October 11, 2010

Me? Own A Gun? -- Updated

This is the first in a series of articles exploring, in depth, the issues revolving around gun ownership. Whether you have never considered owning a gun, are thinking about it or own all you need but not as many as you would prefer, this series may provide some ideas, or possibly provoke the latest round in a lively debate that has been raging for millennia. Our first installment:


Do human beings have an inalienable right to self defense? If you do not accept this, now would be a good time to be sure you have 911 on your speed dial. However, tragically, that will be cold comfort, as this series will reveal. In addition, if you truly do not accept this proposition, and you live your conviction, itís possible youíre not around to read this, survival of the fittest being a rather inescapable and final proposition.

What, by the way, does "inalienable" mean? Most dictionaries would indicate that it means something like this: "Not transferrable to another," or "cannot be repudiated," but in the language of the Founders and of our founding documents, the word is most often coupled with an equally important word and is rendered as "inalienable rights." Inalienable rights are rights that are the inheritance of each human being by virtue of being born a human being. They are bestowed by our Creator. Because they are not granted by governments, they cannot be taken away by governments. The Declaration of Independence makes explicit only three "unalienable" rights: "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," but makes clear that these are not the only inalienable rights.

Notice that "Life" is the first of the three Thomas Jefferson chose to make explicit. This is important in that if there is no inalienable right to life, your life is forfeit to any government that chooses to take it. It should also be noted that even if the laws and legal traditions of the state do recognize a right to self defense, if the state denies citizens the most effective means to exercise that right, or so restricts its exercise as to make it impractical in application, there is little difference to the individual between that state and one that recognizes no right at all. In addition, if there is no right to self defense, no right to mere survival, your life is forfeit to the whims of those cruel and strong enough to take it. If this is the case, can any other right, inalienable or otherwise, truly be said to matter? Of course, it may reasonably be argued that if a right is not inalienable, it is merely a privilege to be granted and rescinded by the state, but do we really want the state to treat our lives with the caring, efficiency and humanity employed by the EPA, the IRS, or in the regulation of our privilege to drive?

These ideas did not originate with Jefferson in the late 1700's. Thomas Cahill, in his insightful book "The Gifts of the Jews," suggests that the paramount gift of the Jews, dating back to the time of Abraham, was the idea that each individual life has value and that each is precious and worthy of salvation. This idea is easily recognizable as one of the foundations of Christianity. However, ultimately all such discussions are about power and the proper balance of power between the individual and the state. John Locke (1632-1704) was a proponent of natural rights, which are rights established by nature--by nature's God--and are therefore inalienable. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) tried to reconcile the inherent conflict between a society full of individuals possessed of competing, inalienable rights and the need of humans beings to live together in communities through the "Social Contract," the proposition that in order to live together, individuals must surrender some degree of absolute autonomy while still retaining certain inalienable rights, the most important of these being life, liberty and property. This is the balancing of power that truly democratic republics perform each day, and that, until recently when it took a sharp leftward turn toward totalitarian power, America performed far better than any other society.

The Social Contract is part of the foundation of our government. While we retain inalienable rights, they are not absolute, yet can only be infringed in limited fashion by due process of law under the rule of law. When the Founders made references to God, they were not merely expressing personal religious conviction, but participating in a debate millennia old over the nature of God and man and man's natural rights. They well knew the work of Locke and Rousseau and were certainly influenced by them, as are we all whether we know it or not.

This is, of necessity, a whirlwind tour of issues that have filled hundreds of volumes over the centuries. But without a basic understanding, it's difficult to appreciate the gravity of the question that began this essay: Do human beings have an inalienable right to self defense?

Let us add a second, related question: Does evil exist? The answer to this question represents a fundamental dividing line between conservatives and socialists (for that is what the contemporary Democratic Party has, sadly, become). Socialists believe that human beings are inherently racist, sexist, and a variety of other ists, but are perfectible. This perfection can be reached if only there is sufficient (absolute or near absolute) governmental power and the right kinds of laws and regulations to make people behave in appropriate ways, to perfect them for their own good. These laws and regulations will be composed and enforced by a small class of elite socialists who are already, by virtue of their education, sophistication, beliefs and highly attuned sense of social justice, perfected. Hence, the only true evil is resistance to their evolved social consciousness. Inalienable rights do not exist. The only rights are those allowed at any given moment by the state, and in this polity, rights actually exist not at all and are reduced to the reality and force of mere privileges. Religion, with its quaint, superstitious adherence to the doctrine of an eternal battle between good and evil, is just that, quaint and superstitious, and when it is politically useful, dangerous in its resistance to progressive socialist enlightenment, which is always ongoing because it can never be falsified. If perfection has not been reached, it is only because the unenlightened resist and because insufficient socialism has been applied. Because man is always in the necessary process of being perfected by his betters, neither inalienable rights nor adherence to a moldy, faded, yellowing document written by privileged white men centuries ago can be allowed to stand in the way of the brave, inevitable march of socialist progress. The greatest weakness of socialist thought and policy is always a fundamental misunderstanding, even willful ignorance, of human nature. That, and as Margaret Thatcher said, you always run out of other people's money.

Conservatives have no doubt of the existence of evil or of its eternal work in the world. They overwhelmingly embrace Christian theology and its fundamental understanding of men as fallen sinners who can never attain perfection on Earth. Mankind cannot be perfected, yet the social contract works best when he has the greatest possible freedom and autonomy, still consequences for misbehavior must be made swift and certain and must be justly applied while upholding the essential dignity and worth of the individual. Thus do Conservatives accept the necessity of the social contract, of the equality before the law of all men, of the rule of law, and of a supreme law of the land, the Constitution, which may not and should not change, as the Founders put it, for light and transient reasons, because the fundamental nature of human beings does not change. For conservatives, any balance of power that favors the state at the expense of the inalienable rights of the individual is illegitimate, tyrannical and must be resisted, and if necessary, overthrown. In this understanding, Conservatives are not at all radical and merely adopt the thinking of the Founders and the text and intent of the foundational documents of the Republic including The Federalist Papers, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. Socialists tend to reject all of these documents, or to so twist their clear intent and meaning as to render them self-contradictory and meaningless.

If there is no right to self defense, are you, gentle soul, truly willing to meekly surrender your life to anyone cruel enough to take it? Will you, sensitive, caring socialist, allow your life to be taken to fully live your convictions? Do you believe that right and sufficient law and regulation will eliminate any tendency toward human evil, and that the power of the state will protect you and those you hold dear? Would you truly do nothing to prevent the loss of your own life? The loss of the life of your spouse? Your children? Is your life of so little value and the value of the lives of evil brutes so great? Truly?

You may not believe that evil exists or that it can possibly interrupt your life, but to paraphrase an aphorism attributed to many, you may not be interested in evil, but evil is interested in you. As a student of history, as a veteran of nearly 20 years of service in police work, I have no doubt that evil exists and that any one of us may meet it, in human form, at any time as I so often have. Had I been unaware of its existence or unwilling to acknowledge it, I would not have survived. Hundreds of the wounded, maimed and dead with whom I have been involved would attest, if they could, to that reality. They would also attest to the fact that good intentions, a life lived virtuously and enlightened social consciousness are not proof against evil, but serve only to encourage its propagation.

But surely the police will protect me? It's their job and they are professionals. It is surely one of the great ironies of all time that socialists tend to hate the police, regarding them as barely literate, stupid, racist, sexist, (add your favorite "ist" here) brutalizers, resist paying them more, yet simultaneously expect them to protect their very lives and the lives of those they love. An even greater irony is that the police have no duty to protect any individual citizen. None.

In June, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Castle Rock v. Gonzales. Gonzales defied a restraining order and kidnapped his three daughters, ages 7-10, from his estranged wife. Gonzales killed the girls and committed suicide by cop by shooting up a police station. The police were called when the girls were kidnapped, but did nothing until they were forced to respond to Gonzales' gunfire, but by then the girls were dead. Gonzales followed not long after. Cold comfort may be found in such situations only in the belief that Gonzales' final destination was 180į different than that of his innocent children. In handing down this decision, the Court relied upon decades of precedence that holds that the police have a duty only to deter and investigate crime for the benefit of the public at large. They have no duty to protect the life or property of any individual. Even though they did nothing to assist Mrs. Gonzales who so piteously cried out to them for help, even though they did nothing to save the lives of her children, they could not and cannot be held liable.

This might seem outrageous and unjust, but it is rational and absolutely necessary. Most people would be utterly shocked to discover how few police officers are patrolling their community at any time of the night or day. It is practically impossible for the police to guarantee protection to anyone, and if they could be successfully sued for failure to render such protection, what city could possibly afford a police force? Who would volunteer to become a police officer knowing financial ruin awaited them at any moment? Police agencies are always understaffed, always. They staff their shifts with the most officers when most are needed: Evenings in general and Friday and Saturday nights in particular. In smaller communities across America, only two or three officers may be patrolling between 6 AM and 6 PM, often, fewer. In semi rural or rural areas, the nearest available officer may be an hour or more away at top, lights and siren, speed. The police love to catch bad guys in the act. They love to stop rapists, killers, child molesters, you name it, they love to stop and catch them, but there are very, very few police officers, more than enough bad guys to go around, and many, many of us. This is the nature of reality, of human beings.

Police officers all know several common axioms: "Call for the police, call for an ambulance and call for a pizza. See which one shows up first." They know that all too often, it won't be the police. In many urban areas, even 911 calls are often left unanswered or put on hold, so great is the volume of emergency calls and so few are the police. Police lore is full of true stories of citizen's panicked 911 calls that didn't get through, were hung up, were ignored, improperly dispatched or just couldn't be handled because of a lack of manpower, resulting in beatings, robbery, rape, mayhem, torture, even murder. The police have another common axiom, which, like the first, they know to be true, but which makes them cringe nonetheless: "When seconds count, the police are minutes away." This too is the nature of reality, of human beings. Ask any experienced police officer if evil exists, but not if you really don't want to hear the answer.

So. Evil exists. The police would love to protect you from it, but they can't and you can't sue them and win when, not if, they don't. What options remain? Gated communities? Locks? Alarm systems? If it's made by man, it can be defeated by man. Will you spend your life within that gated community, behind those locked doors with your security system engaged?

But I live in a good neighborhood! Consider the case of a car burglar I investigated. Responsible for hundreds of crimes, during his many and lengthy confessions, he told me of how he and two of his fellow burglars set out to steal the side view mirror of a vehicle by removing the entire door. As they set to work at 2 AM, the owner came home unexpectedly and they barely had time to scramble under the vehicle they had just begun to burglarize as his pickup truck pulled into the driveway, inches away. The door they intended to steal was standing open a few inches, but the man did not see it and went into his home, leaving the burglars to hastily complete their work and leave with the door.

This too, was a good neighborhood, but the story does not end here. The burglar had, only a half hour earlier, burglarized another car not far away and found, to his surprise and delight, a loaded and chambered 9mm semiautomatic handgun which he hastily stuffed into his pants, the better to play the role of the manly gangster/burglar. As the owner of the soon to be stolen car door stepped from his truck onto his driveway, mere inches away lay the burglar, hopped up on speed, the unfamiliar handgun tightly clutched in his sweating, shaking hand. The man lived only because he did not notice the open car door. The burglar was ready to shoot him; he would have shot him, a man who had no reason whatever to imagine, let alone expect, a 2 AM meeting in his own driveway with unthinking, irrational, doped up, stupid evil. Postscript: I put the burglar and many of his pals away for a long time and recovered the handgun and even the car door--absent the mirror--which I fished out of a creek near the bridge where he threw it. Sadly, it's not common for crimes of that kind to be solved and the property recovered, but that's a story for another post and another time. Evil is interested in you, and evil is always out there, watching and waiting. This too is the nature of reality and of human beings.

Even understanding all that I've presented here, at least intellectually, there will always be some portion of the public determined to cling to socialist philosophy in the expectation that their intellectual and moral superiority will, in some way, magically protect them. Or perhaps they merely have unshakeable faith in an all-powerful, benevolent state, even a state that manifestly cannot protect them, cares little or not at all for protecting any individual, and will never allow itself to be held accountable for failing to protect them. It is for these people that the term "prey" was created, and it is to them that a famous aphorism may someday apply: "A conservative is a liberal who has been robbed at gunpoint." Unfortunately, even that kind of intimate encounter with evil does not always suffice, but some are capable of reevaluating their philosophy when reality is visited upon them in ways that cannot be easily ignored.

If no inalienable right to self defense exists, what other right or privilege actually matters? What is the point of continuing education if one's life may be taken at any moment? If no right to self defense exists, there can be no crime of murder, as no life has value, value that compels society to impose the ultimate penalty for its unlawful taking. In such societies the ultimate penalty tends to be imposed for crimes against the state rather than crimes against individuals who are of value only in their utility to the state. How can anyone plan for the future if life is reduced to a state of nature where, as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) said, life is "...solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short"?

Quite unlike Socialist orthodoxy, it is not an armed society, a society where the lawful, productive and decent have the most effective means immediately at hand to protect their lives and the lives of others that is lawless, violent and dangerous, but a society where only the government has power and where only the lawless, idle and evil are armed. Contemporary America provides myriad examples of the truth of this assertion. In those states where concealed carry is common, by any honest measure, citizens are safer. In those states and cities, particularly, where honest citizens are disarmed, it is quite the opposite. Cities such as Detroit and Washington DC are commonly more dangerous than active war zones, which they closely resemble.

But let us assume that this article has, at least, persuaded you to the point that you are willing to tentatively concede that an individual, inalienable right of self defense is probably necessary. What then? The next installment of the series explores the legal, moral and spiritual issues revolving around taking the life of another, legally and illegally.

* * *

Bob adds: Pick virtually any anti-gun organization, politician, or private citizen, and you will find them sharing a message that runs counter to the views of our Founders.

  • They believe that firearms in the hands of private citizens are a threat to society.
  • They believe that the government should have a monopoly on the use of force.
  • They abdicate responsibility for their own self protection and the protection of their rights.

We know as a matter of historical record what results when such views are allowed to take root, and those views have filled mass graves with tens of millions of bodies in the last century alone.

I would go so far to suggest that it is the responsibility of able-bodied and psychologically fit citizens to both own arms and become proficient in both their use and their limitations. Would I support a Kennesaw-style law mandating firearm ownership? No, because laws mandating gun ownership are as contrary to freedom as the laws restricting gun ownership.

Ultimately, you have to determine the worth of your life, the life of your partner or spouse, your offspring, and your neighbors. If you determine that these lives have more worth than the lives of criminals or the desires of politicians and power brokers, then you should at least consider gun ownership.

If you believe the state should be the sole source of power, that citizens should not be have rights or responsibilities, well... perhaps your funds would be better spent on a ticket out of the country, or in a life insurance plan for survivors.

Posted by MikeM at October 11, 2010 12:24 AM

very well written - will re-read again and forward to a few... er... socialists.

Posted by: another John Galt at October 11, 2010 09:31 AM

I understand that Australia outlawed gun ownership a few year ago. The consequence was a big jump in crime. Particularily gome invasion.

Posted by: David at October 11, 2010 03:11 PM

Do human beings have an inalienable right to self defense?

Yes. Further, I believe we should be able to own weapons for defense of ourselves - and others.

But I so not own a gun, or even a knife beyond some steak knives. I would not onject to my neighbors doing so, but I know myself to be a klutz and that I would not maintain one in any proper manner.

Posted by: John A at October 11, 2010 04:52 PM would be a good time to be sure you have 911 on you speed dial.

I don't accept this - if one denies that one has an inherent right to self defense, then how could one insist that others have the obligation to defend one? And in fact, several court cases have demonstrated that police forces are under no obligation to protect an individual.

In fact, if one denies a right to self defense, then what rights, if any, does one have? I cannot imagine any rights at all accruing to an individual that has no right to protect himself - seriously, denying the right of self defense is in effect denying a right to exist.

In any event I consider it abject cowardice to adjure violence yet expect others to employ it on your behalf.

Posted by: Steve Skubinna at October 11, 2010 09:00 PM

"Call 911" - when seconds count, Cops are just minutes away... They come to take pictures, measure the outlines, count the cartridge casings, and file a report.

Posted by: DirtCrashr at October 12, 2010 03:00 PM