What You Love Will Be Used Against You

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In
February 2002, responding to a tip, police in Swinton, England,
investigated the home of Father Michael Daggett, an Anglican priest.
When they found over 200 rounds of ammunition, they asked him if
he had any handgun in his home, and Fr. Daggett told them that,
yes, he had a .22. He showed them where he kept it.

He
was arrested for violating the 1998 handgun ban, plead guilty, was
convicted, and served some time in jail. His bishop, the Bishop
of Manchester, had been speaking about gun control at an anti-gun
rally only a few days before Fr. Daggett’s court hearing, and recommended
that Fr. Daggett be defrocked. Apparently the Anglican Church acted
on this recommendation, and Mr. Daggett has returned to his prior
profession of dealing in antiques.

In
an interview with Manchester Online on September 12, 2002
following his release, Mr. Daggett was, in the words of the reporter,
"unrepentant" about his right to self-defense. He is quoted
in the news report arguing the right to self-defense is necessary
to a civilized society, and a civilized society cannot exist if
government infantilizes its citizens by depriving them of the right
to make moral choices.

"I
would claim the gun laws in this country are illegal. Under a 1688
Bill of Rights, which has never been repealed, it says that everyone
has the right to possess a weapon for self-defense. … I am not
an advocate of violence but I am an advocate of civilized society.
It can only exist when people have the option to make adult choices.
It is possible for a gun to be used as a defensive weapon."

Despite
his "unrepentant" stance on his right to bear arms, Mr.
Daggett stated he was sorry for the adverse publicity he brought
to his parish. "I have strong views about the individual’s
right to self protection but I lost sight of the fact that, as a
priest, my responsibility is not just to myself. … The unfortunate
aspect of all this is the embarrassment I have brought to my congregation.
I am deeply sorry for that. If I had been less bullheaded and more
responsible perhaps this could have been avoided." These words
suggest had he thought of the consequences of his imprisonment upon
his parishioners, he may not have kept his handgun, but disposed
of it in order to comply with the ban.

Damned
If You Do

This
story contains important lessons for anyone who opposes unjust,
immoral or unconstitutional laws. Some gun owners in this country
violate laws banning the carry of arms, in order to carry a gun,
or have one in their car, for self-defense. Many who do this believe
self-defense is a God-given or fundamental individual right, and
the laws prohibiting the carry of arms by citizens in good standing
are both immoral and unconstitutional.

By
carrying arms for self-defense in violation of the law, these men
and women are acting in accord with their principles. But in violating
the law, they take the risk Mr. Daggett ran, of being caught, convicted,
sent to jail and losing their livelihood. If one is going to take
this course of action, he should consider very carefully the consequences
to himself and others, and be sure he is willing and able to live
with them. Some who weigh these considerations choose to not violate
the law because of the consequences to themselves and others, despite
their conviction that they have a moral and individual right to
do so.

Two
things stand out in Mr. Daggett’s story. First, he has no remorse,
shame or guilt for violating his country’s law. Indeed, in words
that are reminiscent of Thoreau in "Civil Disobedience,"
Mr. Daggett told the Manchester OnLine reporter, "I enjoyed
my time in prison."

While
the news report characterizes this as unrepentant, and perhaps expects
us to find this shocking, this attitude is actually the predictable
consequence of the nature of modern law.

At
common law, for an act to be criminal it had to be committed, in
the words of Blackstone, with a "vicious will" (where
"vicious" has the older meaning of "having the nature
or quality of vice or immorality" rather than the more common
modern meaning of "brutal"). The requirement of "bad
intent" insured that only acts that sprang from immoral or
blameworthy intent could be defined as crimes, and were punishable.

Modern
law requires only an act be committed with intent, not bad intent,
to be defined as criminal. This permits the state to criminalize
conduct that precedes harmful conduct, in order to prevent that
harmful conduct. As with gun bans, the law is used to restrain men
before they have done anything that would be harmful or wrong, i.e.,
while they are still innocent, in order to prevent an act that would
be wrong or harmful, like murder.

A
man who breaks such a law may feel many things, including embarrassment,
social opprobrium, and self-reproach for breaching the trust of
people who depend upon him, but the one thing he cannot feel is
moral guilt, because bad intent is not an element of the crime.
Thus, the state of mind of a man convicted of such a crime, like
Mr. Daggett, cannot properly be characterized as "unrepentant"
because there is nothing to repent. Morally, he is blameless, having
had no intent to commit harm. Accordingly, he cannot feel that he
has deserved his punishment. His punishment will forever be unmerited
because he knows he is not (morally) guilty.

Threats

If
modern law does not seek assent to, or compliance with, law based
on men’s moral judgment, upon what, then, does it rely to secure
men’s obedience? The threat of punishment – and in a particularly
noteworthy way.

Again,
Mr. Daggett’s experience is instructive. Mr. Daggett clearly did
not fear, or even mind, jail. He was willing to accept jail for
living in accordance with his principles. What he realized, however,
too late, was he could not accept the effect his imprisonment would
have on others – he could not bear the thought of his failure to
fulfill his responsibility to others.

This,
then, is what it comes to: the state uses a man’s sense of responsibility
against him, to divide him. That which a man loves is used against
him, held hostage to obedience to the state’s laws. Consider, a
person may believe his responsibilities include defending his family
from violent crime, and so desire to carry a handgun for protection.
A parent may believe his responsibility to his children includes
the responsibility, not only of protecting them, but also of preserving
his own life so he can continue to love and support them, and so
desire to carry a handgun for protection.

The
state comes along and bans the carry of guns – for the citizenry’s
"protection." Now each must choose in which manner he
will risk failing to live up to his responsibilities: A husband
and father may choose to carry, risking depriving his wife and children
of his love and support if caught and convicted. He may, instead,
choose to not carry, in order to insure he will not fail in his
responsibilities to his loved ones due to imprisonment. But if he
is assaulted, and fails to protect himself or his loved ones because
he chose to not carry, then he has also failed, and must forever
live with the thought he knew what he should have done and failed
to do it.

Either
course a man must hate himself, because either way he fails to act
fully in accordance with what he believes to be right and responsible
– risking either death or grave injury to himself or a loved
one if he fails to carry, risking loss of his ability to provide
love and support if he is imprisoned for being, as Mr. Daggett said,
"bull-headed."

A
Means to Control

What
is critical to understand is the state counts on this to secure
obedience to laws that rest on its (supposedly democratic) fiat,
rather than on assent to moral judgment about right and wrong (as
in the case of laws that criminalize actions only if there is bad
intent). The state uses a man’s sense of responsibility and what
he loves against him, to control him.

Certainly
a state that so uses its "citizens" will not be creating
any goodwill toward itself, or respect for its laws, for it is not
possible to respect such laws, or to love a government that so treats
you. Such laws, instead, lead only to questioning the state’s legitimacy.
For if government, as its modus operandi, sees what is best in us
only as its opportunity and means to control us, then what is the
nature of that government?

October
18, 2004

Jeff
Snyder [send
him mail
]
is an attorney who works in Manhattan. He is the author of
Nation
of Cowards — Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control
, which examines
the American character as revealed by the gun control debate. His
website is here. This
article originally appeared in American Handgunner, July/Aug
2003.

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