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Self-Defense-Blindness:

Many arguments against allowing private gun ownership or gun carrying strike me as quite plausible; I think they're mistaken, but they make sense. The arguments claim that banning guns would provide more benefits, especially in saving people's lives, than the costs that such a ban would impose (frustrated self-defense, decreased deterrence, and other things). I think that this argument is empirically unlikely, and morally troublesome. But it makes sense on its own terms.

Occasionally, though, I run across a different phenomenon — both as to guns and as to other things — that I think of as "self-defense-blindness": a complete failure to even consider self-defense as one of the functions of a gun or other weapon. Either the speaker doesn't even think of self-defense, or at least he assumes that the listener can be persuaded not to think of self-defense.

We see this, for instance, in claims that some guns should be banned because they lack a "sporting purpose," without considering a possible self-defense purpose. We also see this in statements that guns are good only for killing. Even if one includes threatening to kill alongside killing (and ignores target-shooting), talking about "killing" in condemning guns without distinguishing criminal killings/threats from self-defense killings/threats strikes me as self-defense-blindness.

But in doing research for my nondeadly weapons article, I saw the same for non-firearms devices as well. Consider Tear Gas — Pencil Gun — Dangerous Weapon, 26 Opinions of the Connecticut Attorney General 207 (1950). The question was whether "tear gas pencil gun[s]" (described basically as individualized irritant spray weapons) should be treated as "dangerous or deadly weapon[s]" for purposes of the Connecticut statute banning the carrying of such weapons without a permit. The A.G. said yes, and that's a plausible bottom-line, if the question is just whether the device is dangerous. But consider the A.G.'s rationale:

It is obvious that the function of this so-called pencil gun is to injure and to disable an individual and it is inconceivable that this instrument would be used or has any other function than to disable temporarily or permanently. It may well be that in the hands of proper authority, such as a police official, the temporary disabling of an individual or individuals may ultimately serve a useful function. However, in the hands of an individual without any such authority, there is no question but that the pencil gun could only be calculate [to] injure.

It is our opinion, therefore, that the so-called tear gas pencil gun is a dangerous and deadly weapon within the provisions of [the statute].

So the only "useful function" for a tear gas pencil gun is when police officers use it to temporarily disable people. The possibility that a citizen who wants to defend himself (or herself) might "useful[ly]" do so with a tear gas pencil gun is simply omitted. Nor is the A.G. simply commenting on the physical reality that the tear gas pencil gun can be dangerous regardless of whether used for good or ill; he's making a normative judgment that the device is "useful" when used by the police, but not even discussing whether people might find it equally "useful" for self-defense.

And all these examples aren't about guns. They can't just be described as the direct effect of hostility to guns. Nor can they be defended on the grounds that they implicitly borrow from the standard critique of gun ownership. Rather, they seem to be part of a broader blindness to self-defense, and an unthinking assumption that the "useful function," the "common lawful purpose," and the "customary employment" of weapons simply doesn't include lawful self-defense.

All the states of the union legally allow self-defense. They even allow deadly self-defense when necessary to repel a threat of death, serious injury, rape, kidnapping, or in many states robbery (or even burglary). But despite this, the arguments I quoted above (and many like them) simply ignore self-defense altogether. The arguer is self-defense-blind, or he wants his listeners to be.

Dan Hamilton:
You don't understand. Violence is WRONG. In any shape or fashion. Anytime for any purpose.

If YOU don't use violence it will not be used against you.

If a criminal demands your wallet give it to him. Then he has no reason to hurt you and will just take the wallet and go. Your wallet is not worth your life.

Don't you know the truth? Violence never solves or helps anything.

God is against violence. Didn't Jesus say to turn the other cheek.

Remember only criminals use violence.
4.16.2009 9:44am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
I don't think it's blindness--or the desire to encourage blindness in others--it is the view that self defense is morally wrong...unless you have been duly authorized by the state.

This is standard moral evolution with statists. It starts as "It's easier for us...", and evolves into a moral imperative. If the masses begin solving their own problems, it becomes difficult to sort out the good guys from the bad. The statist prefers neatly ordered categories such as: the dope laying inside the chalk outline was the good guy, and the skell who stole a car and escaped is the bad guy. So much simpler that way. No?
4.16.2009 9:46am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Last sentence, last half. That's it. He wants his listeners to be self-defense blind.
Sort of like the planted axiom. You skate over a lacuna which, were it to be explained, would self-destruct because it's so obviously implausible.
Fact is, it takes deliberate skill to use that technique. The normal process is to explain things in an argument, and deciding not to, and disguising the miss, is not easy.
4.16.2009 9:49am
Dan Hamilton:
Please forgive me for channeling a liberal. I need a drink to get the taste out. God what stupidity.

The only good pirate or terrorist is a dead one. Kill them all let Satan sort them out.

Violent criminals see pirates.

Fight criminals shoot back or better shoot first.

God that feels better.
4.16.2009 9:49am
Calm Mentor:

he's making a normative judgment that the device is "useful" when used by the police, but not even discussing whether people might find it equally "useful" for self-defense.


I think this is close, but I would put it differently. It's not just the use of a weapon that's at issue. It's whether violence itself has a useful function, when the violence is not a result of government action (e.g., law enforcement).

When all other options are off the table, proportionate violence in defense of the innocent is just and honorable under almost any moral framework.
4.16.2009 9:52am
Cory J (mail):
Your post and Dan's comment made me think of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's letters to the editor from yesterday:



The events of the past couple of weeks, with mass shootings in Binghamton, N.Y., and then Pittsburgh itself, reveal more than ever the need for strong gun control laws. Too many people have died, both in mass shootings and crimes against individuals, from the easy availability of firearms.

Some gun rights defenders, ironically echoing the beliefs of the alleged Pittsburgh shooter, will whine that this violates the intent of the Founding Fathers. However, this is not about men who died 200 years ago. It is about people who are dying now, and whose deaths might be prevented now if we take action.

It's time for all of society to make clear we will not tolerate gun rights being treasured above human lives by our public officials.


The writer arguably goes even one step beyond Dan's sarcasm: There will be no deadly violence if there are stricter gun control laws. Self-defense is no longer a need, then!
4.16.2009 9:54am
cboldt (mail):
-- Self-defense is just ignored. --
.
Technically, the specified device that can be used for self-defense is permitted to the authorities (e.g., police); but not to others. Just saying, it's not ignored. Also, denying a particular tool for self-defense does not result in a state "prohibiting" (applying legal penalties or requiring a license) the exercise of self-defense.
.
In simple terms, "Us and them." "Not lawful for -you- because the legislature said so, and we agree." The "governors and their goons" will never accept a level playing field as against the public. Of course, preventing the public from accessing these objects is to protect the public from itself. 'Nuff said.
4.16.2009 9:55am
corneille1640 (mail):

We also see this in statements that guns are good only for killing. Even if one includes threatening to kill alongside killing (and ignores hunting and target-shooting), talking about "killing" in condemning guns without distinguishing criminal killings/threats from self-defense killings/threats strikes me as self-defense-blindness.

Well, hunting does involve killing, at least if the hunting is successful. I understand what you're getting at, but you might think of rephrasing this point. [Done, thanks! -EV] The primary purpose of guns is indeed to kill or threaten to kill. As you, and the commentators, point out, there might be lawful and morally justifiable reasons to kill or threaten to kill. One might add that having a gun--if one knows how to use it--might reduce killing, because the threat of violence might be enough to prevent violence. But, secondary functions like target shooting aside, guns' primary function is indeed to kill.
4.16.2009 9:58am
cboldt (mail):
-- He wants his listeners to be self-defense blind. --
.
He gets his wish. Many of them are. "Self defense? That's what the police are for."
4.16.2009 10:01am
Cornellian (mail):
Personally, I'd like a flame thrower. I could also use it to light campfires. And while I don't like the idea of damaging my own stuff by using it to defend myself against someone who invades my home, I'm willing to live with that downside. I'll just keep a fire extinguisher handy.
4.16.2009 10:06am
Curt Fischer:
It breaks my heart sometime to see Prof. Volokh make such a thoroughly researched, well-reasoned post on an important topic...only to have the first wave of commenters undermine the post's persuasive value by resorting to caricatured, distorted "dumbocrat" impersonations.

I don't see a point to these types comments. Are they to reinforce the commenters own sense of self-righteousness? Are they meant to try to score more points against evil dems and libs? (I don't think they are very effective for that purpose.) Maybe the commenters are attempting to intellectually attach themselves to Prof. Volokh and his excellent analysis (don't I owe Prof. Kerr a beer?). It really is a mystery to me.

I read Prof. Volokh as aiming to persuade open-minded people on this issue, but the commenters seem more like they are celebrating their own righteousness by calling the opposition names: they are dumb, or "statists", or moral evolutionists, or that they deny anyone's right to self-defense.

If I am correct, the two motivations work at cross purposes. Calling people dumb, or hypocrites, or "statists", or resorting to distorted caricatures of their views, seems unlikely to persuade anyone.
4.16.2009 10:08am
Kirk:
Curt,

Can you think of anything more reasonable to call the despicable CT AG opinion than "statist"? "Official" use is fine, the rest of you can just die?
4.16.2009 10:16am
A.C.:
Okay, I'll try another tack. A lot of people are very sheltered, and it never occurs to them that they might want to use violence on their own behalf or on behalf of anyone else. This seems to be particularly common among young people, especially women, from elite backgrounds. Some have never even been seriously angry, because no one has given them a reason to be. Many have no idea even how to scream, much less use violence effectively.

Life being what it is, most will probably change their tunes when they emerge from their sheltered lives into a wider and more dangerous world. Not all, though. There's always an element that thinks it will never happen to them.
4.16.2009 10:24am
33yearprof:
Violence properly applied is the best preventive action to take in the face of a physical threat because you can never run fast enough to get away from a determined adversary. Ask any graduate of a Police Academy. A little bit of powerful force delivered with speed and determination really does eliminate the need to either sustain injury yourself or get in a protracted fight. At least in 99% of situations. The other 1% is unavoidable.

The anti-self defense huddle of sheep are people who never took on a school yard bully, hurt him but lost anyway (I'm 5'5" and 150 lbs.), only to discover HE doesn't want to risk it again. Violence works. It works for the weak as well as for the strong. Just being willing to use violence, if appropriate, seem to work too because thugs can sense that you aren't an easy victim and they will avoid you.

There is nothing wrong with violence in itself. The Army will discharge a recruit as "unsuitable" who will not fight back in the pugil stick exercises. They will also discharge a recruit who can't accept that only SOME exercises of violence are appropriate. Human beings are supposed to be able to discriminate.

When societal response is immediate and delivered by whoever is there, people learn that they can't "get away" with anti-social conduct just because there is no police car in sight. That's a really important lesson because 99.9% of the time there will be NO police car in sight. Ask those who died in any mass public murder. The "let the professionals do it" thinkers are just creating zones of known safety for the thugs. Zones in which thuggery rules (whether through exercise of illicit violence or not). Safer "working conditions" produce more "work." In this instance, more thuggery.

Being unwilling to ACT to defend yourself is a immoral denial of your self-worth and a failure to do your part to insure society really is worthwhile.

See: Jeffrey R. Snyder, A Nation of Cowards, 113 The Public Interest 40 (Fall 1993)
4.16.2009 10:42am
Alan Gunn (mail):
You aren't really surprised by this, are you? The British haven't treated self-defense as a legitimate reason for carrying a weapon for a long time. (They also give asylum to captured pirates.) I think it's a diluted form of pacifism, but it's hard to tell, as people who think like this tend not to see a need to give reasons for their positions.
4.16.2009 10:44am
Guest44:
Thank you for this important post. It could be even more useful--for use in legal briefs--if expanded into a full article.
4.16.2009 10:52am
G.R. Mead (mail):
The reason is simple -- the moral arguments have fully objectified persons, such that instead of enlarging our subjective affiliation with others, of each person as an end in themselves, not a means to any other end, has been lost to moral calculation. It is ultimately a nihilisitc argument, and seen in the "forgettign" of self-defense as a moral argument. Defense of self and the very idea of self is progressively diminished by objectifying them into non-existence, rather than enlarging them beyond the bounds of the individual ego.

In short, in the fully objectified position that we find the moral impulse today among most people, that if the death of one serves, directly or indirectly, the lives of many -- he must die. It is the same for abortion as for self-defense and the blind-spot is PRECISELY the same one.

The argument is plausible if you buy into utilitarian thinking that "good" can be collectivized -- and it can't be. One man's meat is another man's poison. Good is inherently subjective to the person, even as it is objective in the nature and proper manner of its enjoyment -- but doing evil is defined by the relative objectification of persons -- in making them means, and not ends in themselves. The only way the collective good can be served is in serving others, willingly.

The argument from utility makes the unwilling death of one out of X others (presumptively not dead as result of the death of the one), a proportionate and reasonable argument, because the unwilling death of one is allowed as an acceptable means, to the continuation of the lives of the others. It is Caiaphas' argument, repeated once again. This blinkered utilitarian position is that one man's death, more or less, in the larger scheme of things, is, proportionately speaking, hardly a diminishment of the overall enjoyment of living by all the others.

It is, however, the total and complete extinguishment of the good in one life. These are of different category, not degree. There is no denominator for this equation -- nothing can properly diminish the significance of the total negation of an entire life. Each life is unique, uniquely good, and uniquely situated to do or not do things that aid the good of others, and uniquely entitled to defense from extinguishment, for that reason. The incidental taking of a life that threatens another life is to be regretted, but is never the intended result, which is always preserving the life directly threatened.

The utilitarian also misses the Type-2 error of his own utilitarian premise that he is also committing: What of the would-have been Beethoven, Mozart or Crick or Einstein who was sacrificed to the the good of another or even the putative "greater good"? What of the good that is, thereby, lost forever?

The sole distinction lies in the willing sacrifice of one's own life for others, for this fully subjectivizes the others protected as ends in themselves, equal to one's own self, and therefore a supreme good.
4.16.2009 10:56am
James Gibson (mail):
I call it the "make everyone a martyr complex." In the name of pacifisum they make self-defense illegal. In their logic if you die quietly and they then punish your killer with a five year period in jail its civilized justice. If they allow you to defend yourself they are condemining you to decades of moral shame for taking another human life.

In european countries, like Italy, you can only claim self-defense if you succeed in killing someone better armed then you. Barrack's comment of going to a knife fight with a revolver will only get you time in an Italian prison for murder. In that same regard statements made by Justice Breyer and Stevens show a judicial bent towards limiting how people can defend themselves on the grounds that handguns are somehow excessive or unreasonable.

In the mean time we get newsmedia programs like the 20/20 program the other day with rigged results (John Lott). Like the Florida Sheriff rigging the demo between a hunting rifle and an AK47, rigged media demos are back again. And not only were the demos rigged, but ABC news provides links to gun control groups to assist you in learning more about gun violence and how to stop it. The only thing they didn't do on this infomercial was ask for donations to the Brady campaign.
4.16.2009 11:43am
Carl in Chicago (mail):
EV wrote:
Either the speaker doesn't even think of self-defense, or at least he assumes that the listener can be persuaded not to think of self-defense. ... We also see this in statements that guns are good only for killing.


What amazes me about such argumentation is the lack of consideration of the fundamental context upon which the human right to self-preservation and the constitutional right to arms are based -

At the most fundamental level, it is precisely because guns are good for killing that their possession is protected.
4.16.2009 11:44am
DangerMouse:
Okay, I'll try another tack. A lot of people are very sheltered, and it never occurs to them that they might want to use violence on their own behalf or on behalf of anyone else. This seems to be particularly common among young people, especially women, from elite backgrounds.

That is very true. But you'd think that a state Attorney General would not be such an elitist, sheltered, ignorant person.

If he's not, then as others have said, it's an indication that he views self-defense as morally objectionable. I think libs have accepted that morality because of their general sympathy for criminals and the thinking that "the man" is oppressive merely because of his existence. Robbery from a property owner is no wrong, because the property owner's existence and property itself is the true crime. Hence, if the property owner actually defends himself and his property, it amounts to an injustice on top of an injustice. That's the thinking, at least subconsciously, of modern liberalism. Ultimately, it is suicidal to society and reflects a general nihilist attitide.
4.16.2009 11:56am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Mouse.
There were a lot of comments about deadly force protecting property when Korean shop owners disputed redistribution of wealth during the Rodney King riots. The point of the commenters was to make sure their pets got their choice of liquor and color televisions without let or hindrance.
Koreans are not an Accredited Victim Group.
4.16.2009 12:01pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Curt Fischer wrote:

...resorting to distorted caricatures of their views, seems unlikely to persuade anyone.


I dunno. Public opinion seems to have turned our way in the last decade or so--in a big way. Perhaps ridiculing the hypocritical, statist, democrap fairies has been more effective than you imagine.

Don't wig out, I'm just having a little fun with you. You do know that demonization is a 2-way street, don't you? It was during the Clinton administration that the NRA was effectively labeled the "criminal's best friend", and no less of an eminence than the POTUS blamed Rush Limbaugh for the Oklahoma City bombing. Or, to be precise, Clinton strongly implied it, and the rest of the Democrat party and the leftish media (but I repeat myself) ran with it.

The fact is that the pro gun control folks are unpersuaded by facts, or anything else. Most of us have given up on trying to change minds and are only interested in defeating them.
4.16.2009 12:07pm
ShelbyC:
How interesting. A post about blindness. That can be pretty challenging for some people, having to read the braille and all. I wish the best to folks with that affliction.
4.16.2009 12:09pm
Harry Schell (mail):
The Founders' resasoning and comments about the 2nd Amendment revolve around the human, individual right of effective self-defense, not about hunting or even "guns".

The words "arms, "keep" and "bear" are terms of art in law and philosophy about the sanctity of human life and self-defense for centuries preceding the Bill of Rights or regular use of firearms.

NRA has done a disservice to the dialogue by reducing it a "gun rights" issue rather than focusing on the intent of 2A.

When and if firearms become obsolete, the intent of 2A will be the same, that this human right shall not be infringed by government.

Whether the statists and the trembling sheep succeed in disarming the sheepdogs is a separate issue, but it is less likely to happen if the debate focuses on the self-defense application of arms.
4.16.2009 12:11pm
Crust (mail):
I find the second example less compelling that the other two. It seems to me that a Taser is analogous to a "30-inch knife, metal knuckles, and a sawed off shotgun" for these purposes. If those are held to meet the "serves no common lawful purpose" standard then I don't see why a Taser shouldn't also. (Of course, maybe the precedents were decided without weighing self-defense. Or maybe not.)
4.16.2009 12:16pm
trad and anon (mail):
Violence properly applied is the best preventive action to take in the face of a physical threat because you can never run fast enough to get away from a determined adversary.


This hardly sounds universal. If a mugger points a gun at you and demands your wallet, resisting with force is much more dangerous than just handing over your wallet. If you don't offer resistance, there's no incentive for the mugger to switch from ordinary robbery to murder. You are a lot more likely to get shot if you resist. If you just give up your wallet have to cancel your credit cards and get a new driver's license, and you also lose whatever money you were carrying, but none of that is worth getting shot over.

Also, the mugger is also likely to be larger, stronger, and younger than you are; muggers like to prey on the small, weak, and old because they have less capacity to offer resistance.
4.16.2009 12:17pm
SeaDrive:
In the law enforcement and public safety areas, there are many situations where we are expected to seek a public solution and forgo a private one. For example, we seek justice/compensation through the courts rather than seeking revenge personally. Our observation of societal chaos in revenge-seeking places such as Iraq reinforces our notion that it's better our way.

I think self-defense blindness is due to association with crime, hence public safety, which leads some people to file it as a public issue, no matter what the facts or efficacy.
4.16.2009 12:21pm
trad and anon (mail):
How interesting. A post about blindness. That can be pretty challenging for some people, having to read the braille and all. I wish the best to folks with that affliction.


Actually, the use of braille is not as common as sighted people tend to think. Most blind people are actually people with incredibly bad vision rather than people whose eyes don't function at all, so a fair number of them can read if the text is blown up enough. It's also very common to "read" by listening to audio. Computers have made both much easier, because text can be magnified to arbitrary sizes and screen readers can read text aloud, which further reduces the need for braille.
4.16.2009 12:24pm
DonP (mail):
"Personally, I'd like a flame thrower."

Be my guest. They are classified as agricultural tools and can be purchased, permit free, at pretty much any Farm &Fleet store in the midwest.

Very useful for clearing brush and the invasive Tartarian Honeysuckle that infests the midwest.
4.16.2009 12:33pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:
Professor Volokh, I do not think the Pennsylvania AG opinion necessarily fits your point. The law bans offensive weapons defined as "implements for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serve no common lawful purpose." The lawful purpose for the implement must be a common one. But, how common is it that someone needs to defend themselves such that he would have occasion to a taser? I would suggest that this is in fact a rare, rather than common, occurrence for most people. When you look at the past precedents cited, (30-inch knife, metal knuckles, and a sawed off shotgun are offensive weapons; butter knife, scissors, and a pack of razor blades are not), it seems clear to me that this interpretation holds and tasers should be treated the same as a 30-inch knife, metal knuckles, and a sawed off shotgun. Moreover, an argument that self-defense would satisfy the common lawful purpose requirement proves too much. If it were sufficient, then basically no possible non-military weapon would fit within the definition. You might criticize the decision for not being more explicit that self-defense is not a common lawful purpose, but I wouldn't read the opinion as saying self-defense is not a lawful purpose (unlike the others that you cite).
4.16.2009 12:41pm
ShelbyC:

The lawful purpose for the implement must be a common one.


It sounds like you're suggesting that violent crime is uncommon.
4.16.2009 12:45pm
33yearprof:

This hardly sounds universal. If a mugger points a gun at you and demands your wallet, resisting with force is much more dangerous than just handing over your wallet. If you don't offer resistance, there's no incentive for the mugger to switch from ordinary robbery to murder. You are a lot more likely to get shot if you resist. If you just give up your wallet have to cancel your credit cards and get a new driver's license, and you also lose whatever money you were carrying, but none of that is worth getting shot over.

Also, the mugger is also likely to be larger, stronger, and younger than you are; muggers like to prey on the small, weak, and old because they have less capacity to offer resistance.


This is just speculation, right? You have never attended a force on force training session nor thought seriously about actually defending yourself, right?

I've done both.

Action beats reaction every time. I know that I can knock your gun aside and put 2 shots in your chest and 1 in your head before you realize I'm not handing over my wallet (1.5 seconds).

It is the gun (and only the gun), the "great equalizer," that allows a 60 year-old to best a 20 year-old.

He who wants to win, will.
4.16.2009 12:54pm
Malvolio:
how common is it that someone needs to defend themselves such that he would have occasion to a taser? I would suggest that this is in fact a rare, rather than common, occurrence for most people.
You've got the wrong denominator.

The question is not how often someone needs to defend himself, compared to how many people there are. The question is how often a taser is lawfully used, compared to how many times one is used at all.

While there have been a few robberies committed with tasers, I submit that the vast majority of the occasions that a taser is fired, or even brandished, it is done so legitimately.

Whether the same is true of 30-inch knives or brass knucks or sawed-offs, I couldn't say.
4.16.2009 12:57pm
33yearprof:
Oh, by the way ... self-defense is dangerous.

However only the victim in the actual situation can weight the relative dangers of surrender vs. resistance. Only the person in the situation. It is immoral, I believe, to deny me that choice (as many states do, in practical effect). It's MY life not yours.

If you have a gun, you have a choice.

You can always hand over the wallet as surrender (or as a distraction as you transition to fast, powerful, violent resistance). If you drop the wallet on the ground and the thug reaches for it, he's yours. For the prepared, the opportunities constantly change. If you can, do. If you can't, wait.
4.16.2009 1:02pm
Kirk:
33yearprof,

I like what you're saying, but can I offer a minor quibble?

Instead of this:
If you have a gun, you have a choice
you really should say:
If you have a gun, you have more choices
4.16.2009 1:13pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
33yearprof wrote:

However only the victim in the actual situation can weight the relative dangers of surrender vs. resistance. Only the person in the situation. It is immoral, I believe, to deny me that choice (as many states do, in practical effect). It's MY life not yours.


That bears repeating. When an individual perceives an immediate threat to life and limb, he--not the state's AG, not the Chief of Police, and certainly not trad and anon--is best positioned to determine the most prudent course of action (or inaction).

I wonder how many of the 9/11 victims, who were told by 911 dispatchers to remain in place until the FD arrived, would take a do-over if it were offered. The well meaning dispatchers were miles away and reading from a script. I pity the fools who substituted the dispatcher's uninformed judgment for their own on-site assessment of how the situation was turning to caca.

Too many people are comfortable with surrendering responsibility for their own safety.
4.16.2009 1:23pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:

It sounds like you're suggesting that violent crime is uncommon.


It depends upon your frame of reference. For society as a whole, not uncommon. For any particular individual, I would say it is uncommon.


You've got the wrong denominator.

The question is not how often someone needs to defend himself, compared to how many people there are. The question is how often a taser is lawfully used, compared to how many times one is used at all.


While I agree with you a taser is probably more frequently used in self defense than assault, I don't read the statute to make that the relevant issue. The statute defines offensive weapon as any "implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose." To give it the meaning you suggest, it would have to read something like any "implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which is more commonly used for an unlawful purpose than it is for a lawful purpose." It just doesn't say that.
4.16.2009 1:46pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):
People who ask why we need an AK-47 never ask why the governments needs thousands of them.


This hardly sounds universal. If a mugger points a gun at you and demands your wallet, resisting with force is much more dangerous than just handing over your wallet. If you don't offer resistance, there's no incentive for the mugger to switch from ordinary robbery to murder. You are a lot more likely to get shot if you resist. If you just give up your wallet have to cancel your credit cards and get a new driver's license, and you also lose whatever money you were carrying, but none of that is worth getting shot over.

So if a mugger points a gun at a police officer, the police officer should simply surrender? Is arresting a mugger worth getting shot over?



The fact is that the pro gun control folks are unpersuaded by facts, or anything else.

Pro gun control folks have as much use of facts as Holocaust denial folks.
And not only were the demos rigged, but ABC news provides links to gun control groups to assist you in learning more about gun violence and how to stop it.


If the NYPD were disbanded, or even just disarmed, far fewer unarmed black men would die at the hands of police.
4.16.2009 1:48pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
I agree with wuzzagrunt that it is not really blindness. In the third example, the judge has carefully constructed a fallacious argument. It reads as if the judge knew that the argument is fallacious, but tried to make it sound as good as possible anyway.
4.16.2009 2:18pm
Fact Checker:
The anti-self defense huddle of sheep are people who never took on a school yard bully, hurt him but lost anyway (I'm 5'5" and 150 lbs.), only to discover HE doesn't want to risk it again. Violence works. It works for the weak as well as for the strong. Just being willing to use violence, if appropriate, seem to work too because thugs can sense that you aren't an easy victim and they will avoid you.

Unfortunately, it is attitudes like this, that lets both schoolyard bullies and further violence (and ultimately the gun culture that Eugene and so many of you glorify) flourish. If you don't fight back you are a wimp. The school administration (the government) tells you, "you should defend yourself". Both the bully and the victim think that violence or threat of violence are the solution to the problem.

Okay, I'll try another tack. A lot of people are very sheltered, and it never occurs to them that they might want to use violence on their own behalf or on behalf of anyone else.

Actually, most people who insist that the only way they can ensure their personal safety (including Eugene and instapundit sitting in their publically funded Ivory Towers in Los Angeles and Knoxville) is to carry a gun are very sheltered. Look at Clayton Cramer, he thinks the town he lives near is "really, really poor". Those of those who live in real neighborhoods in the real world know that guns are a curse that cause more violence and crime and erode more freedom than they will ever preserve.
4.16.2009 2:38pm
Troll (mail):
Whoever said that robbers prey on small/weak/old do not know what they're talking about. I was robbed with another person by a scrawny little short guy with a revolver.

Several people in my town were robbed in a spree a few weeks ago, including a group of 5 young college men. The same thing happened when I was in Ann Arbor for college - a guy was robbing groups of young men at gunpoint.

It's very dumb if you think that because you're young and fit you won't be targeted.
4.16.2009 2:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Troll.

The point about relative sizes presumed non-gun robberies and assaults.
4.16.2009 3:32pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

Actually, most people who insist that the only way they can ensure their personal safety (including Eugene and instapundit sitting in their publically funded Ivory Towers in Los Angeles and Knoxville) is to carry a gun are very sheltered.

You mean like the NYPD, LAPD, Chicago PD, and NOPD?

The NYPD's personal safety is so important that they must continue to possess firearms even after killing an unarmed black man or two.


Both the bully and the victim think that violence or threat of violence are the solution to the problem.

What was the proper response to the shelling of Fort Sumter or the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

What was the proper response to the Holocaust or the Rape of Nanking?

Of course, it never occurs to you people to not initiate violence.


Those of those who live in real neighborhoods in the real world know that guns are a curse that cause more violence and crime and erode more freedom than they will ever preserve.

The government is unwilling to give up its guns.
4.16.2009 3:40pm
Desiderius:
Well along the road to blindness to self itself.
4.16.2009 4:31pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
If a mugger points a gun at you and demands your wallet, resisting with force is much more dangerous than just handing over your wallet.
If the person pointing a gun at you is a rapist or murderer resisting with force is much less dangerous than letting him kill you.
If you don't offer resistance, there's no incentive for the mugger to switch from ordinary robbery to murder.
Crime is not a reasonable profession, therefore it doesn't attract reasonable practitioners. Criminals don't need much incentive to use violence. The desire to eliminate a witness is usually adequate.
Also, the mugger is also likely to be larger, stronger, and younger than you are; muggers like to prey on the small, weak, and old because they have less capacity to offer resistance.
Unless armed.
Those of those who live in real neighborhoods in the real world know that guns are a curse that cause more violence and crime and erode more freedom than they will ever preserve.
Over my 62 years I've lived in all kinds of neighborhoods all over the world. Those with the most legal gun ownership and least restriction on such have always proved to be the most peaceful.
4.16.2009 4:47pm
guess'd (mail):
EV,

Coupla thoughts:

If I read that correctly, the opinion was from 1950. The "tear gas pens" of that time were different from and less benign that the spritzers of pepper plant used today. They had a spring loaded firing pin that would fire the primer of a screw-in cartridge, either with or without a tiny smidgen of explosive, to eject a clout of powdered CS agent. The CS was contained in the open front of the cartridge by a hard wax plug which shattered and was ejected along with the CS. This is all IIRC. This device might have had a potential for scratching someone's cornea, unlike the gentle sprays of today.

Attitudes in general toward self defense and toward police authority were different than today. Firearms as such were not demonized as they are now, but having various things in your possession- concealed weapons, billy clubs, switchblades, possibly handcuffs, "burglar tools" and so forth- was a privilege of the authorities and somewhat more jealously guarded by them than it is now. Such is my impression, at least. The AG's view might have been unremarkable in those time, a little less so now.

WRT modern self defense devices in general, you might consider the point that they are devised to do one thing and that is to permit defense while avoiding serious harm to a human. Pepper provides a non-damaging alternative to other means that a woman might have to protect herself- oven spray (permanently blinding), hat pins (once popular and often recommended for women's defense) sewing scissors, vicious dogs (possible uncontrollable) and so forth.

In the hands of an armed man or woman, or one who is physically formidable, the pepper type instrument protects the attacker by giving the defender an alternative short of causing irrevocable physical harm or death.

I didn't read all these comments but you've probably heard, here or elsewhere, the phrase "continuum of force" or "escalation of force" or something of the sort. IOW, if circumstances permit, a defender can choose from an escalating scale of responses- avoidance, retreat, kind words, harsh words, spray, a smack with a walking stick, a strangle hold, or a firearm. The purpose of all this is to do the least harm to the attacker. Removing any of these intermediate steps leaves the defender fewer alternatives.
4.16.2009 5:59pm
Matthew Carberry (mail):

This hardly sounds universal. If a mugger points a gun at you and demands your wallet, resisting with force is much more dangerous than just handing over your wallet. If you don't offer resistance, there's no incentive for the mugger to switch from ordinary robbery to murder. You are a lot more likely to get shot if you resist. If you just give up your wallet have to cancel your credit cards and get a new driver's license, and you also lose whatever money you were carrying, but none of that is worth getting shot over.


The erroneous assumption being made is that the initial mugging, a term that understates what is in fact a robbery under the law, is the limit of what that particular, proven violent criminal intends. You can't know that at the time of the attack. The extent of the crime and its consequences cannot be known until the criminal has decided to end the encounter or someone intervenes.

Depending on the word of a proven violent criminal that they will not hurt you if you comply with their initial demand is naive at best and actively self-destructive at worst. Without a response, there is nothing to prevent the attacker from escalating the offense on a whim.

How many violent assaults, rapes or homicides began indistinguishable from a simple "mugging"?
4.16.2009 6:25pm
Woodland Critter:
A society that reduces or eliminates the right of self defense has a greater moral obligation to assure its citizens that they will not be victims of violence. Are the advocates of reduced rights of self defense willing to implement additional measures to protect and compensate their fellow citizens who bear the greater risk of predation? Such measures may include: (1) more police, (2) greater police powers at the expense of civil liberties, (3) longer prison sentences for offenders and (4) assumption of legal liability for the acts of the predators by the government. All of these measures are costly or extremely costly and reduce our ability to spend that money on other goods. If not, the entire cost of predation is borne by the victim.
4.16.2009 6:29pm
guess'd (mail):
Looking back at the original issue, the "blindness" of lawmakers to self defense, and Wuz's insightful comment about the difference in our perspective and that of a statist... IOW, that the apparent contradictions are only because of our different perspectives...

What if the lawmakers truly consider themselves Rulers. They are not against deadly self defense measures to protect their own irreplaceable selves. But deadly force entails risk, and allowing it's use to defend the ordinary individual in the general mass of population is a different story.

What they desire, and believe they deserve, is a government monopoly on the means of force. The difference in their perspective and ours has to do with sovereignty. They believe (truly, in their hearts) that it resides in them and the government process they oversee. We, OTOH, are assuming that in this country it resides with the people.

They believe, as sovereigns, their lives are among the most precious assets of the republic. The general population, beloved as those people might be, are more in the nature of worker bees, consumer units, manageable and manipulatable voting blocs, a flock to be governed for it's own good.

A shepherd might prefer his flock of sheep to be dehorned. He might lose a few to wolves but the sheep aren't really reasoning creatures as he is. Some of them might hurt each other if they were allowed to keep horns, they would be harder to manage, and it would create the unthinkable possibility that one might even puncture one of the noble rulers, even if by accident. Perhaps when they have to be in close proximity, like at shearing time.

The sheep need not and shouldn't worry about defending themselves. It's not their job. The shepherds will protect them from the wolves- at least most of them, most of the time.

Still the sheep are beloved, and to be cherished- as sheep. As economic units, resources, well-liked faces and personalities in their own right- but sovereign? Hardly.

The simplest theory that explains conflicting data is the best theory.
4.16.2009 7:42pm
Joshua (mail):
James Gibson: I call it the "make everyone a martyr complex." In the name of pacifisum they make self-defense illegal. In their logic if you die quietly and they then punish your killer with a five year period in jail its civilized justice. If they allow you to defend yourself they are condemining you to decades of moral shame for taking another human life.

Or worse yet, if the pacifism is religious in nature, if they allow you to defend yourself they are also condemning you to eternal damnation in hell.

On the other hand, if self-defense is illegal, it is presumably illegal for pacifists and non-pacifists alike, whereas if it is legal, non-pacifists are free to defend themselves, but pacifists (at least of the religious variety) still are not, due to the aforementioned prospect of eternal damnation. Assuming (reasonably, I think) that the likelihood of being met with resistance has deterrent value for a would-be attacker, prohibiting self-defense is a way for pacifists to level the playing field in this regard, thus effectively insulating themselves from the real-world consequences of their beliefs.
4.16.2009 8:06pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Joshua wrote:

On the other hand, if self-defense is illegal, it is presumably illegal for pacifists and non-pacifists alike, whereas if it is legal, non-pacifists are free to defend themselves, but pacifists (at least of the religious variety) still are not, due to the aforementioned prospect of eternal damnation.


I can't see how it would be ethically permissible for a genuine pacifist to cooperate with--or even support--the police power of the state. I mean, if you are mugged, and refuse to fight back, how can you justify siccing the cops on the mook? Isn't that merely violence by proxy?
4.16.2009 8:25pm
Joshua (mail):
wuzzagrunt: I can't see how it would be ethically permissible for a genuine pacifist to cooperate with--or even support--the police power of the state. I mean, if you are mugged, and refuse to fight back, how can you justify siccing the cops on the mook? Isn't that merely violence by proxy?

In the case of Christian pacifists, there is the whole "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" thing - in other words, don't concern yourself with the state's conduct, only with your own. Which is just as well, because even if pacifists were inclined to oppose the police power of the state, exactly how would they go about doing that? They are, after all, pacifists. Also, somehow I doubt they'd get very far with an explicitly anti-police power agenda in either the political or legal arenas.
4.16.2009 8:42pm
Tom Perkins (mail):

Unfortunately, it is attitudes like this, that lets both schoolyard bullies and further violence (and ultimately the gun culture that Eugene and so many of you glorify) flourish.


Quite the contrary, the notion that force is ineffectual and cannot be reasonably used by individuals is what permits bullies to flourish.

What you make more apparently costly happens less, even if you never or rarely have to impose the cost.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
4.16.2009 9:30pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Joshua.
With respect, I think you missed the point. It's not whether Christian pacifists are supposed to work against a police and law enforcement model which does use violence.
The question was whether a Christian pacifist is morally consistent when calling on the police to commit violence, actually or potentially, on his individual behalf. He could, after all, simply suffer the crime and make no attempt to get anybody to help who might have to use violence to help him. It would be his choice. If he chooses to request violence, potential or actual, be used on his behalf, we have a potential inconsistency.
Not to mention much material for scornful laughter, to a greater or lesser extent depending on said pacifist's lectures to his neighbors.
4.17.2009 12:24pm
vepxistqaosani (mail) (www):
Eugene,

Since everyone (well, Ed Whelan, anyway) is buzzing about Harold Koh's 'transnationalism', it might be worthwhile to look at the idea of personal self-defense as found in treaties and other other international agreements.

For instance, it looks like there is no human right of self-defense in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, one gets Article 12:
<blockquote>
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
</blockquote>

Which seems to be the attitude of those blind to self-defense, no?

It is also consistent with the British attitude towards self-defense, as relayed to me by my wife's niece during her years at Oxford: Never resist. If a policeman sees an altercation, he is obliged to arrest everyone involved.
4.17.2009 12:47pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
Rereading the post, I realize I missed something.
Nor is the A.G. simply commenting on the physical reality that the tear gas pencil gun can be dangerous regardless of whether used for good or ill; he's making a normative judgment that the device is "useful" when used by the police, but not even discussing whether people might find it equally "useful" for self-defense.
Actually, he's going far beyond the "useful" argument. The actual words were:
It may well be that in the hands of proper authority, such as a police official, the temporary disabling of an individual or individuals may ultimately serve a useful function. However, in the hands of an individual without any such authority, there is no question but that the pencil gun could only be calculate [to] injure.
(Emphasis added) What the A.G. is saying is that people have no authority unless they are paid and directed by the state. Send him a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Pepper provides a non-damaging alternative to other means that a woman might have to protect herself- oven spray (permanently blinding), hat pins (once popular and often recommended for women's defense) sewing scissors, vicious dogs (possible uncontrollable) and so forth.
Back when I started teaching self-defense, the WMD in every woman's purse was a rattail comb. As in "therefore girls certainly don't need to carry guns."
I can't see how it would be ethically permissible for a genuine pacifist to cooperate with--or even support--the police power of the state.
That isn't all. I recently asked a pacifist group how, since they oppose my carrying a gun to protect my life, they could justify spending a portion of their budget on an armed security service to protect their office. I got a real "scrape you off my shoe" look.

There's a fairly new term in the gun-rights community; "pacifist aggressive." These are people who are so opposed to the use of violence by anyone for any reason they are willing to send police officers with guns to force you to follow their philosophy.
4.17.2009 1:04pm
Fact Checker:
That isn't all. I recently asked a pacifist group how, since they oppose my carrying a gun to protect my life, they could justify spending a portion of their budget on an armed security service to protect their office. I got a real "scrape you off my shoe" look.

Well then, they were a bunch of freaking morons. How about these philosophical questions: "If the government can sentence someone to prison for life, how come I can't lock my neighbor in my basement for a couple weeks when his dog craps on my lawn?" or "If the Allies could get away with killing a few million people in WWII (not all of whom were combatants), how come I can't plug the jerk who cut me off in traffic this morning?"

God, you are a moron.
4.17.2009 3:22pm
markm (mail):
FC: What's your point? Larry wasn't talking about police, but about private security - whom I know from experience generally have no qualifications except passing a cursory check for serious felonies on their record, and have received no training beyond a few minutes listening to the rules for not getting your employer sued. [1] Does a cheap uniform and a job at a security service magically endow a person with the right to use violence to defend himself and others? When the security guard takes off the uniform and goes home, does he thereby lose his right to self-defense?

Compare the pacifist group that hires armed guards with the orthodox Jew who hires a Shabbat goy. Thus hiring a gentile to do jobs forbidden to Jews does not make the Jew a hypocrite, because unlike Christianity, Judaism does not seek to convert everyone else to the faith, and does not ask gentiles to follow their rules. On the other hand, many pacifist groups are in a continuous political campaign to make the whole world live by their rules.

OTOH, I know Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish who simply will not defend themselves, but make no moral judgments about others and proselytize only when someone expresses interest in hearing their message. But I can't imagine these sincere (if misguided) pacifists hiring someone to do violence on their behalf, and I have heard of them refusing to call the police.

[1] Not that actual police are much better trained in the use of firearms, in general. Many gun hobbyists, are at the firing range more than once a month, and use tens of thousands of rounds in a year, if they can afford it. Police forces often require "qualification" with a gun just once a year, with less than 100 rounds fired. That isn't anywhere near enough to maintain skill. Some cops spend their own time and money to really learn how to use their firearms, but others scare the real gunnies sh*tless with their careless weapon handling while at the range.
4.18.2009 10:00am

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