The Right to Self-Defense

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On June 27,
in the case of Castle
Rock v. Gonzales
, the Supreme Court found that Jessica Gonzales
did not have a constitutional right to police protection even in
the presence of a restraining order.

By a vote of
7-to-2, the Supreme Court ruled that Gonzales has no
right to sue
her local police department for failing to protect
her and her children from her estranged husband.

The post-mortem
discussion on Gonzales has been fiery but it has missed an obvious
point. If the government won’t protect you, then you have to take
responsibility for your own self-defense and that of your family.
The court’s ruling is a sad decision, but one that every victim
and/or potential victim of violence must note: calling the police
is not enough. You must also be ready to defend yourself.

In 1999, Gonzales
obtained a restraining order against her estranged husband Simon,
which limited his access to their children. On June 22, 1999, Simon
abducted their three daughters. Though the Castle Rock police department
disputes some of the details of what happened next, the two sides
are in basic agreement: After her daughters’ abduction, Gonzales
repeatedly phoned the police for assistance. Officers visited the
home. Believing Simon to be non-violent and, arguably, in compliance
with the limited access granted by the restraining order, the police
did nothing.

The next morning,
Simon committed “suicide by cop.” He shot a gun repeatedly through
a police station window and was killed by returned fire. The murdered
bodies of Leslie, 7, Katheryn, 9 and Rebecca, 10 were found in Simon’s
pickup truck.

In her lawsuit,
Gonzales claimed the police violated her 14th
Amendment right
to due process and sued them for $30 million.
She won at the Appeals level.

What were the
arguments that won and lost in the Supreme Court?

Winners: local
officials fell back upon a rich history of court decisions that
found the police to have no constitutional obligation to protect
individuals from private individuals. In 1856, the U.S. Supreme
Court (South
v. Maryland)
found that law enforcement officers had no affirmative
duty to provide such protection. In 1982 (Bowers
v. DeVito
), the Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit held, “…there
is no Constitutional right to be protected by the state against
being murdered by criminals or madmen.”

Later court
decisions have concurred.

Losers: anti-domestic
violence advocates
and women’s groups, such as the National
Association of Women Lawyers, failed to establish that restraining
orders were constitutional entitlements. If they had succeeded,
the enforcement of such orders would have been guaranteed by due
process. Failure to enforce them would have been grounds for a lawsuit
against the police, a precedent that local officials feared would
flood them with expensive litigation.

Public analysis
of Rock v. Gonzales has been largely defined by these two opposing

A third position
cries out: Given the court’s position that the police are not obliged
to protect us, responsible adults need the ability to defend themselves.
Thus, no law or policy should impede the access to gun ownership.

adults — both male and female — have both a right and
a need to defend themselves and their families, with lethal force
if necessary. If domestic violence advocates had focused on putting
a gun in Jessica’s hand and training her to use it, then the three
Gonzales children might still be alive. After all, Jessica knew
where her husband was. Indeed, she informed the police repeatedly
of his location.

Of course,
the Gonzales case — in and of itself — presents difficulties
for the use of armed force by private citizens. Would the same police
who believed Simon Gonzales was not dangerous have believed Jessica
to be justified in picking up a gun to protect her children from
him? Would the police have charged her for use of a weapon? Regardless,
these sticky debates would probably be taking place in the presence
of three living children and not three dead ones.

most anti-domestic violence advocates strenuously avoid gun ownership
as a possible solution to domestic violence. Instead, they appeal
for more police intervention even though the police have no obligation
to provide protection.

When groups
like the National Organization for Women (NOW) do focus on gun ownership,
it is to make such statements
as, “Guns and domestic violence make a lethal combination, injuring
and killing women every day.”

In short, NOW
addresses the issue of gun ownership and domestic violence only
in order to demand a
on the ability of abusers — always defined
as men — to own weapons.

That position
may be defensible. But it ignores half of the equation. It ignores
the need of potential victims to defend themselves and their families.
Anti-domestic violence and women’s groups create the impression
that guns are always part of the problem and never part of the solution.

The current
mainstream of feminism — from which most anti-domestic violence
advocates proceed — is an expression of left liberalism. It
rejects private solutions based on individual rights in favor of
laws aimed at achieving social goals. A responsible individual holding
a gun in self-defense does not fit their vision of society.

In the final
analysis, such advocates do not trust the judgment of the women
they claim to be defending. They do not believe that Jessica Gonzales’
three children would have been safer with a mother who was armed
and educated in gun use.

The clear message
of Gonzales bears repeating because you will not hear it elsewhere.
The police have no obligation to protect individuals who, therefore,
should defend themselves. The content of state laws does not matter;
by Colorado State law, the police are required to “use every reasonable
means to enforce a protection order.” The Supreme Court has ruled
and that’s that.

In the wake
of Gonzales, every anti-domestic violence advocate should advise
victims — male or female — to learn self-defense. They
should lobby for the repeal of any law or policy that hinders responsible
gun ownership.

The true meaning
of being anti-domestic violence is to help victims out of their
victimhood and into a position of power.

15, 2005

McElroy [send her mail] is the editor
of and a research fellow
for The Independent Institute in Oakland,
Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the
new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

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