The Ethics of Armed Self Defense

“Shehid Jîn” battalion of mothers in Kobane, Syria. Photo: HAWAR News/teleSUR
“Shehid Jîn” battalion of mothers in Kobane, Syria. Photo: HAWAR News/teleSUR
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership

USA –  -(Ammoland.com)-  Discussions about the role of guns in society often founder under the weight of dueling statistics thrown out by both sides.

I’d like to avoid the statistical food fight and base this article solely on the ethics of armed self-defense.

How much do you value your life?

Modern America has a strong pacifist streak that originated among some of our Christian denominations and spread to non-religious people, most notably during the 1960s.  It is now associated with the liberal side of the political spectrum and with those who support strict gun control.

It is easy to find people who say they would never use potentially lethal force against another person, even to save their own lives from a criminal assault.  Under this principle, the life of a violent sociopath is more valuable than theirs.  Each person has the right to place a value on their own life, so it may seem difficult to argue against this way of thinking.  But let’s pose some serious questions and see where this line of reasoning takes us.

Do you have an obligation to your loved ones?

If you won’t save your own life by using lethal force, what about your spouse, children or co-workers?   If you allow yourself to be killed by a violent attacker, what effect will this have on those who depend on you?  If you are responsible for supporting them and you are killed, the results will be devastating.

Let’s say you are not killed, but suffer a brain injury that leaves you unable to work, or you are abused in ways that leave you unable to work due to lifelong psychological issues.  In a way this is worse than death, as you are now a burden on those you felt obliged to provide for.

Giving up your life for your beliefs is one thing, but making people you care about suffer for those beliefs is something much more serious.

Do you have an obligation to your neighbors?

If an intruder breaks into your home while you are there, or you are suddenly the victim of a carjacking, you must decide if you are going to fight, flee if you can, or submit.  Let’s say the criminal leaves unharmed and let’s ignore whatever he did to you, be it fatal, crippling or just degrading.   He is now free to repeat this kind of attack again, in fact he is probably emboldened by his success.  By denying your communal responsibility and failing to stop the criminal, you have condemned a neighbor to a similar or worse fate than your own.

Is self-defense a right or a responsibility?

I would argue that we have a responsibility to defend ourselves and our communities from criminals with whatever force is allowed by law.  Sadly, the concept of personal responsibility has largely faded from our culture.  Too many of us expect our government to protect us from all possible threats to our health, safety and happiness, without much effort being required on our part.  In a utopian world, perhaps the government could do all of these things, but in real life, there is too little money and too much incompetence.

Aren’t you taking the law into your own hands?

No, in a self-defense situation you don’t need a judge and jury or the CSI team to know who is committing a violent crime.  The criminal is the fellow assaulting you.  You are fully justified in using lethal force if you are justifiably in fear for your life or the lives of others.  You are only considered a vigilante if you go out looking for trouble.

Can you rely on the police to protect you?

The answer to this question is clearly NO.  Not only are the police understaffed and overcommitted, they have no legal responsibility to protect anyone in particular.  People have tried filing lawsuits against law enforcement agencies for failing to protect them.  The suits are always dismissed, as this is considered settled law.

The job of the police is to arrive after the fact, collect the evidence and try to find the perpetrator.

An interesting contradiction

Some people feel that self-defense, especially with a weapon, is a dirty, low-class and risky thing that smart, civilized people don’t do.  Yet they also feel that it’s perfectly OK for police officers to risk their lives to protect us.   What makes the lives of cops less valuable than yours?  If you won’t protect yourself, why do you expect them to do it for the modest salaries we pay them?

And let’s not forget the fact that police officers carry and use guns.  For those who believe that guns are despicable tools of evil, isn’t it hypocritical and elitist to expect men and women with guns to come save you?

What are the odds that a person will have to use force in self-defense?

The thought of being in a violent, self-defense situation and possibly using lethal force is too stressful for many people to deal with.  Due to their upbringing, their religion or their conditioning by the media, they just can’t or won’t think about it.

Realistically, most Americans live a pretty violence-free life.  While we are bombarded by media depictions of violence, most of us will never be directly affected by it.  That brings up the concept of your personal cost/benefit ratio.   Will the cost of being prepared to protect yourself be greater than the benefit you are likely to receive?  What is your personal risk of being a crime victim?

Whatever statistics you may happen to see and believe or disbelieve, it is virtually certain that they don’t apply to your unique situation.  This is something that each person needs to determine for themselves.

I often use the analogy of keeping a fire extinguisher in the home.  The odds of a house fire are extremely low and the cost of a good extinguisher is significant, so is it better to go without one?  Would you like the government to decide that for you or would you rather make up your own mind?

We can also use the example of being prepared for a widespread disaster.  Many people aren’t prepared to think about scary scenarios and make the recommended preparations.  It’s just easier not to deal with it.

Another interesting contradiction

Many people who look down on gun ownership feel their risk of being violently victimized is so low that they don’t need to own a gun.  They say they feel perfectly safe.  Yet these same people often act as if they are terrified by the presence of guns in the society around them and support all manner of restrictive gun laws.

Who should decide?

Since the cost/benefit calculations are different for each person, is it realistic to apply the usual one-size-fits-all type of government regulation to the questions of who can use firearms for self-defense and what kind is best suited for their needs?  If you are satisfied with how our government manages our education system, defense procurement, immigration, health care and criminal justice system, then for you the answer may be yes.  For the rest of us, the answer is a resounding NO.

 

Suggestions for further reading:

 

 

—Dr. Michael S. Brown is a pragmatic Libertarian environmentalist who has been studying the gun debate for three decades and considers it a fascinating way to learn about human nature and politics.

Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation. www.drgo.us

  • 29 thoughts on “The Ethics of Armed Self Defense

    1. While I completely agree with your overall point(s) on the value of self-defense, I have a question: Do you lose many arguments with yourself?

    2. Would it be reasonable to kill someone whose clear intent is to use force to enslave you? If the answer is “yes”, then consider the effect of simple thievery, burglary, and robbery: this is where one person takes from you the time and energy that you have invested to acquire property (or money, exchangeable for property). In the forced taking of this property, have they not “enslaved” you for a certain period of time? True, they may not have held you captive… may not have claimed ownership of you and, therefore, your labor in words, but they have done so in their actions. We live in a world of such wealth when compared to historical norms today, that we no longer value our property. Just a few generations ago, horse thieves were hanged. Why? Because when you stole a man’s horse, you placed his very life at risk. If we value life, we must be able to protect property lawfully acquired.

      1. Biblically speaking, this logic is impeccble. In that list of “thou shalt not” activities, murder is listed… and next is theft. Murder ENDS the life of another without just cause, and puts the murderer in jeopardy of his own life if caught and convicted…. “eye for an eye, toooth for a tooth, a life for a life”. The survivors of murder were OBLIGATED to dind the killer and bring him to justice.. which was ALWAYS to be forfeiture of his own life. Theft was considered in exactly the light you put it… you have stolen a part of that man’s life. The penalty for theft was to restore, in most cases four fold, what you took unjustly. You sacrifice part of your own life to restore what you stole.

        Until our own criminal codes begin to function along these lines, murder and theft will remain far too common amongst us. Sure, the Black Lives Matter lot will scream and yell and cry foul… but when they who murder or steal are forced to pay along bibillcal lines, and those sentences are actually APPLIED, the :cost of doing business” as a thief or murderer will simply be too high.

    3. the job of the police is not to arrive after the fact. however I do agree that you can’t rely on someone who is minutes away to help you with a “right this second” problem. most police would love to stop a crime as it was happening. but this simply doesn’t occur.

    4. I’m a former Marine and a Vietnam Vet and feel it is my responsibility and duty to be armed. My oath of enlistment did not have an expiration date on it.

      1. You, Sir, are not a former Marine. You are a Marine.

        “A Marine is a Marine. I set that policy two weeks ago – there’s no such thing as a former Marine. You’re a Marine, just in a different uniform and you’re in a different phase of your life. But you’ll always be a Marine because you went to Parris Island, San Diego or the hills of Quantico. There’s no such thing as a former Marine.”

        -The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos

    5. I have an excellent book by Les Adams called “The Second Amendment Primer.” Jeff Snyder’s essay “A Nation of Cowards” is included in this little book. I hardily suggest to anyone interested in the Gun Control debate to get the book. It covers the right to arms from ancient times to present day.

    6. A reasonable article with lucid and reasonable points and conclusions about the Right-to-Self-defense.

      Now! Let’s go find some reasonable people who favor disarming all civilians and have a calm and frank discussion with them. Someone who can unplug from the Matrix and think for themselves.

      Where should we start looking?

    7. In the scenario of “me” vs “not-me”, “me” wins hands-down. Kin (family) are part of my own definition of “me” so any proposition applicable to “me” is equally applicable to kin. Kith, to me are “family other than by blood or marriage”. They are persons whom I consider to be kin irrespective of any blood or other formal ties. Kith are equally part of “me” thus the original statement obtains.

      I believe that I have a Creator imposed duty to protect hearth and home, kith and kin. I do not recognize a duty to protect/defend anyone not or kin. As such I do not recognize any duty to “society”. However, I may defend any not-kin/kith if I so choose. That is my right and my privilege before the law. The law says that I am justified in using deadly force to defend a 3rd party in any situation where I would be justified in using deadly force to defend myself. The law also justifies use of deadly force to defend property in certain specific instances. It also allows use of deadly force to defend a 3rd party’s property in certain well defined circumstances. Nowhere does the law REQUIRE me to use deadly force, it merely defines circumstances where use of deadly force is justified. I am completely comfortable working within the bounds of the law as regards use of deadly force.

      Regarding “taking the law into one’s own hands”, such a concept includes the implicit understanding that mere citizens are not allowed to enforce the law. Such could not be further from the truth. In fact regular, non-LEO private citizens are entirely empowered to enforce the law. We have some limitations versus LEOs but certainly have the right to enforce the law. The difference is that we, as non-LEOs have no DUTY to enforce the law. I know not (and care not) about other states, but in Texas I am entirely empowered to arrest without warrant for any felony I witness. A LEO is empowered to arrest upon reasonable suspicion whereas a non-LEO may only arrest for a felony in view. A regular citizen may also arrest without warrant for certain specific misdemeanors if witnessed. Technically, for most misdemeanors, even a LEO must view the alleged offense. Unfortunately, today there is virtually no potential downside which might accrue to a LEO arresting for essentially anything so most LEOs arrest at will. To be technical, no LEO may LAWFULLY employ deadly force in any situation where an ordinary citizen would not be justified in doing so. Unfortunately, there is a presumption of justification for any LEO’s use for deadly force so we have the sad fact that since 9/11/01 LEOs have killed over 150 private citizens for every LEO killed in the line of duty. I have often proposed that any time a LEO uses deadly force, any circumstance which would constitute a defense for a private citizen to use deadly force would only be available to a LEO as an affirmative offense. THEY are the ones with all the training and experience and whatnot therefor they rightfully SHOULD be held to a higher standard – at least where use of force is concerned. LEOs merely ENFORCE the law; they are NOT, in fact, THEMSELVES the law.

      1. The law doesn’t mean you can’t enforce per se rather it means you can’t redefine the law to mean what you want to mean. If you shoot someone dead when there’s no imminent threat of violence then you’ll be the one going to jail not matter how unfair you think it might be.

    8. I often read and view stories about law abiding citizens having to use deadly force to save themselves or their loved ones and even total strangers when attacked by criminals.

      Remember, if it comes to deadly force you did not take the life of the criminal(s), they FORFEITED their life.

    9. No morality issues for me ,as I am a high functioning sociopath . Only care about 2 people me and 1 other and she doesn’t know nor would I ever hurt her.Nor do I show anger towards a person without cause, with cause no limits of inflicting pain I’d love to hear someone scream.
      Ever listen to a bear eating moose bones , the sound is mind blowing.Nature eating.

    10. “Shehid Jin” Syrian mothers take up arms to protect themselves and their children while the men are vacationing in Europe on a rape and pillage spree. Meanwhile, Merkel plans to let in a half million more “refugees” to Germany alone. Cultural and literal suicide seems to be a bad habit of left wing policy. It is more than a little confusing why they can’t seem to see the unintended consequences of their knee jerk, feel good legislation. I certainly do.

      1. not quite so…. these women are left at home unprotected because their men are off fighting… to preserve their nation. The creeps invading Europe are just that.. opportunistic creeps. A huge percentage of them were resruited specifically to travel to Europe and the US to invade, infilltrate, destabilise, etc. as a stealth invading army. Few of these men are married, they are soldiers deployed in a war zone that gives the appearance of normal society in Europe.

        THese women are part of an ethnic group that has suffered intense religious and cultural persecution, genocide. Their men are helping to defend their homeland against the raging ISIS, which WE trained and are helping to support. Their men are not the ones rampaging all over the rest of the world.

    11. In order for a polite, orderly society to exist, it must be populated by men who have a capacity for violence. This is rejected among pacifists and social engineers who encourage sheepish behavior and weakness, but the truth is that we are better protected against evil the more we have a desire of aggression! A willingness to confront an enemy is good, and a hunter/hunted mindset is crucial. We’re made fun of in media and labeled things that make us seem overzealous or weird. Heroism is smeared as stupidity. We must reject the slanders of the sheep and declare proudly that we are the sheepdogs of our time. We are the ones who hunt the boogeyman!

    12. Our Second Article of Ammendment clearly places the responsibility for “the security of a free state” upon.. NOT goernment, private security forces, military, police, but upon WE THE PEOPLE. Who else are the militia if not “the whole people”? Since the burden of “the security of a free state” lies upon the people comprising that “free state”, the right to arms also accrues to…… not government, police, private investigators, but THE PEOPLE. And THAT is why the right to arms in unalienable, and shall not be infringed. Since WE have the job of “the security of a free state”, WE need the tools suitable for that job. Arms……. weapons of military usefulness able to be carried about and used bu individuals.

    13. In a truly free society, which would have no government allowed to Force the populace, self-defense becomes a necessary Principle, with that Defense extending to not only Life, but also Property, which is of course necessary to preserve and sustain our natural Right to Life.

      In such a society, criminals would soon grasp that such universal self-defense by individuals makes it wiser to refrain from such criminal activities, as their intrusion becomes a danger to their lives and their occupations.

      I also appreciate the concept of individuals actually being ohe Militia. That’s worked e.g. for Switzerland to avoid having been attacked thru the World Wars.

          1. If you believe you can shoot people over minor property crime then you’ll probably want duelling to be legal when your personal honour is at stake.

    14. In 1833 Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, in his book, Commentaries on The Constitution, wrote ” The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic,since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers, and even if they are successful in the first instance,will allow the people to resist and triumph over them.

      The RTKABA protects us from the government, not each other. Do a search for Athens Tenn.1946 uprising, and you will see what I am driving at.

      Firearm homicides total in the vicinity of 11,500 per year. A search for the third leading cause of death in America will result in 229,000 deaths from healthcare.

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