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Self-Defense Prohibition

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The sickening spectacle of hoodlum gangs molesting women in New York City’s Central Park in broad daylight while the police stood by has elicited volumes of criticism. But two key facts have been left out of the commentary:

First, the police have no legal duty to come to any particular person’s aid.

Second, molesters in New York City can be virtually certain that their victims are unarmed.

It is not widely appreciated that, as Richard Stevens, author of Dial 911 and Die , writes, “the government and the police in most localities owe no legal duty to protect individuals from criminal attack .” Not only can the police not protect everyone, the courts have ruled that they have no obligation to protect any specific person. This includes even policemen witnessing an assault before their eyes. In most states, a lawsuit by a citizen against the police for breach of duty would be dismissed because the courts or legislatures have immunized them from liability.

While most citizens assume they will be protected by their local police, in fact they have no guarantee-as those unfortunate women (including a 14-year-old girl)-learned to their horror. This doesn’t mean the police department won’t internally discipline the idle policemen. Politics ensures that something will be done. Police departments are inherently political organizations; indeed, the police may have held back because it was the day of the Puerto Rican parade. But the women who were assaulted and who seek redress very likely will have no standing in court. This stands in contrast to the citizen who employs a private security firm.

Thus people have been lulled falsely into believing that the police are looking out for them and that their right of self-defense has been safely delegated to government. Nonsense! The right and responsibility of self-defense is not-and cannot be-delegated, no matter what assurances the mayor, governor, and president give. Self-defense and defense of one’s family must be a constant concern. Perhaps the gravest offense government has committed against its own people is to make them think otherwise.

Which brings us to the subject of firearms. New York is one of nearly 20 states that prohibit citizens from carrying handguns for self-protection. More than 30 states have enacted some form of law that permits people to carry concealed handguns. (Vermont is apparently the only state that honors the Second Amendment by not requiring a permit for concealed carry.) The record of states in which concealed carry is legal has been excellent. According to John Lott of Yale Law School, violent crime falls when would-be criminals realize that their victims may be armed. Despite the frantic warnings of the anti-self-defense lobby, concealed carry does not lead to fender-bender shootouts. The overwhelming majority of people who carry concealed weapons are law-abiding Good Samaritans. Guns are used far more often to thwart crime (usually without firing) than to commit it.

But that day in Central Park, the hoodlums who assaulted those women could be sure that their victims and bystanders were unarmed. New York is not a concealed-carry state. People have wondered why the bystanders did not defend the women. The prospect of being beaten by a gang of toughs might indeed deter a lone unarmed citizen from aiding a citizen in distress. But what about a few armed and trained citizens? Better yet, perhaps the assaults would not have occurred had the thugs suspected that people in the park carried concealed weapons.

The Rosie O’Donnell reaction to concealed carry is that this would take us back to the Old West. Well, yes. But that would be a good thing, because serious research on the Old West shows unequivocally that it was safer than our big cities are today. A primary reason has to be that most people carried handguns and knew how to use them.

The founders of this country included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights, not because they were hunters or sport shooters, but because they understood that it is impossible to surrender one’s right of self-defense against crime and tyranny. Back then, to be free meant to take full responsibility for one’s life. That is just as true today.

That’s why gun control is nothing less than self-defense prohibition.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.