L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 270, May 9, 2004
Damned if You Do, Dead if You Don't
Special to TLE
Last week, an Illinois state legislator almost single-handedly put the brakes on legislation that would have allowed Illinois residents to defend themselves with a firearm without fear of punishment, even if that firearm were prohibited by local ordinance. Never mind that any law that disallows self-defense in the first place is both unconstitutional and immoral. At least there was some effort to right an obvious wrong in Illinois. But this legislator, claiming he feared the ubiquitous "loophole," has demanded more study before the matter can be considered.
The bill was originally written in response to a Wilmette, Illinois incident in which a local man defended himself and his young family with a handgun against a burglar who had repeatedly broken into his home. But because his firearms registration card had expired, and because handguns are verboten in Wilmette, he was charged with crimes himself. Although Cook County eventually dropped the registration charges, the city of Wilmette refused to drop its own case. Wilmette's police chief put his nose in the air and sniffed that people should lock the door of the room they're in and dial 9-1-1 instead of taking matters into their own hands. He can afford to talk like that; he's allowed to have a gun in his home.
In another recent incident in Illinois, a man is being charged in connection with a fatal shooting there. But he's not being charged with murder, or even manslaughter. No, the police have ruled that he shot in self defense. But they're charging him with weapons violations, anyway.
An April 9 report from WXYZ-TV in Detroit, Michigan (which has already been removed from the station's web site) detailed the matter of a homeowner who, after his daughter and entire family was repeatedly threatened, finally shot and killed the harasser as he attempted to gain entry to the family home. I grant you that the police can't arrest the real criminal here seeing as how he's dead and all, but that's no excuse for them to have arrested the homeowner -- which, of course, is just what they did.
Some proved sympathetic last year when a New Yorker -- a law-abiding ex-Navy man and young father -- shot a burglar with a legally owned handgun. But because that handgun was not yet registered in New York (the man had only recently relocated there and was actually in the process of getting the registration handled), he was charged with a crime and prosecutors were adamant he serve actual jail time accordingly. A magazine article published at the time said that New York was effectively outlawing self defense, and that reporter wasn't wrong with his assessment.
That various and sundry government entities work to make self defense illegal -- or legal only under extremely constrained circumstances -- is not a real surprise. It seems that, along with keeping the potholes filled (does government actually do that successfully anywhere?) and the military in $600 toilet seats (which probably need regular replacement after being smashed by accidentally dropped $200 hammers), the government has also come to consider it an obligation to infringe on liberty. Unfortunately, the latter is one of the few things that politicians and bureaucrats seem very good at indeed.
No, the real surprise is found in the utter lack of public outcry against incidents in which the guilty are handed their rights on a silver platter (to be fair, they do have rights and they should get them), while the innocent are actually stripped of rights by virtue of the very charges against them. Although some local citizens did offer support to the man at the center of the Wilmette, Illinois case, the vast majority did not. And while there was even a brief Internet campaign to raise defense funds for the young New Yorker (he eventually pleaded his case for minimal jail time and no felony record), few spoke out against the zealous prosecutor or the bad law he insisted on enforcing to its fullest.
Worst of all, it seems more and more obvious that none of these cases are really isolated. Authorities far beyond the borders of New York City, and on a truly appalling scale, are working to make realistic self defense all but impossible by making the most effective means of self-defense illegal. Consider:
Most states do permit residents to carry a firearm, but only if they jump through precisely the right hoops and register their personal data -- including fingerprints -- with authorities. Criminals are treated no differently when they're processed through the system and data -- including fingerprints -- are taken and entered into databases. But those criminals have already proved they can't be trusted. What did law abiding citizens do to earn such distrust from officialdom?
Merely being trained and licensed isn't enough if you're found to have a firearm in some other state. A New Hampshire man -- Jeffrey Jordan -- is facing felony charges in the state of Ohio for having a loaded handgun on his person, discovered during a traffic stop. Jordan, who is highly trained and licensed to carry concealed in more than one state, was alone on a long road trip where some caution on his part was justified (remember, too, that an Ohio freeway shooter was yet at large at the time). Yet Jordan has now lost his job (firearms are so unpopular that apparently one can now be fired prior to any conviction merely because the charges involve guns), and he stands to lose his freedom.
Even if you own a legal firearm and shoot an intruder in your own home, there's no guarantee that, despite the fact your actions were justified and your conscience clear, the authorities won't charge you with a crime anyway. And woe to you if you own a gun and are forced to use it in one of those places where even mere ownership itself is forbidden!
The only way to be safe from the regulatory predators is, of course, to divest yourself of all firearms. But then you've made yourself easy prey for those to whom regulations mean nothing and who will, regardless of the law, arm themselves to attack you or someone just like you. You've also quite handily put yourself into the government's hands because only it and its representatives can protect you. It's an unpleasant catch 22, and with none of these alternatives are you offered the least modicum of genuine security.
Perhaps, like some of the men I've mentioned here, you'll choose to risk jail over death (or grievous harm).After all, you've probably heard the saying, "I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six." But prison time is only better than death because you'll eventually get out of prison. And in truth, even getting out may not be all that great a deal when you'll have a felony conviction on your record and are thus prohibited from owning a firearm or voting for the rest of your life. And try to get a good job with that mark against you! Consider, too, the plight of poor Tony Martin -- the British farmer jailed for murder after protecting himself and his property from a couple of career criminals with his firearm -- who has served almost all of his prison time but now faces release under a cloud of threats to his life. And now remember that "carried by six" may be definitive, but that "judged by twelve" offers no guarantees things will work out substantially better for the man or woman in such an unfortunate position
You're not going to believe what I'm going to say next because I'm a firm believer that the Second Amendment is both an unalienable and an individual right, but here it is: Forget the Second Amendment. Consider instead the very foundations of the American Revolution itself wherein the Founding Fathers wrote that we each and every one of us have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And then ask yourself: How can we have a right to our own lives if we're prohibited from any defense? How can we be free if we're imprisoned, either through the unconstitutional and immoral firearms laws that forbid self defense, or because we're barricading ourselves in our homes out of fear for all those things we're not permitted to defend ourselves against? And with fear for our lives and fear of the capricious law, how can any of us be happy?
Once men and women fought for those things -- for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's time we stood up and fought for those things again. We must work to repeal each and every law that would interfere with our basic right to protect ourselves. We must protest loudly and en masse when a law abiding citizen is charged under these anti-self defense statutes. We must refuse to convict those American citizens who stand trial in matters like those of the men in Wilmette, Detroit, New York, and Ohio. We need to join a firearms rights group to add our voices to theirs (you don't need to own a firearm to be a member or an activist). Exercise your own Second Amendment rights. Campaign on behalf of those politicians with the respect for humanity that understands self defense is the most basic of human rights. Vote. Work to educate others.
Yes, we may still be damned if we do, particularly if we garner too much attention. It's much easier to make laws than to repeal them, and the powers that be typically aren't fond of seeing their hard work undone. But we will surely be damned -- or yes, even dead -- if we don't.
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