Americans Deal With Crime by Steering Clear

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

One in 10 carry gun or knife

Imagine you are walking alone at night after dinner in a neighborhood that is known as much for its crime as its great restaurants. You hear footsteps behind you. Your stomach churns. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You pick up your pace and desperately wish you had made dinner plans somewhere else. That tactic -- avoiding certain neighborhoods or places -- is the approach more Americans say they take than any other to deal with their concerns about crime.

According to Gallup's annual survey on crime*, one in six Americans report being the victim of a non-Internet-related crime in the last year. Theft and vandalism topped the list of crimes Americans say they experienced, and 3% say they were the victims of violent crimes. The survey delved into actions that people take because of their concerns about crime. Nearly half of Americans, 47%, say they simply avoid going to areas or neighborhoods they might otherwise want to go to as a means of staying safe. Fewer Americans say they keep a dog for protection, installed a burglar alarm, bought a gun, or carry Mace, a gun, or a knife for personal defense.

Avoidance Approach

Women are more likely than men to say they avoid going to certain places or neighborhoods they might otherwise want to go to. More than half of women (53%) avoid certain areas, compared with 40% of men.

Not surprisingly, more than half (57%) of those who say there is more crime in their areas now than a year ago say they avoid certain places or neighborhoods. Just 37% of those who don't observe more crime in their areas employ this tactic.

Safe at Home?

Roughly 3 in 10 Americans say they have taken steps to protect their homes from crime. Thirty-one percent say they keep a dog for protection. And, 29% of Americans say they had burglar alarms installed in their homes.

Keeping a dog for protection is more popular among younger Americans than older Americans; 34% of 18- to 49-year olds say they do so, compared with 26% of those aged 50 and older.

People with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more are more likely to say they have installed burglar alarms in their homes; 39% of those in this income category say they have one, compared with 25% of those with annual household incomes under $75,000. Upper-income Americans are not only likely to have more to protect and secure in their homes, they're also more likely to be able to afford home security systems.

Armed and Secure?

Roughly a quarter of Americans (23%) say they have bought a gun to protect themselves or their homes. Significantly fewer -- 11% -- report actually carrying a gun for defense. Men are more likely than women to say they have bought a gun for this purpose, 31% vs. 15% respectively, and to carry a gun for defense -- 14% vs. 7%.

Eighteen percent of Americans say they carry Mace or pepper spray. Women are far more likely than men to carry these; 26% of women report carrying them, compared with 9% of men. Eleven percent of Americans say their concerns about crime prompt them to carry a knife. More men than women say they carry knives for defense.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 13-16, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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