Self-defense and moral sense

Jonathan Hiatt

Hiatt is an English major at Metro State.


In a March 2018 opinion piece for The Metropolitan, staff writer Dominique Hlavac calls for “sane” gun control measures and asks, “Why should a Constitutional right to own guns overrule everyone else’s right to safety and security?”

A civil society, especially a republic, has safeguards to prevent what is known as “tyranny of the majority.”  But can we ensure that “everyone else’s right to safety and security” is not infringed upon if these proposed gun control measures are enacted?  How will the rights of those who are not “everyone else” not be infringed? Is it even possible to ensure a right to safety and security without force or coercion?

It may seem unfathomable that stronger gun control measures would lead to a “gun grab,” leaving ordinary citizens defenseless against criminals—let alone a tyrannical government. But this is precisely what happened throughout the 20th century in countries such as Turkey, Germany, the Soviet Union, Uganda and Cambodia.

To defend oneself against an aggressor is a fundamental natural right. It is the spirit of the Second Amendment.  As a libertarian, I believe in Murray Rothbard’s formulation of the non-aggression principle: no one may threaten or commit violence against another’s person or property. Violence may only be used defensively against an aggressor and, I might add, as a last resort.

If law-abiding citizens are the only people who turn in their guns under more stringent gun control measures, violent crime is bound to rise. When you prohibit or make something illegal, it just goes underground.  Criminals do not adhere to bans on assault weapons or signs that say “Gun Free Zone.” My story which follows illustrates my point.

One night in November 2010, I was the victim of a strong-arm robbery at gunpoint while walking along Oakdale Avenue in West St. Paul.  Fearing for my life and with not so much as a can of pepper spray, I surrendered the entire contents of my wallet, along with $4 and a bag of groceries.  The two teenage suspects fled on foot.

It took 10 minutes for the West St. Paul Police to arrive—an anemic response time.  Minutes prior to the robbery, a South St. Paul police squad car was sitting in front of The Home Depot while I walked down Mendota Road.

For those of us who have neither the means or desire to own a firearm, our only option is to call the police for assistance.  That doesn’t help much in a situation like a robbery, where the police can do little after the fact. The following may surprise my fellow Metro State students but my understanding of the court decisions in Warren v. District of Columbia (1981), DeShaney v. Winnebago County (1989), and Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005) is that police do not have a general duty to protect you from harm.  Is that why the school resource officer in the Parkland, Florida shooting did not act?

Let us assume for a moment that the intent of gun control is to disarm the populace altogether.  With ordinary citizens left with no viable means of self-defense, the only people that have the guns are the police and other agents of the state.  Under this scenario, a claim to a police duty to protect you from harm becomes patently absurd. A society in which only the police and military own guns tends not to be a civil society.

Thankfully, I have never had to fire a gun and hope I never do.  But I have been a crime victim and know what it means to be vulnerable.  Therefore, I would never deny any law-abiding citizen their natural right to self-defense—with or without guns.