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Stand up for yourself?

Earlier today, I discussed the case of Imette St. Guillen, the Boston woman brutally murdered in New York City last week. It got me thinking about some bigger issues, and one of them is the right to self-defense.

This comes up most frequently in discussions of gun control and the Second Amendment, but it's much bigger than that. Some states (most notably Massachusetts) have curtailed the right of self-defense to the point of imposing a "duty to flee," where citizens are NOT entitled to confront intruders and defend their homes, but must instead escape if it is at all possible.

It also is a major factor in international relations, as many wars are usually justified as examples of "self-defense." Hitler used this in his invasion of Poland, when he staged an "attack" against himself and then "counter-attacked." That ploy was so transparent that it triggered World War II.

But I digress. (So what else is new?) I've been wondering if there really is any "right" to self-defense, and I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I do not believe so. We have no right to self-defense.

To me, a "right" is an action that one can choose to exercise or not, depending on the individual. We all have the right to speak freely, but we can also shut up. We can assemble, or we can stay home. We can worship how we wish, or not at all.

In that vein, in our society and in the world today, I don't think we have a "right" to self-defense.

It should be a duty.

Everyone should be obligated to defend themselves against the predators, the aggressors, the savages among us. For to allow them to act freely is to empower them, to encourage their ways. We have a duty to each other and our society as a whole to not permit them that freedom.

An excellent example is some small towns (usually in the South) that pass an ordinance that requires all households to possess at least one firearm. This is usually accompanied by a mechanism for those who refuse to do so -- often a nominal fine, which is normally waived -- but changes the presumptions of criminals: instead of counting on homeowners to be unarmed, the default is now that they do possess a gun. The crime rates in such areas tend to plummet.

I do not advocate that my beliefs be reinforced by law, but I would hope that they would be taken into custom and social practice. As Robert Heinlein famously observed, "an armed society is a polite society" -- and predators tend not to go after dangerous prey.

Comments (27)

To me, a "right" is an a... (Below threshold)

To me, a "right" is an action that one can choose to exercise or not, depending on the individual.

That is much too broad a definition for the concept of rights. Not to mention that statement could then be used to declare abortion a right.

To me, self-defense is more of an instinct than a right. And sometimes the best possible choice of self-defense is not confrontation, but escape. You don't know if this woman didn't defend herself. I imagine she tried, but failed. It just seems that the way you wrote this post you're insinuating that this woman didn't do anything to stop what was happening to her.

I understand the point you're trying to make, it's just the analogy in this case is in pretty poor taste.

Do you mean a natural right... (Below threshold)

Do you mean a natural right or a legal right? Are you arguing in positive or normative terms?

My impression is that here ... (Below threshold)

My impression is that here in the Northeast, local law enforcement officials are not wild about law- abiding citizens being armed ostensibly to protect their families and property. I guess the choice comes down to the possibility of a responsible but armed citizen neutralizing a criminal in the act of creating a victim or allowing a criminal to first create a victim and then having law enforcement try to catch the criminal before other victims are created. I would not want myself, any of my family or friends (or really any innocent for that matter) to be the first victim if the crime is murder. In this case, I would want to be able to protect my family.

Self Defense ultimately is ... (Below threshold)

Self Defense ultimately is bigger than protecting ones personal self against criminal attack. The Right and/or Duty to self defense is layed out pretty strongly in parts of the old testament and mosaic law. Rights are generally considered to be inherent to being born a human being, regardless of race, national origin, creed, religion, etc.

The problem that governments face is when their subjects exercise the right to protect themselves against criminals, eventually the subjects will exercise their right to protect themselves against their government.

Massachussets citizens helped overthrow a criminal/tyrannical government once, and they're state Gvt has forever since been trying to ensure that can not happen again.

Genocide has never been succesful agains an armed populace and disarmament has always occured before a population is massacred.

Hear, hear.Frank H... (Below threshold)

Hear, hear.

Frank Herbert, in Dune, suggested that only animals attempt to escape danger rather than facing it. Humans attack danger, and remove threats to humankind.

I can see why police would ... (Below threshold)

I can see why police would rather not have people expecting to enforce the law... just on practical reasons. People do some stupid things... one incident I recall was at a graduation party, someone showed up with a gun. Instead of calling the police to make him leave, the graduate went and got *his* gun and told the guy to leave and... this is the stupid part... fired a warning shot. Duh. The first guy shot him dead.

The problem is that too many people get their gun knowledge from television.

But, but... the abdication of self-defence and also for watching out for your neighbor, is a much bigger problem in the long run, than the extra crap that police have to deal with or clean up after. And frankly, the idea that we *pay* police to deal with the criminals and put their lives at risk and that *payment* makes some moral difference in our responsibilies to ourselves and our neighbors... there's some movie with Clint Eastwood that comes to mind, bunch of townspeople who won't defend themselves or lift a hand when their sheriff is beaten to death.

Requiring all homes to have at least one gun is a strong statement that individuals are responsible, that they do have a duty to themselves and the community. What's more, an assumption of responsibility includes the assumption of responsibility for things like gun safety training and a dialog about the use of weapons... making idiotic moves like a "warning shot" much less likely.

Keen insight from Frank Her... (Below threshold)

Keen insight from Frank Herbert. Of course, it doesn't apply well to animals that feel they have to protect their young from harm.

The constabulary here in Ve... (Below threshold)
Captain Ned:

The constabulary here in Vermont seem to get along quite well with an armed populace. Strangely enough, for being such a liberal state, I can sum up VT gun laws quite easily:

We don't have any.

Thanks for this post Jay,</... (Below threshold)

Thanks for this post Jay,

I tried to partially address this in my comment on your previous post. You've done a much better job.

Didn't Israel make a pre-em... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

Didn't Israel make a pre-emptive strike against Egypt at the beginning of the 7 days war? In the west it is probably mostly believed that this was justified, but I doubt the rest of the middle east still view it as other than Israeli aggression.

Had a slight problem with "... (Below threshold)

Had a slight problem with "Duty to flee" here in Ct. I'm 50 riding my bike near Foxwoods 3 guys goofin around in truck decide to almost run me off road while screaming obsenities at me. make a long story short at next stoplight they wait for me one of them wants to beat me up. To the other 2 surprize I crush the 20 somethen kid, but by this time I'm Exhusted now 2nd 20 somethin kid wants to fight, so he karate kicks me Ihit him once he kicks I hit etc He decides F it they leave. State troopers show up, someone had their plate number so the're going to arrest them until Senior Trooper shows up and says no way because I had a "DUTY TO FLEE" ??????????? NICE

Hmmmm.no ... (Below threshold)


no way because I had a "DUTY TO FLEE" ??????????? NICE

How on earth did he expect you to flee from three jackholes in a pickup truck when you're riding a bicycle?

I'd go to the state police barracks and fill out a complaint.

Police do not prevent crime... (Below threshold)

Police do not prevent crime. They investigate after it occurs. Until a crime has been committed the police are powerless. A right to self defense is a right to defend only in proportion to the threat. You may not use deadly force (gun) against a baseball bat or fist. You may not set a trap for the offender. You must wait until you have been attacked and then respond ONLY in equal measure.

You are correct. We do not have the right to self defense. We do not have a right to our own life (as Rand said). We may have a duty to ourself to act in our own self interest. If we do act, we should not stay for discussion or examination of events.

If we anticipate that we may be left to our own resources then we should make the appropriate preparations by training, education and practice. Defending ones self, unprepared, against an opponent who has experience and willingness to face criminal prosecution is an uphill fight.

If you cannot defend yourself, gather evidence for the police investigation. Eventually someone may find the bad guy.

I don't think that you have... (Below threshold)

I don't think that you have it right J.R. - I don't see Jay Tea suggesting anything about the girl. She was truly a victim and I didn't get the impression at all that JT was suggesting anything else.

That being said, I liked the post. And I don't necessarily think that animals tend to always flee - if cornered, most of them can get very aggressive. The self defense motivation becomes "at all costs".

There are several places in Tennessee, as I recall, that advise you to "Check your guns" when you enter a restaurant. I thought that was pretty cool.

And someone posted a response to a similar thread somewhere recently which pointed to Austrailia having tried forced gun control recently (i.e., hand them in)and saw their crime rate triple within 2-3 years. San Francisco is beginning to see the same effect. Of course they are, uh, well, nevermind.

I have a concealed carry li... (Below threshold)

I have a concealed carry liscense, and I carry everywhere that it is legal to do so. I have had friends ask me why I do it, am I paranoid?
The answer is that I do indeed believe that I have a duty to protect myself, and those that I love and am responsible for (wife, etc.). Andy hit the nail on the head when he said "Police do not prevent crime. They investigate after it occurs. Until a crime has been committed the police are powerless",(a baseball bat is, however, a weapon and can be answered with deadly force. The point is not to keep things fair between you and your attacker, it is to stop the attack. that is Arkansas law, your mileage may vary). Until that happens your life is yours to protect, and personally I'd rather have the means to defend myself and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Duty for self defence</b... (Below threshold)

Duty for self defence would not be a free will or a free choice.
There are places in Europe where you do not need to worry about self defence cources.
Ever tought, why all Americans can't be like Inuit, live like them or at least pretend to be ?

"There are places in Europe... (Below threshold)

"There are places in Europe where you do not need to worry about self defence cources."

Such as?

WTF are you talking about?

I see the right to self-def... (Below threshold)

I see the right to self-defense as an extension of the right of individual existence. It's meaningless to say I have a right to exist if I can't defend it when someone wants to take it away. People who feel individuals shouldn't have a right of self-defense are really saying that they expect the individual to let themselves be killed for the good of society -- or, rather, their idealized conception of the perfect society. My answer to that is: You first.

Dill...6 Days War, n... (Below threshold)

6 Days War, not 7.
Prior to the Isreali offensive:
Syria was lobbing missles from the Golan Heights, and violating Isreal's airspace. The IDF shot down 6 Syrian MiG on April 7, 1967.
May 15, Israel's Independence Day, Egypt moved troops into the Sinai, massed along the border.
May 18: Syria masses troops on Golan Heights.
Egyptian President Nasser orders the UN forces out of the Sinai. Once the UNEF was gone, he proclaimed:

As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence

May 20, Syria's defense minster stated
Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united....I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation

May 22, Egypt illegally closes the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, cutting off Israel's supply of oil and their only supply line to the the Asian continent.
May 30, Jordan and Egypt sign a defense pact. Nasser announced:
The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel...to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations

Israel moved before the Arabs were ready to make their own attack. Had they allowed Nasser and company to choose the time and place of their assualt, the massively outnumbered Israelis would have been steamrolled. Ben-Gurion and the IDF did the sensible thing.

Another example of the <... (Below threshold)

Another example of the "Europeanization of America." In their welfare/socialist society (Canada can be included in this as well) they choose not to defend themselves. And as always, the left wants the U.S. to follow right along in their footsteps (cut & run anyone?.) What's it going to take before the left learns - another 9/11? Wonder how EU did in their "dialogue" with Iran? Hmmm...

"You may not use deadly ... (Below threshold)

"You may not use deadly force (gun) against a baseball bat or fist.


You can use whatever means is necessary to end the threat. And, a maniac coming at you with a bat is a threat to your life.

You may not set a trap for the offender.

Sadly, this is mostly true. It doesn't mean you can't hide around the corner from an armed intruder in your home, and drop him when he comes into view - provided you comply with any duty to retreat laws in your state.

Now, if I confront an intuder in my home at night and my kids' room is on the other side of him, there is no way, I'm retreating back away from the kids' room. Mr. Poor Decision Maker is going down where he stands.

"You must wait until you have been attacked and then respond ONLY in equal measure."

You have absolutely no frigging idea what you're talking about.

If a guy breaks into my hous with a gun, how close do I have to let the bullet get to me before I can return fire.

Or if he fires six shots and stops to reload, do I have to wait until he's done to "make it fair"?

If he's coming at me with a knife, do I haev to drop my gun and run to the kitchen to get a knife of equal blade length?

Ae you beginning to see how utterly ridiculouos that statement is, Andy.

And, Socratease....right on!

Bruce, those ARE in fact th... (Below threshold)

Bruce, those ARE in fact the laws regarding self-defense in many states.

That proportional crap is t... (Below threshold)

That proportional crap is the law in Germany. Nevermind that the choirboy with a switchblade has been mixing it up with blades since his voice cracked, and you can just manage not to loose any fingers while cooking. If you've got a gun (say you're a hunter or something, and have the piece legally) you'd be prosecuted if you plug the guy instead of using the same force he was using. Nuts, I know...

Who said you have to defend... (Below threshold)

Who said you have to defend yourself in proportionate measure?

That's stupid. I'm five feet tall, female, etc. If I'm attacked or threatened by a man... even if he's not 6 foot 250 lbs, I can't respond proportionally. I have one chance. Once I fight back my attacker knows I will do that and it's *over*. I can NOT win.

I have to hit him *hard* before he even knows I'm going to fight back and then I've got to run. And if hitting him *hard* means rupturing his balls, or breaking his collar bone, gouging an eye out or crushing his larynx (which my karate instructor assures me will kill a man) I'm going to hit what's open and I'm going to *run*. And if he's gagging and dying on the sidewalk behind me I'm not going to feel bad about it or wonder if he was *only* going to steal my purse or car.

I'm not going to wait until I'm out on the messa and there's no longer any doubt that I'll be left for dead before I waste the guy.

Proportion is great, so long as the bad guy isn't bigger than you. And yes, criminals tend to be stupid, but how many are stupid enough not to chose a weak target?

JimK,As soon as I ... (Below threshold)


As soon as I wrote that, I realized I forgot to take into account that "Andy" might be a subject of the United Kingdom, in which case, he would be bound by the laws there that have made defending one's loved ones a crime.

But, seeing as what he wrote doesn't apply in Massachusetts, I figured it wouldn't apply anywhere in the country. Are some states actually more pro-rapist than Massachusetts?

I didn't think that was possible.

I was reading a bit of Hobb... (Below threshold)

I was reading a bit of Hobbes's =Leviathan= this morning, and came across the following passage: "A Covenant not to defend my selfe from force, by force, is always voyd. For ... no man can transferre, or lay down his Right to save himselfe from Death, Wounds, and Imprisonment, (the avoyding whereof is the onely End of laying down any Right, and therefore the promise of not resisting force, in no Covenant, transferreth any rightl nor is obliging."

In short, a 17th century British guy agrees with you, Jay Tea. I highly recommend the reading of =Leviathan=, as it gives you some of the ideas that the Founding Fathers definitely had in mind in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Once again I must point out... (Below threshold)

Once again I must point out that in MA there is no duty to retreat from ones home.

If you are in your own home, there is no duty to retreat, but you may use deadly force only to repel an intruder's deadly force attack against you or your family.






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