For every group of 1,000 people aged 12 and older, one was raped or sexually assaulted, one was assaulted and injured, and two were robbed.

Beyond the protection that federal, state, and local officials provide, how are Americans avoiding becoming crime victims? Gallup's 2003 survey* on crime provides some answers.

Avoiding Bad Situations

Roughly half (49%) of Americans say they try to avoid becoming crime victims by steering clear of certain places or neighborhoods in which crime concerns exist. Over the past four years, the percentage of Americans saying that they avoid certain places or neighborhoods because of concern about crime has fluctuated between 43% and 56%.

Women are more likely than men to say they avoid such places or neighborhoods (55% vs. 43%), and nonwhite Americans are more likely to do so than white Americans (57% vs. 47%). More urban (55%) and suburban (52%) dwellers than rural residents (39%) say they employ this tactic.

Home Security

To avoid becoming crime victims in their homes, 25% of Americans report having a burglar alarm installed. This percentage increases to more than a third of those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more, and decreases steadily as income decreases. Just 14% of those with household incomes under $30,000 report having burglar alarms in their homes.

Some of those who choose not to install an alarm may prefer to post a "beware of dog" sign. Slightly less than a third of the public (31%) reports keeping a dog for protection.

Armed for Their Protection

The decision to carry some form of weapon to protect oneself from crime can be a difficult one. Americans, and women in particular, are most likely to carry mace or pepper spray. Nineteen percent of Americans carry mace or pepper spray, including 29% of women and 8% of men.

Whether people should have the right to own various types of guns is hotly contested in America. Nevertheless, many Americans still own and carry guns in the interest of self-preservation. Specifically, 27% of Americans report having bought a gun to protect themselves or their homes, up from 21% who said so a year ago. Twelve percent of Americans go a step farther and actually carry a gun for defense. Both percentages are lower than the overall percentage of Americans who say they own a gun -- 45% -- according to Gallup's latest estimate from the same October 2003 poll.

Men are more likely than women to report buying and carrying guns. Regionally, more Southerners (35%) say they have bought a gun for protection, than Westerners (22%) or Easterners (18%). Midwesterners fall in the middle, at 29%.

Just 1 in 10 Americans report carrying a knife for defense. Those under age 30 are significantly more likely than those over 50 to do so.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 6-8, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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