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What You Love Will Be Used Against You

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 Under a 1688 Bill of Rights, which has never been repealed, it says that everyone has the right to possess a weapon for self-defense.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