In Part 1 I used the transcript of the Warren v. District of Columbia decision to illustrate that the courts have uniformly held that the State (municipal, county, State or Federal) has no obligation to protect individuals, just the community at large.
Were you shocked? (Well, if you’re a gun nut like me, probably not. But John and Jane Q. Public probably would be.)
“Why,” you might ask “would the state not be liable for failure to protect?” The answer might be uncomfortable, John & Jane. First, it’s logistically impossible for the police to be everywhere. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics there were about 650,000 police officers nationwide in municipal, county, and state forces in 1996. Of these, approximately 64% are “responding officers”. Divide that by three shifts, and it means that there are about 140,000 police natiowide available to respond to a call at any time. And things haven’t changed that much in the intervening years. The U.S. population is about 280,000,000. That’s one cop on the beat for every 2,000 of us. Not good odds.
And because the state can’t afford to be. If the State was liable for not protecting every individual from crime, the lawsuits would bankrupt the State in no time. But this brings up a really ugly reality – one that is well illustrated in the dissenting opinion in Riss v. New York, which I will quote in whole from:
“Linda Riss, an attractive young woman, was for more than six months terrorized by a rejected suitor well known to the courts of this State, one Burton Pugach. This miscreant, masquerading as a respectable attorney, repeatedly threatened to have Linda killed or maimed if she did not yield to him: “If I can’t have you, no one else will have you, and when I get through with you, no one else will want you”. In fear for her life, she went to those charged by law with the duty of preserving and safeguarding the lives of the citizens and residents of this State. Linda’s repeated and almost pathetic pleas for aid were received with little more than indifference. Whatever help she was given was not commensurate with the identifiable danger. On June 14, 1959 Linda became engaged to another man. At a party held to celebrate the event, she received a phone call warning her that it was her “last chance”. Completely distraught, she called the police, begging for help, but was refused. The next day Pugach carried out his dire threats in the very manner he had foretold by having a hired thug throw lye in Linda’s face. Linda was blinded in one eye, lost a good portion of her vision in the other, and her face was permanently scarred. After the assault the authorities concluded that there was some basis for Linda’s fears, and for the next three and one-half years, she was given around-the-clock protection.” (My emphasis)
A lot of good that did her.
“Linda has turned to the courts of this State for redress, asking that the city be held liable in damages for its negligent failure to protect her from harm. With compelling logic, she can point out that, if a stranger, who had absolutely no obligation to aid her, had offered her assistance, and thereafter Burton Pugach was able to injure her as a result of the negligence of the volunteer, the courts would certainly require him to pay damages. (Restatement, 2d, Torts, § 323.) Why then should the city, whose duties are imposed by law and include the prevention of crime (New York City Charter, § 435) and, consequently, extend far beyond that of the Good Samaritan, not be responsible? If a private detective acts carelessly, no one would deny that a jury could find such conduct unacceptable. Why then is the city not required to live up to at least the same minimal standards of professional competence which would be demanded of a private detective?”
“Yeah! Why not!?”
Because as I pointed out, the City couldn’t afford to pay for all those lawsuits. They have a hard enough time making the budget as it is.
“So why,” you might ask yourself, “didn’t Linda do something to defend herself?” And here’s the answer, from that same decision:
Linda’s reasoning seems so eminently sensible that surely it must come as a shock to her and to every citizen to hear the city argue and to learn that this court decides that the city has no duty to provide police protection to any given individual. What makes the city’s position particularly difficult to understand is that, in conformity to the dictates of the law, Linda did not carry any weapon for self-defense (former Penal Law, § 1897). Thus, by a rather bitter irony she was required to rely for protection on the City of New York which now denies all responsibility to her.“ (My emphasis)
She was denied the means to defend herself, by a City that had no legal responsibility to defend her.
And that, boys and girls, is what the practical result of “gun control” is. Denial of the means to defend yourself, while not providing any other layer of real protection.
St. George Tucker in his 1803 book Blackstone’s Commentaries – a review of American law – said this about the Second Amendment:
This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty. . . . The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.” (My emphasis)
St. George Tucker called the right of self-defense “the first law of nature,” and he was not alone. Yet the State (in all its forms, not just the one we live under) has always worked to ensure that the general public has as little ability to defend itself as possible, rendering the populace supplicant to the State for protection that it may or may not bestow at its whim.
The Second Amendment isn’t about hunting, or target shooting, or even primarily about self-defense against the average criminal. It’s about self-defense against government tyranny. But so long as it exists, the others follow logically.
YOU are responsible for your protection. No one else can be made to be.
So what am I advocating? That the government make a public announcement that they aren’t capable of protecting people, and besides, it isn’t their job anyway, and that everybody would be well-advised to start carrying guns in a big hurry? (I was asked that question, verbatim, once.)
Let’s take a few minutes and discuss “the proper role of government.”
In all my reading, at one time I found this link having to do with that very question. It’s an essay on the subject by Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture. He has a lot to say on the matter, some with which I concur, some I don’t, but thought-provoking nonetheless:
“It is generally agreed that the most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. But, what are those right? And what is their source?
“There are only two possible sources. Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government.
“…Frederick Bastiat, phrased it so succinctly,
” ‘Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.’ “
Well, not being a “believer”, I disagree with God being the source of individual rights, but I certainly reject the premise that rights are “granted” by government. As to accepting the corollary that rights can be denied by government – certainly they can – so long as the People allow it. And I’ve said elsewhere, a “right” is what the overwhelming majority of a society believes it is. Taft continues:
“In a primitive state, there is no doubt that each man would be justified in using force, if necessary, to defend himself against physical harm, against theft of the fruits of his labor, and against enslavement of another.
“Indeed, the early pioneers found that a great deal of their time and energy was being spent doing all three – defending themselves, their property and their liberty – in what properly was called the “Lawless West.” In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attack and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves – nothing more.”
But the sheriff’s not responsible for doing that job for everybody all the time. The law says so. Even if he were held legally responsible, logistically it is impossible to accomplish everywhere, all the time. He can only do the best he humanly can, because even though he represents the power of government, he’s a human being just like the rest of us with all attendant flaws.
However, Benson’s phrasing here is illustrative:
“The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves – nothing more.”
I would not have used “delegate” in that sentence, nor would I have expressed it as “what they had a right to do for themselves.” “Delegate” implies a surrender of the right, and “had” reinforces that implication.
Instead, I think we extend to law-enforcement the power necessary to protect us (as best they can), while still retaining that right for ourselves. It isn’t a matter of yeilding a right to a governmental authority, it’s a matter of employing government to enhance our safety above what we are able to do for ourselves alone. All-in-all a “proper role of government”.
So no, I don’t want the government to come out and proclaim that they cannot protect us, because by and large that’s not the case. What I do want is for the populace to understand the government’s limitations in that capacity. That fact has a large bearing on the right to arms, and a much larger bearing on the responsibilities of citizens. If they are not aware of the facts, then they cannot make reasonable decisions. In programming terms: GIGO. And there’s a lot of “garbage in”.
Regardless of why people commit crime, active resistance to it is the only way to stop them during the commission. Relying solely on the police for that active resistance makes the job of the criminal easier and safer, as the residents of England have come to discover. Robert A. Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers (and if you don’t think it’s a book on philosophy, you need to go read it):
“What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it.
“But the instinct to survive…can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. …’moral instinct’ was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth that survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale.”
There’s an essay (and now a book) by a man named Jeff Snyder entitled A Nation of Cowards. It’s not surprisingly received little attention – even among gun nuts – because what of Snyder declares. Snyder declares that that the crime problem cannot be addressed without confronting the moral responsibility of the intended victim. He states that taking responsibility for one’s life, family and community requires fighting back when threatened with violence.
A friend of mine once said:
“The vast majority of people are good, decent “herbivores” who just wander around, harming nobody. Unfortunately, there are a small number of carnivores out there, who would prey upon the herbivores. The fact that some of the herbivores have the ability to defend themselves and others makes ALL herbivores safer, and only makes life appreciably more dangerous to the carnivores. I don’t think there is a huge amount of violence out there….but there is SOME.
“I don’t carry guns so that I can shoot people, I carry a gun so that if somebody tries to do something violent or bad, I can put a stop to the violence. The idea is actually one of being able to bring to bear overwhelming force in the face of force, so that the first person doesn’t try to use force in the first place.”
Snyder insists that responsible citizens must be armed and must resist when confronted with crime. I don’t think that’s the case, myself. That’s your “Dodge City” scenario with a six-shooter on every hip.
I think Snyder, Heinlein, and my friend all have legitimate points, though. The base instinct of all creatures is self-preservation. If confronted with crime, the natural base reaction is “cover your ass.” However, we’re part of society, and ultimately a nation. If, as Heinlein put it, our ‘moral sense’ is educated to the point where we value something higher than ourselves, then “avoiding trouble” when it comes to you is immoral. It is your duty to resist, in defense of the rest of society.
However, duty requires protecting yourself (self-preservation) and your society (which is, admittedly, a higher order of duty not everyone accepts), but duty does not require that you risk your life to do so. Duty includes serving on juries, and serving as witness in court, too, if that’s what is required.
My friend’s example of the “good, decent herbivores” represents the majority of the population, and this majority is largely unaware that they are the ones responsible for their own safety. They depend on the police almost exclusively for their safety and protection from crime. In their fear of violence, they fear the other “herbivores” with guns, too. They do so because some gun owners are idiots, but mostly because they’re told that guns are the cause of crime, and they don’t know any better. They don’t accept that general citizens who are willing to resist crime are an asset, not a liability to society.
So what am I advocating? I am advocating educating the citizens of our society as to their rights and attendant duties. That way they can make educated decisions as to their own protection, and that of their fellow citizens. Then if they decide that, for them, actively opposing crime is not an option, they won’t be so eager to deny the means to those who decide it’s the moral thing to do.
In other words, I trust my fellow-man to make the right decision if given all the information.