Do US citizens have a right to defend themselves? Is it a natural, God-given, right inherent in every human being or is it a right granted to the masses by Laws and Legislators? The question of our right to self-defense has recently been playing out in the media in varying subtleties and degrees. The Zimmerman case brought a lot of attention to self-defense laws and precedent. My interest in the Zimmerman case, and my inherent aversion to any proposals that would limit my ability to defend myself or my loved-ones, induced a desire to familiarize myself with the “Right of Self-Defense.” From where does this right originate? Is it compatible with my Christian beliefs? Is it a Constitutional Right?
As a Christian, the first place I turned to was the Bible. What does God say about defending yourself or your family? I first see in Genesis 9:6 that God established the value of man’s life by requiring life for life. Life is so sacred that the punishment of taking a life is to lose yours. I next see Abraham gathering a group of men to chase down his nephew’s abductors. They rescued Lot, his nephew, and all the spoil. In Exodus 22:2-3, a home-owner is declared innocent of bloodshed if he kills a thief in the uncertainty of darkness. In Esther, the Jews gathered together and fiercely defended themselves from their enemies. In Luke 22:36, Jesus tells His disciples to buy swords, purportedly for self-defense from robbers and wild beasts as they were sent out to all the lands. A little while later, Jesus also tells Peter to put his sword away. This verse, combined with the “turn the other cheek” verse, is often construed to mean Jesus is a pacifist. Seeing as how Jesus had just told his disciples to sell their garments and buy swords (which were illegal in Rome-controlled Judea), that interpretation does not seem logical. The verse is better understood to be a lesson in obedience to the will of God. There are times for us to walk in sacrificial obedience and surrender our life wholly to Him and there are times to protect this being that He created in His image. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Rom. 13:3-4), death is clearly seen as the justifiable punishment for taking life, so why would death not be justifiable in protecting life?
Where Does the Right of Self-Defense Come From?
According to Ancient Greeks, John Lock, our Founding Fathers and many others, Natural Law is “that law which corresponds to a spontaneous order in the absence of a state and which is enforced, (in absence of better methods), by individual unorganized violence…. Natural law follows from the nature of men, from the kind of animal we are. We have the right to life, liberty, and property, the right to defend ourselves against those who would rob, enslave, or kill us, because of the kind of animal we are.”1 Or in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “A Law of Nature is a Precept, or general Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved…. The first branch of which Rule, containeth the first, and Fundamental Law of Nature; which is to seek Peace, and follow it. The Second, the summe of the Right of Nature; which is, By all means we can, to defend our selves.”
John Locke, the inspiration of many of our Founding Fathers, put it this way:
“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. 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 further 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 pretense 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 everything 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.”
The right to defend one’s self and others from violence is not a right given by the State (government) nor can it lawfully be taken away by the State. The right of Self-Defense is an unalienable right endowed by our Creator. Technically, it’s not even a Constitutional Right. For if the Constitution gave us the right then making the Constitution irrelevant would also make the rights therein irrelevant. The 2nd Amendment affirms and enumerates the Right of Self-Defense as an unalienable right endowed by the Creator. The Right of Self Defense comes not from the Constitution, nor from Government, nor from Man, but from our Creator and, as such, it is irrevocable.
Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. (New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2004), 79, 80.
John Locke. “Book Two,” Two Treatises of Government. (New York: A Mentor Book, 1963), 320.
James Donald. http://jim.com/rights.html
For Further Research:
I highly recommend the top 4 links. They were extremely helpful to me in my research.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCk90Xvv3EI Divine Right of Self Defense (Mike Adams)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=d7vNj2sb_00 The True Story of Gun Control WorldWide
The following is a favorite passage from Natural Law and Natural Rights by James Donald (http://jim.com/rights.html)
“A right is only a right if, as with the rights to life, liberty, and property, you can rightfully use necessary and sufficient force to defend yourself against those who interfere with your exercise of that right. A right is no right at all if it is granted to you by the benevolence of your masters.
“The state commands and spends ever more wealth, intrudes into our lives in ways that are ever more intimate and detailed, exercises ever greater power, backed by ever more severe punishments, often for deeds that it only declared illegal a few years ago, while at the same time the states capacity to coerce, to collect taxes, and to generate legitimacy continues to decline at an ever accelerating rate. Ever fewer people listen to political speeches, or feel identification with the winning party. People are less inclined to imagine that voting can make any difference, less inclined to believe that legislation or courts possess moral authority. Both trends are driven by simple and powerful forces that are easy to understand. Numerous books, both serious (public choice theory) and humorous, and even a television series (“Yes Minister”) have explained these forces and why they are unstoppable. These two trends will inevitably collide in the not very distant future, are already beginning to collide. The states every increasing use of lawless coercion will collide, is already colliding, with its ever decreasing capacity to coerce.
“This collision will recreate, over several decades, a situation where there is plurality of force. Free societies have only arisen where there is plurality of force. Of course plurality of force does not guarantee a free society. It merely makes it possible. Social collapse is also possible. During the coming crisis we must keep our eyes fixed on the simple ancient truths of natural rights and natural law. We must discriminate between those who use force lawfully and those who use force unlawfully, and must act accordingly, we must discriminate between those who deal honorably and those who deal dishonorably, and must act accordingly. If we do that then we will have a functioning civil society.
“The Greeks, in their war with the Persians, demonstrated that the true unity that comes from common adherence to the rule of law is more powerful than the appearance of unity that comes from common submission to centralized authority.”