On The Right of Self-Defense

If I could take a moment to impose upon your time, I’d like to ask you a question. Before I ask I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not want an off the cuff answer. Instead, I want you to think really hard about the question I am about to ask.

Okay, here’s the question: What do you consider to be your most important right? I’ll give you a few moments to think about this then I’ll be back.

Okay, did you think about it? I’m betting that some of you answered freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or the right to keep and bear arms. Nice try, but if you want my honest opinion those would all be wrong answers.

You see, when I mention rights most people automatically think to those rights listed in the Bill of Rights, and which one is most important to them. But most people fail to pay any attention to the last two rights listed in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. It is the Ninth Amendment that I’d like to bring to your attention now.

The Ninth Amendment states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” That is pretty straightforward, although I’m certain that there are some who aren’t familiar with the word disparage, so let me clear that up for you. Disparage means to belittle or ridicule. In other words, what the Ninth Amendment is saying is that just because certain rights are NOT listed specifically in the Bill of Rights does not mean that those rights do not exist. After all, does the Bill of Rights specify that you have the right to eat, to breath air, or be entertained? But I’m pretty sure you would all agree that you retain that right.

So now that I’ve brought that to your attention, I’d like for you to rethink my question: What do you consider to be your most important right?

Still not sure? Well, let me give you my thoughts on it.

It is my belief that the right to defend what is rightfully yours is the supreme right. After all, what good are things if you can’t protect them? Honestly, if you think that the right to own a nice house is the most important right, what good is that right if someone can simply take your home from you for no reason? What good is the right to speak whatever is on your mind when someone can force you to shut up?

No, the right to defend yourself, your property, AND your rights is the most important right. This is not a new concept, or something I just made up, it is something that legal thinkers and philosophers have written about throughout the ages.

In 1803 the English legal scholar Sir William Blackstone wrote, “This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty…The right of self defense is the first law of nature…” What people need to understand, and I mean REALLY understand, is that prior to the existence of any form of government man lived in a pure state of nature.

To best describe what this means we need to turn to John Locke, whose Second Treatise states, “To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”

You would think that under the law of nature, with men free to do as they please, that there would be chaos and anarchy. But Locke goes on to say, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…”

In a way that is similar to the Golden Rule, which states, “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” Or to put it in modern vernacular, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

However, that is not all Locke says. In Sections 17 & 18 of his Treatise he writes, ” And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life: for I have reason to conclude, that he who would get me into his power without my consent, would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for no body can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom, i.e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only security of my preservation; and reason bids me look on him, as an enemy to my preservation, who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me, thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. He that, in the state of nature, would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state, must necessarily be supposed to have a foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society, would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth, must be supposed to design to take away from them every thing else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.

This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any farther than, by the use of force, so to get him in his power, as to take away his money, or what he pleases, from him; because using force, where he has no right, to get me into his power, let his pretence be what it will, I have no reason to suppose, that he, who would take away my liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away every thing else. And therefore it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. kill him if I can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself, whoever introduces a state of war, and is aggressor in it.”

So you see, under the law of nature man has a right to defend what is his, even up to killing another who threatens him or his rights.

Years after Locke would write his Second Treatise a Frenchman by the name of Frederic Bastiat would write his treatise entitled The Law. In his book Bastiat writes, “Each of us has a natural right—from God—to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?

If every person has the right to defend—even by force—his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right—its reason for existing, its lawfulness—is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force—for the same reason—cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.”

You see we, or at least, our fore-fathers, created our government. They got together and outlined its structure, its purpose, and the specific powers it was to have. They then went further and wrote a Bill of Rights declaring certain rights to be free from interference by the government. As Thomas Paine so rightfully said, “Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.”

Government cannot deny you the right to defend yourself. Government cannot limit your ability to defend yourself. So what would you call it when government passes laws that say you must be in imminent danger before you can use deadly force to protect yourself? What would you call it when government tells you that you cannot, without a permit, carry the means of defending yourself in public?

In my home state of California we have what is known as a stand your ground law, meaning that you are not required by law to flee in the face of danger, rather you have the right to stand your ground and defend yourself, or your property. HOWEVER, they place limitations upon that law. Under the California legal code it states that for you to use deadly force it must be ‘reasonable under the circumstances.’ What the hell does that mean, and who is to determine what is and what isn’t reasonable…especially if they were not present at the time?

California has three criterion by which they judge a person when using deadly force. First you must prove that you reasonably believed you were imminent danger of being killed, injured, or touched unlawfully. Secondly you must prove that you felt you needed to use deadly force to prevent that from happening, rather than just standing toe to toe and slugging it out with the person. And finally you must prove that you used no more force than was necessary. So if you kill a person instead of merely wounding him, YOU may be found guilty of a crime.

The problem with these criterion is that they place your right to defend yourself in the hands of others who were not present at the time you had to use deadly force. They place limitations upon how and how much force you can use.

This goes against all Locke said when he wrote, “This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life…” I don’t need permission, nor justification from some lawmaker on how and when I can defend myself, my family, or my possessions. If someone threatens the aforementioned things, they have violated the law of nature and declared war upon my person and I will use whatever means I DEEM necessary to repel their attack. Not you, not the government, but I alone have the right to judge when I will use deadly force to defend what is rightfully mine…including my rights.

And here we get to the meat and potatoes of this little commentary.

If, through sheer folly, a poor understanding of the nature of rights, or on behalf of their constituents, lawmakers seek to limit my right, or my ability to defend myself, my family, my property, AND my other rights, I have the right to resist such measures with whatever force I deem necessary to protect and defend them. By their enacting laws, either through their ignorance regarding the nature of rights, or because you feel a society without guns would be a safer world, you have declared war upon MY rights, and by proxy, upon ME personally.

Again, to quote Locke, “[Civic power] can have no right except as this is derived from the individual right of each man to protect himself and his property.” As we created government, government cannot wield more power than we can. In 1794 the Supreme Court ruled, “The sovereignty of a state does not reside in the persons who fill the different departments of its government, but in the People, from whom the government emanated; and they may change it at their discretion. Sovereignty, then in this country, abides with the constituency, and not with the agent; and this remark is true, both in reference to the federal and state government.”

Government, be they state, federal, or even local, are creatures of our creation, and bound by the limits we impose upon them. They cannot wield more power than we ourselves have other than to enforce the laws enacted in accordance with the limits we have imposed upon them. On top of all that, our rights are beyond their reach, as affirmed by the Supreme Court once again, “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

You may not like it, but those are the facts…you cannot touch my right to defend myself, you cannot limit it, and you cannot put limitations upon when and how I utilize that right. You see, there is an unwritten law, best taken in its entirety. Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “There exists a law, not written down anywhere but inborn in our hearts; a law which comes to us not by training or custom or reading but by derivation and absorption and adoption from nature itself; a law which has come to us not from theory but from practice, not by instruction but by natural intuition. I refer to the law which lays it down that, if our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.”

If you recall, earlier I quoted Blackstone regarding the natural right of self defense. Well there is a second part to his quote that I left out until now. I now complete Blackstone’s quote for you, “…in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

Liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction! Wow! Don’t you think your liberty is something you would want to defend? I don’t know about you, but the idea of being a slave doesn’t sit well with me…especially if I am to be a slave to those who supposedly were put in place to be MY representatives.

Now I’d like to leave you with two final quotes from John Locke, and let them sink in real good, for it is how I feel about my government, and about those of you who would see my rights diminished or restricted because of your insecurities and unjustified fears.

Locke wrote, “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command to compass that upon the subject which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate, and acting without authority may be opposed, as any other man who by force invades the right of another.”

Locke also states, “… whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence. Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society, and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.”

My right to defend myself extends not only to defend myself against criminals, but to anyone who would violate my rights…including my government. It is as much a part of my being as my DNA. You can’t deny that right to me, my government cannot deny that right to me, and anyone who tries will have declared war upon me and will be viewed and treated accordingly.

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