2 days ago
So argues David DeGrazia who is a professor of philosophy at George Washington University.
There is no absolute right to self-defense; the right is qualified or limited. When the limits to this right are in view, the ground beneath gun ownership rights appears shakier.
Suppose I live in a country with useless law enforcement and know that an assassin is trying to kill me. Surely I, an innocent person, may defend myself. But if the only effective means is by blowing up a crowded building, killing not only the assassin but dozens of innocent people, I may not proceed. My act of self-defense would be disproportionately harmful to innocent others and would violate their rights. My right to self-defense is limited by the means I may take in exercising it.
Perhaps, then, people have a right to take effective means to defend themselves so long as these measures don’t wrongly harm or violate the rights of others. Yet this isn’t quite right either.
When others threaten your security or rights, certain measures may be necessary to protect you. But it doesn’t follow that you may take those measures if another party has assumed responsibility for taking them on your behalf. As Thomas Hobbes argued centuries ago, when we leave a “state of nature” and enter civil society — which features the rule of law rather than anarchy and vigilantism — we transfer some rights to a government whose job description includes protecting us from various common threats. For example, the police, an arm of the government, are permitted to pursue criminals, forcibly apprehend them and bring them to justice. As private citizens, we generally lack the authority to perform these actions.
So it is questionable whether we have not only a right to forceful protective measures but also a right to take those measures ourselves. If the right to do so has been delegated to the police and, in case of foreign invasion, to the military, then our right to self-defense is further qualified. We have, in fact, partly delegated the job of protecting our security to the police and military in the interest of a well-ordered society. So the qualified right to self-defense comes to this: a right to defend oneself when doing so (1) does not wrongly harm others or violate their rights and (2) is necessary to protect one’s security and/or rights because such protection isn’t otherwise forthcoming.
Does the qualified right of self-defense support gun ownership? Presumably, this right concerns the freedom to use effective means to defend oneself — subject to the two qualifications just stated. So, it must be asked: Are guns effective means? Are they necessary for one’s protection? And does gun ownership steer clear of harming others and violating their rights?
These questions raise complicated issues in the social sciences, political philosophy and ethics. In this short space, I can only offer a few brief notes of skepticism.
First, in our current American milieu of minimal gun control, gun ownership is associated with an increased likelihood that someone in the household will die a violent death. Assuming the spirit of “self-defense in the home” includes defending not only oneself but other household members, this evidence-based generalization suggests that gun ownership, on average, is not an effective means to personal security; rather, it tends to be self-defeating.
Second, is gun ownership necessary in the event of an attempted break-in? That is uncertain. Some evidence suggests that calling the police and hiding are more frequently sufficient for a good outcome than is brandishing or using a gun.
Third, does gun ownership avoid wrongly harming others or violating their rights? Not if, as I believe evidence suggests, gun ownership more often leads to injuring or killing innocent persons than to appropriate defensive use.
Well, this is a strange set of arguments indeed. I’ve never seen anything quite like it (at least put together like this in such a disjointed, disconnected set of passages). Let’s unpack this is a bit.
David displays a childish understanding of Western law, or any law in the world for that matter (Asian, Middle Eastern, etc.). Let me rehearse the reality where we’ve addressed this sort of argument before.
In the 1981 decision in Warren v. District of Columbia the D.C. Court of Appeals concluded that it is a “fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.” In Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005), the Supreme Court declined to expand any requirements for protection and ruled that the police cannot be sued for failure to protect individuals, even when restraining orders were in place.
Mr. Hubbard knows these decisions, and also knows that even if it was commonly accepted that the police were required to protect individuals, it would be impossible. They cannot be there all of the time, and they cannot even promise any particular timely response to your calls. The police can literally eat popcorn and watch while a woman is raped, as long as they effect an arrest after the fact. They may be fired for failure to follow a department procedure, but they will not be charged with a crime. “To protect and serve” is a sweet campaign slogan for Sheriffs who are running for office, but it’s a lie – it’s always a lie … The police are there for stability operations and security of the government. Understand that.
It may be a sweet bedtime story for all the little collectivists and their children to believe that the government is in some sort of contract to protect them and bring utopia to earth, but it just isn’t true. No court in America recognizes such a contract. David is engaged in propagating myths and fairy tales.
Next, he disconnects rights from any mooring or foundation and thus leaves the notion of rights meaningless. Not once does the author, who is supposedly a professor of philosophy, anchor his “rights” in a larger system of philosophy with the requisite epistemology, cosmology, metaphysics, ethics and so on. He does throw in a reference to Hobbes (and here I should mention that I consider Hobbes to have been an extremely weak thinker and his philosophy full of problems), but he says too much by using Hobbes as a reference because Hobbes believed in the right of revolt.
Next, he takes an even further turn into the bizarre by becoming a tactical advisor. He would counsel people under threat call the police and hide. Hide! But concealment isn’t cover, and dry wall doesn’t stop any handgun round known to man, much less rifle rounds. If anyone listens to his counsel, you are risking your life and the lives of your loved ones.
Next, he conflates the damage done by criminals with the good done by innocent victims, regardless of the weapon (and here one can substitute hammers, knives, etc.). He has divorced volitional intentionality from the use of tools (here substitute cars, truck loads full of fertilizer, and many other things that can be used to harm man but which can also be used for good). He even throws in a derogatory term for good measure, i.e., “brandishing,” which has nothing whatsoever to do with behavior in one’s own home, and everything to do with threatening or menacing behavior with a weapon in public. No respected tactical trainer to my knowledge has ever suggested that someone “brandish” or wave around guns at home invaders. You should shoot them, just like this woman did who recently used a handgun in self defense.
Finally, he is recommending the abdication of individual rights of innocent men because of the damage done by criminals, as if removal of the liberty of peaceable men will affect criminal behavior. He gives absolutely no justification for the rationality of this belief, or why it should be taken as properly foundational and basic. It isn’t rational, and it isn’t properly foundational and basic.
Regular readers know the true foundation of the Western principle of self defense, and it extends beyond mere self defense. The basis for this principle is found in the Decalogue.
I am afraid there have been too many centuries of bad teaching endured by the church, but it makes sense to keep trying. As I’ve explained before, the simplest and most compelling case for self defense lies in the decalogue. Thou shall not murder means thou shall protect life.
God’s law requires [us] to be able to defend the children and helpless. “Relying on Matthew Henry, John Calvin and the Westminster standards, we’ve observed that all Biblical law forbids the contrary of what it enjoins, and enjoins the contrary of what it forbids.” I’ve tried to put this in the most visceral terms I can find.
God has laid the expectations at the feet of heads of families that they protect, provide for and defend their families and protect and defend their countries. Little ones cannot do so, and rely solely on those who bore them. God no more loves the willing neglect of their safety than He loves child abuse. He no more appreciates the willingness to ignore the sanctity of our own lives than He approves of the abuse of our own bodies and souls. God hasn’t called us to save the society by sacrificing our children or ourselves to robbers, home invaders, rapists or murderers. Self defense – and defense of the little ones – goes well beyond a right. It is a duty based on the idea that man is made in God’s image. It is His expectation that we do the utmost to preserve and defend ourselves when in danger, for it is He who is sovereign and who gives life, and He doesn’t expect us to be dismissive or cavalier about its loss.
And concerning John Calvin’s comments on this subject:
We do not need to prove that when a good thing is commanded, the evil thing that conflicts with it is forbidden. There is no one who doesn’t concede this. That the opposite duties are enjoined when evil things are forbidden will also be willingly admitted in common judgment. Indeed, it is commonplace that when virtues are commended, their opposing vices are condemned. But we demand something more than what these phrases commonly signify. For by the virtue of contrary to the vice, men usually mean abstinence from that vice. We say that the virtue goes beyond this to contrary duties and deeds. Therefore in this commandment, “You shall not kill,” men’s common sense will see only that we must abstain from wronging anyone or desiring to do so. Besides this, it contains, I say, the requirement that we give our neighbor’s life all the help we can … the purpose of the commandment always discloses to us whatever it there enjoins or forbids us to do” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapter viii, Part 9).
I have further observed that “If you’re willing to sacrifice the safety and health of your wife or children to the evils of abuse, kidnapping, sexual predation or death, God isn’t impressed with your fake morality. Capable of stopping it and choosing not to, you’re no better than a child molester, and I wouldn’t allow you even to be around my grandchildren.”
You’re the equivalent of the child predator if you reject your duty of self defense and defense of the little ones. I haven’t one ounce of respect for you. Mr. DeGrazia has done a pitiful job of arguing against the principle of self defense. And with his unseemly deference to the state, he has also given us no reason to conclude that he would have been willing or able (or armed) to save Christian lives in the Armenian genocide or Jews in the Holocaust (both of which were predicated on gun control). Mr. DeGrazia is in bad company.