Thursday, July 18, 2013

What does it Mean to Say that Government is the Individual's "Agent of Self-defense?"

A week after the publication of my letter Gun Debate Out of Focus, a rebuttal letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger, taking me too task fo this statement:

As the people’s designated agent of self-defense, holding a legal monopoly on the use of physical force, the government has a role in overseeing the use of instruments of deadly force. Therefore, the government may properly make objective rules regarding gun ownership, much the way as it has rules regarding who may obtain a driver’s license.

Under the heading I’ll defend myself, John K. Tauscher wrote, in part: 

The term “agent of self-defense” is an oxymoron, as the definition of “self-defense” would suggest. I have not delegated my personal defense or the defense of my family to anyone, nor would I want to. In public, the police or any other government agency has neither the will, the means nor the legal obligation to provide for citizens’ personal protection. I will provide for my own protection, by using judgment and whatever physical tools are at my disposal. To whom would we turn for the defense of our liberty when the aggressor is the government itself? That is, after all, the sole reason for the existence of the Second Amendment.

My statement obviously opened a can of worms. Given that letters have strict word limits, it's impossible to not leave interpretation open to implication. I answered Tauscher's rebuttal in the comments section:


Letters are too short to deeply explore complex issues. If I had more space, I believe you would see that we are in essential agreement on this issue. Since letters are short and only one letter per person per month is allowed, let me elaborate here, and hope you read it.

“Agent of self-defense” is not an oxymoron.

The sole proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights. As the Declaration of Independence states—“To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” What does this mean, if not to be the individual’s designated agent of self-defense? 

Self-defense entails not only repelling an aggressor in the act of committing a crime, but tracking down, arresting, prosecuting, extracting restitution for his victims, and meting out appropriate penalties to the perpetrator. These functions need to be placed under objective laws and processes—meaning, a government. 

There is good reason for this. A society in which everyone acts as his own judge, jury, and executioner is not a civil society but anarchy. To live in a civilized society, an individual must be willing to place the retaliatory use of force (his personal self-defense) under objective control and oversight. This does not mean that citizens do not have the right to defend themselves when they are in imminent danger and the government is not there to protect them, such as during an armed break-in where there is no time to call 911. But even then, the government must objectively define the limits of the citizen’s defensive use of force, and the citizen must justify his actions to the government. 

But designating government as the citizen’s agent of self-defense does not mean giving up the right of self-defense. The government, at least as the Founders conceived it, is only the people’s agent or servant, after all. The right to self-defense is fundamentally an individual right, which is why I concluded my letter with “The proper purpose of gun legislation should be to protect the rights of upstanding citizens to own guns for self-defense or recreational purposes.”

“To whom would we turn for the defense of our liberty when the aggressor is the government itself?” 
The government already is the aggressor in myriad ways. Aggression is the nature of the regulatory welfare state. What do you want to do, start shooting it out with the cops?; with our nuclear and drone-armed military?  
No. We would turn first to free speech to advocate the right ideas and work to roll back government interference in our lives. We would educate people on the proper purpose of government and the moral concept of inalienable individual rights. 

Related Reading:

Reisman: We Need Gun Control--for Our Government

Gun Control Should Focus on Principles, Not Guns

The American Right, the Purpose of Government, and the Future of Liberty by Craig Biddle

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