Defend yourself, the government won’t

In 1981, the landmark precedent Warren v. District of Columbia found that there is a

fundamental prin­ciple that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police pro­tection, to any particular individual citizen.

Ponder that while we consider a basic question: What drives gun-control advocates? I think there are two camps: stupid and evil.

Some controllists are clearly stupid: Anyone who actually believes that criminals obey gun-control laws is stupid. Anyone who thinks that a madman planning mass murder will be deterred by an additional weapons charge is stupid. Anyone who thinks that gun-free zones turn away criminals rather than attract them is stupid. It is self-evident to anyone with an ounce of common sense that only law-abiding persons abide by gun-control laws.

More common than that, perhaps, are those who are functionally stupid. These are the people who do have some common sense, but don’t exercise it when it comes to guns, perhaps out of a visceral distaste for them. For practical purposes, the truly stupid and functionally stupid are the same group.

That’s the first camp. The second camp knows perfectly well that gun-control laws affect only the law-abiding, and that is precisely their aim. This is the evil group. Their ultimate goal is to abolish self-defense.

That much should be clear by looking at their aims: they wish to ban weapons for precisely the people who will use them against humans only in self-defense. But we can also look at history. The United Kingdom, the country at the end of the slippery slope that the controllists see as their model, has explicitly banned, not only any device that can be effectively used for self-defense, but the very act of self-defense itself. For just one example:

The TV presenter and Marks & Spencer model Myleene Klass has been warned by police for waving a knife at teenagers who were peering into a window of her house late at night. Klass was in the kitchen with her daughter upstairs when she spotted the youths in her garden just after midnight on Friday. She grabbed a knife and banged the windows before they ran away.

Hertfordshire police warned her she should not have used a knife to scare off the youths because carrying an “offensive weapon”, even in her own home, was illegal. . .

“She is not looking to be a vigilante, and has the utmost respect for the law, but when the police explained to her that even if you’re at home alone and you have an intruder, you are not allowed to protect yourself, she was bemused.”

(Via International Liberty.) Got that? “If you’re at home alone and you have an intruder, you are not allowed to protect yourself.” Frankly, I think “bemused” is the wrong reaction.

It’s not just across the pond. In the District of Columbia, a man used a gun to save a 11-year-old boy from being mauled to death by three pit bulls, and the police are considering charging him with a crime. Message: if you save a child, you risk jail. Just let the kid die.

If you aren’t permitted to protect yourself and your family, will the government do it? Usually they can’t, of course. As the saying goes, “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”

But if they can, will they? Don’t count on it. (Well, probably they will, but that’s because most cops are good people, not because of institutional requirements.) In Warren v. DC, the court found that the government has “no general duty” to protect you. (In the horrifying incident behind Warren, the victims were brutalized for fourteen hours, hoping for the police who never came.) This principle has been affirmed by a whole series of rulings going all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The principle has been applied frequently, as recently as last month in New York City. In February 2011, Joseph Lozito subdued a knife-wielding maniac (who had already killed four people during his rampage) on the New York Subway, incurring seven stab wounds in the process. Lozito could not carry a gun (this being New York City), but the police were present for the whole incident. Unfortunately, the police just stood by, watching from behind a locked door until Lozito finished subduing the man. Lozito sued the city, but last month the city moved for dismissal, citing the long-standing rule that they aren’t required to lift a finger to help anyone.

But I don’t mean to give the impression that the controllists’ campaign against self-defense merely leaves us vulnerable to rare incidents of police negligence. Too often, the government’s failure to protect the people is part of a deliberate campaign of oppression:

  • The classic example of this is the postbellum South, in which officials felt limited in how far they could go officially to oppress freed slaves, but could easily stand by while the mob put “uppity” blacks in their place.
  • In the 1991 Crown Heights riot in New York City, police (under orders from the mayor, David Dinkins) allowed the pogrom to go on for three days before finally marshalling enough force to restore order.
  • In the District of Columbia during the mid-1990s, Mayor Marion Barry once threatened to pull the police out of the wards represented by councilmen who refused to support his budget.
  • After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the police looted stores, gunned down unarmed innocents, and went door-to-door illegally confiscating (i.e., stealing) firearms and assaulting their owners. The perpetrators of the Danzinger Bridge shootings were eventually punished, after a failed police cover-up, but (as far as I can tell) no police were ever punished for looting or for stealing firearms. (The police made a big show of investigating accused looters, but in the only cases I can find they “cleared” them of the charges.) New Orleans even refused to return the stolen weapons and had to be forced to do so.

What each of these incidents have in common is they took place were guns were restricted. In New York City and the District of Columbia it was (and largely still is) basically impossible for individuals to obtain guns legally. In Louisiana, citizens have the right to own guns, but New Orleans police would routinely seize any weapons they found anyway, and as soon as Katrina hit they started going door-to-door.

The experience of blacks in the postbellum South is particularly instructive. The gun-control movement in America began out of a desire to keep blacks unarmed and defenseless. Racist anti-gun laws predate the Civil War (indeed they predate the United States), but racial gun control advanced to whole new level after the emancipation of the slaves. The KKK actually began as a gun-control organization; their mission was to take guns from blacks when the government failed to do so.

This is the intellectual lineage of the non-stupid camp of the gun control movement. They want you to be defenseless, because defenseless people make less trouble. Just as they want you to depend on the government for the necessities of life (food, health care, etc.), they want you depend on them for protection from the mob. But even if you do, you still might not get that protection, because just maybe you are someone who needs to be put in his place, or be made an example of.

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