Come and Take It

"You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas."

Illinoisans in the State of Nature

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals today struck down Illinois’ blanket ban on firearms carry for self defense outside the home. Read the decision here. As did Justice Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller, Circuit Judge Richard Posner relied primarily on an historical analysis of prior law (going back to English Common Law) to support the Court’s decision. While historical analysis is certainly a valid approach to understanding and interpreting the Second Amendment, a larger moral argument can and should be made.

The Declaration of Independence informs us that we humans institute governments to secure our basic, unalienable rights. But what does that mean, really? At what point are you justified in the use of force against another, even to the point of taking another’s life, to protect your own life, and secure your own rights? The answer can be found by examining ourselves as we existed in the “state of nature,” before the advent of organized, formal government.

In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes famously asserts the state of nature is one of continual horror:

“Hereby it is manifest  that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man… and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

John Locke, revered by the Framers, offers a contrasting view in his Two Treatises of Government:

“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: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order, and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station willfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.”

Both men are correct, but I posit Locke is more correct than Hobbes. We are by nature social creatures dependent on one another. Yes, the bully, the outlaw, the sociopath – they are always with us, but they are always a minority. By nature most of us are willing to consult Locke’s law of reason in our dealings with each other. In the state of nature we have only our individual strength and ingenuity to protect our lives, liberty, health, limbs and goods. And because even the strongest among is us is weak at some point, consulting the law of reason, we band together to institute social structures, i.e. government, to protect us from the bad guys even when (or especially when) we are vulnerable.

The problem is that our social structures are not foolproof; government is not always there to help. In such situations we find ourselves cast back to the state of nature, and forced to rely on our own resources. Locke captures it perfectly:

“Thus a thief, whom I cannot harm, but by appeal to the law, for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill, when he sets on me to rob me but of my horse or coat; because the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force, which, if lost, is capable of no reparation, permits me my own defence, and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may be irreparable.”

In other words, when you find yourself outside of the protection of the law, natural law permits you to protect yourself. Period.

Of course, you must have the means to protect yourself. Mary Shepard, of the aforementioned court case, is a woman who happens to be trained in the use of firearms, and is licensed for concealed carry in Pennsylvania and Florida. However, precisely because Mrs. Shepard is a law abiding citizen, Illinois’ anti-gun statutes effectively disarmed her. As a result, Mrs. Shepard was unable to defend herself when she was attacked while working at church on September 28, 2009. Mrs. Shepard’s assailant, a 245 pound, 6’3″ male with a violent criminal record, beat her and an 83-year-old female coworker savagely, and left both women for dead. Illinois’ ludicrous gun laws basically made the state an accomplice to Mrs. Shepard’s attacker.

I penned this post whilst watching an old movie favorite on TCM, The Magnificent Seven. Calvera, the movie’s villain, offers a bandit’s opinion of ordinary, law abiding citizens:

“If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

Bad guys have no use for the law of reason. They will only leave unattended sheep unshorn if they they understand that some sheep have sharp teeth. Calvera came to a bad end. He would have done well to recall another pithy observation:

“God made Man, but Samuel Colt made them equal.”

The sheep with teeth!

Some sheep bite.

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