Do We Have the Right to Life Without the Right to Self-Defense?

Just one week ago on Sunday, June 19th, we were reminded once again that our God given right to life, as declared in the Declaration of Independence, is meaningless without the right to self-defense. That day, Father’s Day, a terrible tragedy took place in a Medford, New York pharmacy when an armed robber shot and murdered four innocent people.

Imagine yourself in that pharmacy. You are facing an obvious threat from a man with a gun. You cannot retreat because the gunman is too close. You have no weapon, because the State of New York has made it extremely difficult to posses any sort of a weapon, and certainly not a gun. Hence, your only means of self-defense is to plead for compassion from a soulless thug. At that point, with your right to life materially impaired by the government restricting your right to self-defense, you simply die.

Gun law advocates are undoubtedly ready to demand more control of firearms, and argue that citizens should rely on the police. They are missing the point. Had those innocent victims in the Medford Pharmacy managed to call the police and had the police responded within minutes, all four would still have been killed because the robber acted within seconds. The painful meaning of the phrase, “when seconds count, the police are minutes away” was all too clear on June 19th.

For decades the National Rifle Association, gun rights advocates in general and especially hunters have worked hard to prevent gun laws from becoming too restrictive. Their argument is the Second Amendment and its words proclaiming, “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” For all their fine work, these groups are also missing the point. Guns, knives, batons and other tools of defense are only tools. It is the right to self-defense that has been under attack all this time.

Section 265 of the Criminal Code in Suffolk County, New York, in which the town of Medford is located, contains a lengthy list of what are described as “dangerous weapons” that cannot be purchased or owned by honest citizens. New York State requires that the first act of self-defense is to retreat. The legal environment makes it difficult, if not impossible, to purchase a weapon, train to use it properly or have it available and use it for self-defense without first exhausting a checklist of what must be done so that the victim does not end up criminally charged. This is an impossible situation when under attack. Again, imagine yourself in that pharmacy.

There are now 31 states that have adopted the Castle Doctrine, Stand Your Ground legislation or both. The Castle Doctrine declares that one may protect himself, his family or those entrusted to his guardianship if their premises is unlawfully entered and its occupants threatened. Stand Your Ground legislation goes one step further in that it removes the Duty of Retreat, which says that you must vacate the premises to the attacker if you can. Stand Your Ground legislation also removes the requirement that the person under attack has to announce his intention to use deadly force against his attacker.

These are good legislative changes that promote self-defense, but the right to self-defense should not be impaired by government in any way. Robbers and attackers bent on assault would think twice before approaching a home, place of business or a person if they thought that their potential victims would be armed. Recent FBI statistics show that while gun sales were surging from 2008 through 2009, the rate of violent crime fell dramatically. Think about it. Have you ever heard of a gunman shooting up a gun show? An attacker would hesitate even further, if he thought his victim would not only be armed but would also be free of any restrictions to defend himself.

Criminals are looking for an advantage over their victims. Their advantage comes from being armed when they know their victims are not. They also gain advantage in states where an armed victim may hesitate to defend himself because of how the law requires his self-defense to be played out.

Gun control legislation and other laws restricting the purchase and possession of a weapon of any kind are supposed to prevent those weapons from getting into the hands of criminals. Unfortunately, all these laws are doing is making honest citizens vulnerable to those who have no intention of following any law. Is there more here than just good intentions leading to unintended consequences? Does our government intentionally want us to be completely dependent on it for our basic right to life rather than our ability to defend ourselves? When we hear how the Syrian government is killing its unarmed citizens who dare to speak out against it, we should be concerned by any law that makes us more vulnerable by restricting our right to self-defense.

Rather than arguing the intent of the Second Amendment, the debate is far better framed by focusing on how a citizen’s unalienable right to life and a citizen’s unrestricted right to self-defense are connected. Without the right to self-defense, our guarantee of the right to life is meaningless.

Robert Allen Bonelli is the author of “Liberty Rising,” an accomplished business executive, public speaker and involved citizen.

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