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Defense of Property, Round 2

We had a very good discussion in the last thread, where I responded to Jeff Soyer’s piece on castle doctrine. I wanted to continue with some further thoughts. One thing I don’t want to be misunderstood about is that I do not think it is immoral, nor is it illegal, to use physical force to protect or recover property. Pennsylvania law recognizes this. Pennsylvania law basically stipulates that you may use as much physical force as you require to recover or protect your property, or to remove a trespasser, but you may not use deadly force to do this. Even Texas law doesn’t give you as much leeway as many people believe. Under the Texas Penal Code Title 2, Chapter 9, Sec 42:

A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:
(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and
(2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
(A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or
(B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and
(3) he reasonably believes that:
(A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or
(B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

Texas allows probably as much leeway in defense of property as any state, but it still limits the circumstances under which it can be used, which is why most Texas lawyers advise against using deadly force to protect property.

But physical force can be hazardous, because it requires close contact with a criminal. Several people suggested getting into a tuffle with a criminal is a bad idea, and I agree with that, which I why I suggested that job is best left to the police. That doesn’t mean I think it’s immoral to use physical force against a thief, quite the contrary, I think society should encourage that. But I stand by my belief that using deadly force to prevent petty theft is immoral, because you’re ending a person’s life over someone stealing a small piece of yours. Even if physical force is a risk, consider that if you were to have a police officer handy, he would use physical force to recover your property and take the offender into custody. I don’t consider is proper to ask someone else to put himself at risk on your behalf, when you would not be willing to do so yourself in his absence. That doesn’t mean I think one is obligated to chase down and recover the property yourself, but if the property means that much to you, I think you’re obligated to behave the same way a police officer would, under the same circumstances (in return, I think the state is obligated to give you the same benefit of doubt they’d afford a police officer in handling the situation).

Others suggested that there’s not much other recourse when the police won’t do anything about petty crime. I don’t believe that citizens should do nothing in these circumstances, but I do believe that they must act within the law. The law allows actions, including physical force, to be taken to recover or protect property; to undo the wrong that was done to you, or prevent the wrong in the first place. It does not allow you to seek retribution. That is something only the state may do. While I very much believe in citizen action to prevent crime, I do believe the state needs to have a monopoly on retribution for crimes. To that end, I believe it’s morally and legally wrong to use deadly force to protect property, when lesser force will do. Deadly force is for protecting life and limb, which I think everyone needs to be prepared to do. But I also believe in being prepared to use physical force. Whether that’s carrying OC spray, taking a martial art, or what have you.

I will never speak against citizens acting within the law to protect their own persons, property, and interests, but I’m not ever going to become an advocate for vigilantism.

UPDATE: Ahab has more.

30 Responses to “Defense of Property, Round 2”

  1. GeorgeH says:

    I think your faulty assumption is that a thief or vandal will be unarmed.
    That’s preposterous and will get you killed if you try to protect your property. The only rational assumption is that a criminal is armed and will kill you to prevent identification or capture. That being the case I would only approach a criminal with weapon at the ready and would fire if they did not comply immediately when ordered to surrender.

  2. Greg Morris says:

    GeorgeH: I don’t think Sebastian is saying anything about tactics here. Most of us would agree that if you are going to be in an situation where the possibility of an armed criminal is a variable, then yes, you make sure you can answer with force.

    One thing I would point out about what Sebastian has said though, is that a cop standing next to you would chase down the thief only to capture the thief, not to recover your stereo. Even though you might recover your property, that is not really the concern of the police, at least in petty matters.

  3. Sebastian says:

    I think your faulty assumption is that a thief or vandal will be unarmed.

    That may be so, but you also can’t assume that he is, and use deadly force accordingly. A cop isn’t going to see two feet sticking out of your car, shoot the guy, and pry the radio out of his cold dead hands.

  4. MichaelG says:

    Sebation wrote:
    “But I stand by my belief that using deadly force to prevent petty theft is immoral, because you’re ending a person’s life over someone stealing a small piece of yours. Even if physical force is a risk, consider that if you were to have a police officer handy, he would use physical force to recover your property and take the offender into custody. ”

    It was not I, but the would be thief who has equated the value of his life with that piece of property. I will not argue with the thief’s judgement on this matter. I stand on the argument that if the thief is willing to value his life and my property rights so cheaply than it is reasonable to fear that he will be willing to consider my right to live as of little value as well. That the screwdriver or other tool(s) in the thief’s possession will be turned against me in my body as they were turned against me in my property.

    The difference of police using physical force is that in most parts of this country, and I can speak to experience for NJ and IL, is that as soon as the thief resists a police officer the officer can choose to escalate to the use of deadly force with few consequences. I write this with an example from here in IL, Galesburg, where a young man ignored police officers orders to desist from loudly prolytizing in a public street, when they put hands upon him witnesses said that he tried to shake free. The officers resorted to tazering him so many times that he died shortly afterwards in the hospital. Those officers were not even charged let alone convicted of any criminal or civil violations.

    Therefore, if you are willing to allow police officers to use physical force against a thief you are in fact willing to allow the use of deadly force as a result of your first escalation of the situation. And if you are willing to allow police officers to use deadly force, then you should be willing to allow, morally that is, anyone to use deadly force to confront a thief as they are making off with personal property.

    The argument from another direction: I believe that you are in agreement, based on reading you for some time now, that guns are just objects, just tools. Do you believe that a person acting as an agent of “the government” has the authority, moral & legal, to shoot at a thief that has broken into a government armory and is making off with weapons? If you do then consider this: in line with the written Constitution the government must have less Rights than a person. It has only the enumerated and granted Rights as written. Whereas a person has not only the enumerated rights explicitly given protection by the Constitution, but also all of their unenumerated Rights. Therefore, if the government has the authority to shoot someone for stealing a tool and not stopping when ordered to do so, so do we. For I do not see that we have transferred that authority to rest solely within the government.

    MichaelG
    “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ can’t Liberals understand?”

  5. straightarrow says:

    Michael G. the government has no legal rights. What they have is powers as set forth in the constitution. Just a nit to pick, but one that grows to a huge louse in the hands of an authoritarian who presumes only government has rights.

    Sebastian, please quit using the word vigilantism in regards to a man protecting his own property. It is not vigilantism.

    Vigilantism is when citizens mete out punishment without due process of law after an act of crime. It has nothing to do with a citizen protecting himself or his property during the commission of the crime.

  6. BobG says:

    I have to go with Straightarrow on this; as far as I am concerned, anyone getting shot while attempting to rob someone has merely committed a complicated form of assisted suicide.

  7. Sebastian says:

    I stand on the argument that if the thief is willing to value his life and my property rights so cheaply than it is reasonable to fear that he will be willing to consider my right to live as of little value as well. That the screwdriver or other tool(s) in the thief’s possession will be turned against me in my body as they were turned against me in my property.

    Well, if he has a weapon in hand, that changes the equation. If I were to confront a thief, and he stood and faced me with a screwdriver in hand, he’s getting drawn on. I’m talking about some punk stealing your car radio that has no visible weapon. He might be devaluing your property, but petty theft is a misdemeanor, not a capital felony.

    The difference of police using physical force is that in most parts of this country, and I can speak to experience for NJ and IL, is that as soon as the thief resists a police officer the officer can choose to escalate to the use of deadly force with few consequences.

    That’s not really true. In New Jersey, there’s no provision that allows for use of deadly force for a subject who’s resisting. It only allows an officer to use physical force:

    A public officer justified in using force in the performance of his duties or a person justified in using force in his assistance or a person justified in using force in making an arrest or preventing an escape is not obliged to desist from efforts to perform such duty, effect such arrest or prevent such escape because of resistance or threatened resistance by or on behalf of the person against whom such action is directed.

    In Pennsylvania, an officer is allowed to use deadly force on a person fleeing or resisting arrest

    only when he believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or such other person, or when he believes both that: (i) such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape; and (ii) the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony or is attempting to escape and possesses a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless arrested without delay.

    The law does allow for deadly force if it escalates to that, but neither you or a police officer can be the one that escalates to that.

  8. Sebastian says:

    vig·i·lan·te /ˌvɪdʒəˈlænti/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[vij-uh-lan-tee] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    –noun
    1. a member of a vigilance committee.
    2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
    –adjective
    3. done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.

    If you use deadly force on someone stealing your property, unless you’re in Texas, and fall under one of the narrow exemptions that allow it, you’re technically “without recourse to lawful procedures”, so the definition fits.

  9. Sebastian says:

    I have to go with Straightarrow on this; as far as I am concerned, anyone getting shot while attempting to rob someone has merely committed a complicated form of assisted suicide.

    Rob someone or steal their property? Robbery is a forcible violent assault, and is properly and legally responded to with deadly force. We’re talking about petty theft.

  10. sam says:

    I have to go with Sebastian. If someone is breaking into the middle of the night to rob you, you have to assume they are there to hurt you while in commit the crime, and deadly force is warranted. If someone tries to forcibly take your property with a weapon, deadly force is warranted, But if someone is running off with your TV, it’s neither legal nor moral to use deadly force. That’s what’s meant by using deadly force to protect property.

  11. straightarrow says:

    vig·i·lan·te /ˌvɪdʒəˈlænti/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[vij-uh-lan-tee] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    –noun
    1. a member of a vigilance committee.
    2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
    –adjective
    3. done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.

    If you use deadly force on someone stealing your property, unless you’re in Texas, and fall under one of the narrow exemptions that allow it, you’re technically “without recourse to lawful procedures”, so the definition fits.

    Comment by Sebastian on November 7th, 2007

    I call bullshit and further accuse you of using emotionalism when logic will not give you the argument.

    vig·i·lan·te /ˌvɪdʒəˈlænti/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[vij-uh-lan-tee] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    –noun
    1. a member of a vigilance committee.
    2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
    –adjective
    3. done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.

    If you use deadly force on someone stealing your property, unless you’re in Texas, and fall under one of the narrow exemptions that allow it, you’re technically “without recourse to lawful procedures”, so the definition fits.

    Comment by Sebastian on November 7th, 2007

  12. Sebastian says:

    How is a definition appealing to emotionalism?

  13. straightarrow says:

    That post wasn’t finished. So here we go again, I call bullshit and emotionalism on your part.

    vig·i·lan·te /ˌvɪdʒəˈlænti/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[vij-uh-lan-tee] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    –noun
    1. a member of a vigilance committee.
    2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
    –adjective
    3. done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.

    ***************************************
    1. a member of a vigilance committee.
    One is not a member of a vigilance committe when protecting his home, life or propery, he is merely a lone private citizen, on his goddamned own.

    2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
    –adjective

    There are times when the law is in your hands because the crime is being committed against you. Stopping a crime against yourself is not vengeance it is defense.

    3. done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.

    There is nothing summary about defense of self and property during the course of a crime, defense of self and property is a lawful procedure, at least in civilized societies.

    I call bullshit. Your definition of vigilantism may be correct and in the dictionary, but your use of the term is, at best, a misplaced in all the instances discussed here. At worst, it is a serious breach of integrity because I suspect you already know defense of self and/or property is not vigilantism.

    If you do not know it, then you have no business carrying arms. Because under your proscription you would be guilty of vigilantism. Which by the way , I don’t support. I believe in the due process of law. One of those laws is we have the right to protect ourselves and it in not vigilantism.

    I have to say I am disappointed. In all the times we have disagreed, even beyond, reconciliation of opinions, this is the first time I thought something you said or did was dishonest.

  14. straightarrow says:

    “I will never speak against citizens acting within the law to protect their own persons, property, and interests, but I’m not ever going to become an advocate for vigilantism.”- Sebastian.

    This I could live with,except it is about the third time you have injected it into the conversation as though vigilantism is what is being discussed.

    I haven’t seen one post from anyone who suggested anything resembling vengeance. Nobody has said word damn one about hunting someone down and summarily and violently executing or otherwise punishing them. Yet, you keep arguing against as though somebody else is for it.

    Who? Who has advocated that in this thread?
    \
    So why do you keep pulling out this faux morality card as though others are more bloodthirsty than you?

    Just thought I would try again to make it clear, there are a lot of things I would not harm someone over, though they may be unpleasant for me or even transgressions against me. I do not seem to be alone in this, I haven’t seen anyone on this thread that is bloodthirsty. yet, you argue as though there is someone here who just can’t wait to manufacture an excuse to cause great harm to another human being.

  15. Sebastian says:

    I don’t think taking the law into your own hands has to involve hunting down someone and seeking revenge on them. If you shoot someone in the process of stealing your car radio, that’s taking the law into your own hands. Even in Texas your likely to get indicted and convicted.

  16. Sebastian says:

    Just thought I would try again to make it clear, there are a lot of things I would not harm someone over, though they may be unpleasant for me or even transgressions against me. I do not seem to be alone in this, I haven’t seen anyone on this thread that is bloodthirsty. yet, you argue as though there is someone here who just can’t wait to manufacture an excuse to cause great harm to another human being.

    No, I don’t think anyone here is just looking for an excuse. I know you all better than that. I thought I was making my case pretty clearly, but perhaps not. To some degree, I wonder if this is a north/south schism. Southerns, Texans in particular, seem to be more open to the idea of deadly force to defend property, whereas we Yankees don’t have much stomach for it. I notice Massad Ayoob, a New Hampshireite, also seem to fall into this school of thought, as does Ahab, an Indianan.

  17. Bitter says:

    “I have to say I am disappointed. In all the times we have disagreed, even beyond, reconciliation of opinions, this is the first time I thought something you said or did was dishonest.”

    straightarrow, now I call you out for just being an ass. At the heart of it, this conversation comes down to one of two likely possibilities: a) you would shoot someone climbing over the fence and leaving your property with just about anything, even a flower from your garden, in the name of defending property, and Sebastian has a different line in the sand for pulling the trigger, or b) you two have fundamentally different visions of scenarios that are steering you toward different presumptions and therefore reactions.

    Regardless, even if it’s closer to a) and you don’t respect that, that doesn’t give you a pass to call him dishonest. There was nothing dishonest about anything Sebastian said in this thread.

    Why even take it to an unreasonable personal attack like that? If you’re so disturbed, just leave the conversation.

  18. Sebastian says:

    I should note that I don’t mean to demean anyone’s opinion here. This has been a good discussion, and I think it’s good to talk about this stuff. Disagreement is inevitable, and I hope no ones feathers feel too ruffled.

  19. Jym says:

    Straightarrow: Even though I agree with you in that in this case it’s justified, you’re just flat out wrong by arguing it’s not vigilante action. You can twist it all you want, but as someone who is even on your side on this, I’m telling you, it’s vigilante when you take law enforcement into your own hands. That’s the very definition of it, as was pointed out. I disagree with Sebastian in that I believe sometimes vigilante action is necessary, but when you continually deny that’s what’s being discussed you just look stupid.

    I mean, how much more ridiculous can you get when you admit he’s using the word correctly according to the definition, and then still disagree that he should be using it? What standards should we use words by if not their very definitions!? And you’re accusing him of responding based on emotion rather than logic? Take a look in the mirror!

  20. straightarrow says:

    Obviously Bitter you haven’t read my comments or you have and tailored your take on them for your own purposes.

    I have stated unequivocally that I would not shoot a man making off with my new car out of my damn driveway. However, I also stated I could never vote to convict a man who did.

    So, how does that equate to this…..”a) you would shoot someone climbing over the fence and leaving your property with just about anything, even a flower from your garden, in the name of defending property, ….”?????

    As I said, I think it very suspect that the vigilante card keeps being played when it is not germane to this conversation or anyone’s opinion here. I think it a dishonest tactic. I’m sorry that offends you. But not sorry enough to lie to you.

  21. straightarrow says:

    Well then Jym you just supported a ban on self defense and defense of property disguised as a bar to vigilante justice, which by the way is an oxymoron. There is no justice in vigilantism. Justice requires due process and observance of all the guarantees in the law that the innocent are not punished. A mob, even a mob calling themselves a vigilante committee cannot do that. Nor are they inclined to.

    I am as opposed to that as I am to theft, murder, or any other crime against people.

    There are two things I really and strenuously object to. One is the assumption that anyone here would just automatically shoot someone caught in the act of stealing a car stereo. That is an asinine assumption based strictly on its worth as a pre-emptive tool to win the point.

    Would you not tell the thief to stop if you saw him in your car, shattering your dashboard to get your stereo? I would. If he didn’t stop, would you ask him for Identification so you can call the cops and tell them who got it? What if he didn’t stop and wouldn’t provide ID, what then? Just walk away? Or would you try to stop him? If you would, you had better be prepared to go all the way if it becomes necessary. He may not be any more amenable to being ejected from your car than he was to earlier requests that he cease and desist or provide ID. If that is taking the law into your own hands then that is where it belongs.

    I was addressing the “taking the law into your own hands” meme as though it was meant as the “improper taking”. There are times when it is proper and sometimes just downright unavoidable.

    The other thing I object to is using words with definitions that describe the meaning of the word,but using the words incorrectly. Vigilantism is not the equivalent of self defense nor defense of one’s property. Self defense is not the inappropriate taking of the law into one’s own hands. It doesn’t matter that you believe it so, it isn’t.

    We are all charged with enforcement of the law. Not many Americans know that, but we are. We are not charged with adjudication of the law, unless placed on juries or the bench.

    At one time in this country, in some venues, it was considered a criminal act to avoid this responsibility. It was applied mostly to accidents and other disasters, but it was also applicable to witnesses to crime who refused their civic duty. It was not strictly enforced in this area,(in fact, I know of no case where it was) due to considerations of fear of personal harm to those bystanders who didn’t take a hand.

    Ever since we instituted paramilitary forces we call police, or marshalls, or sheriffs and deputies whose duties to enforce the law are full time and focused for which they are paid(most often, not enough) to do only that as their primary livelihood, we have been abdicating our responsibilities to ourselves, our neighbors and our society to the lawmakers and their enforcers. I don’t think it is any secret that the cops cannot do it alone. They never could, but most of their political masters profit with the fiction that they can. Ergo they pass and/or lobby for ever more restrictive measures against citizens in order to garner more power. They usually succeed in this with the blessing of the citizen by promising that LE can and will handle the problems.

    Because the average citizen likes this lessened responsibility and promised greater security (which is false) he goes for it and doesn’t get upset when he has been eventually neutered. Hell, he doesn’t even notice it, since it was mostly voluntary.

    We have a duty to the law. More than just obeying it. Anyone who doesn’t realize this needs to read more. It is a matter of survival for a civilized society. The centurions not even the new ones can do it alone. And forced to be alone in it, they soon lose respect for, and sense of duty to those citizens who have doomed them to a losing proposition by their willingness to shirk their duty. Even though that duty is masked so effectively with layer upon layer of law meant to dissuade the citizen from autonomy.

    So, I object to rebuttals to arguments with nonsequitirs, and I object to the belief that we are somehow a lower form of citizen. If some find comfort in that so they may avoid the full responsibility I really object to that.

  22. Clint says:

    I have been watching this conversation with interest. There seems to be two separate topics on the table that are at times being forced together: morality and law.

    The question as I see it is, “Am I willing to shoot a thief in the back over a week’s worth of pay?” If not a week’s pay, then how much? The “arson of one’s home” example on the other thread was interesting. I’m sure most reasonable juries would find killing an arsonist while in the act justifiable.

    But whether it is justifiable or even legal does not really answer a question of ethics. It is ironic that those who would demand the least intervention of the government into a person’s life would give the government the authority to legislate morality for them.

    Remember, Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Mercy should be shown whenever prudent and where allowed.

  23. Sebastian says:

    It is ironic that those who would demand the least intervention of the government into a person’s life would give the government the authority to legislate morality for them.

    Isn’t any law, to some degree, legislating a certain morality? Eugene Volokh has written about this. It’s a good read. You’re right though, that what the law is and what is moral is being confusingly argued in parallel. Perhaps I should have separated the two arguments.

  24. Boyd says:

    An excellent point, Sebastian. I take the position that legislating morality is the object of our most important laws.

  25. Clint says:

    Sebastian: Isn’t any law, to some degree, legislating a certain morality?

    I think it would be a strain to fit every law into that mould, but I can understand the reasoning.

    My rebuttal would be – did the morality create the law or did the law create the morality? If a law was created that went against your grain, would you simply accept it as a new moral standard? or is there another part of you that recognizes that there are higher laws than the State Code Book.

    In your post the other day you stated “It is possible to achieve moral status without being religious.” Honestly, I don’t see how it is possible. One way or another, morality has to be anchored in something deeper than law, or, even more impossible, consensus. This is not proselytizing on my part. I do not believe one becomes a Christian unless he has been called by God. I do not believe that the entire society must proscribe to the rites of any church.

    But … and this is a big but …if you are European, South American, or good old North American, the Judaea-Christian system of ethics is your norm, your “home-base” if you will. To just suddenly make a proclamation that morality is completely subjective to the whim of the government in power, the current population or even the individual is preposterous. I’m sure there could be made a list of things that everybody who reads here can agree are immoral: pedophilia (but the ancient Greeks and Romans were okay with it), forcible rape (but a norm in some cultures), killing a child, etc.

    That code of morality permeates our society. It is in our literature, our arts. It’s on our money. It’s part of the 12 step programs. It’s chiseled into the wall at the Supreme Court building. That code that’s so deep in us tells us that the most that can be brought against a wrong-doer is equal retribution – an eye for an eye. That is the Law. Jesus said the best is to turn the other cheek. Not sure how closely I’m following Jesus on that one.

    For me, I’d never considered the “unarmed assailant stealing property outside of the home” scenario. If he stole my stereo and was running down the road, nope, I am reasonably certain I’d cuss and put the gun back in the holster. What I find troubling, though, is that arson scenario. If he were attempting to burn down my house, match poised over the gasoline, I’d be emptying on him. Does that mean I’m attaching a monetary and physical value to that person’s life?

  26. Sebastian says:

    Actually, under that scenario, I wouldn’t blame anyone for doing that. In many states, it’s perfectly legal to use deadly force to stop a forcible felony, which generally would include arson, though in some states only arson of an occupied dwelling. I agree with those laws. I would probably try to use physical force first, but that’s just my choice.

    But as for morality having more than a consensus base, I agree that a lot of Judeo-Christian ethics permeate our civilization…. but to someone who’s not much of a believer, that’s just a consensus. Either way, I think we have other sources of western values, such as Greek and Roman ideas about government, philosophy, etc.

    But my ideas of morality mostly revolve around what works, and the values of The West are pretty obviously demonstrated to work in terms of making a functioning, prosperous, and mostly importantly, free and happy societies. I’m not a squishy moral relativist, because I believe in the values of our civilization, and am willing to stand up for them, and say they are better than other values. But it’s just difficult to see how it’s anything other than consensus.

  27. straightarrow says:

    “It is ironic that those who would demand the least intervention of the government into a person’s life would give the government the authority to legislate morality for them.”-Clint.

    Thank you for that bit of wisdom. That is exactly what has been so maddening for me in this discussion.

    As for your question which establishes the other(paraphrased) Does the law establish morality? If it did, then the Nurembeg Trials were vigilantism in the extreme, because every thing the defendants were accused of was legal under the laws of the Third Reich. And therefore moral, if law establishes morality.

    Morality should establish law. However, there are several moral codes with differing opinions, so how to reconcile them? Justice should be the guide. Justice suggest a basis in morality, but it also requires a grounding sense and a dedication to the most good that can be provided an individual. Not the greater good for the greater number, too many sins and crimes against humanity can be hidden in that philosophy. The greater good for the individual translates to everyone and keeps a much higher barrier against governmental and criminal (sometimes they’re the same) abuse of the people. If every individual is autonomous within the bounds of not trespassing his neighbor, then he has as much freedom as can be successfully maintained in a free and civilized society.

    To allow others to restrain the exercise of the individual over the protection of his life, lives of his loved ones, or defense of fellow innocents, or property, is to cede the society to the barbarians. And it is exceedingly immoral in its denial of justice for people who have trespassed no one, but are required under penalty of legal sanction to suffer trespass against themselves.

    It is not necessary or even to be desired to cause great harm to a petty thief, however the option should be the owners of that property, not the decision of people who have no interest in it, nor in your life, but feel they have the right to exercise your options for you.

    If it were general knowledge that those options resided with the owners of those lives or property there would be markedly less need for those options ever to be exercised.

    As it stands now, people fear the cops and courts more than they do the criminal and the criminal relies upon that. A partnership between government and goon exists that is beneficial to both, but very detrimental to the law abiding citizen.

    There is nothing civilized or humane about that.

    Some venues are breaking that symbiosis.

  28. Sebastian says:

    Don’t feel too maddened. It’s been a good discussion, and I understand where a lot of you are coming from. Particularly how people are more afraid of the system than they are of criminals. I think about that a lot, but I’m not sure how to solve it.

  29. David says:

    I think this whole discussion may be encapsulated as this: absent Society’s legal sanction against killing a nonviolent thief, the only remaining sanction is a moral one, which Sebastian feels strongly and others feel less strongly or not at all.

    Here’s where law and morality become inextricably entwined. “Am I willing to shoot a thief in the back over a week’s worth of pay?” Well, would you get away with it? I’d bet that would change the answers of more folks than you might suspect.

    I think the earlier comment about regional differences in the law is spot-on. I’d argue that these help to illustrate regional differences in morality. Remember that the core of self-defense law — you do not have a duty to retreat when attacked in a public space, but instead may stand your ground, including the use of deadly force — has long been a part of the common law of the states West of the Mississippi, including California! East of the Mississippi, in most jurisdictions the law required you to first try to run if attacked. These legal differences presumably arose from the different moral attitudes in the East and West about the proper response to crimes.

    However, it’s not just regional differences, but cultural ones as well. My wife, a Latina who grew up in poverty surrounded by crime and criminals, would leave her bicycle or car unlocked in our driveway earlier in our relationship, with the comment that if someone stole it, “they must have needed it more than I do.” I was as astonished at this fatalistic attitude as she was when informed that my uncle would and had beat to a bloody pulp anyone impertinent enough to steal from him.

    But I would argue that in addition to the regional and cultural differences, there’s a much more important generational one too. My uncle, brutal as he may be, grew up with John Wayne as his role model and would never intentionally kill an unarmed thief. My uncle’s in his sixties; I’m in my late thirties; my daughter’s college-age. In my experience, my peers, and my daughter’s peers, seem much more comfortable than my uncle with the idea of lethal vigilante action, even for nonviolent property crimes — maybe it’s not the lawful thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do. They would consider that a morally defensible position, BTW.

    The extent to which this reflects despair or disbelief in the efficacy of the “justice system” among the younger population is left as an exercise for some enterprising doctoral candidate. I blame Hollywood!

  30. straightarrow says:

    David, some of the reasons for the cultural split East to West could be that west of the Mississippi in our early days we emulated the earlier philosophy of our eastern brethren, before their population and market density became great enough to sustain life even in the face of theft or privation caused by the immoral takings of a predator.

    Early in our history, especially in the western part of the country everything was far apart and much was not even available. Loss of seemingly little could actually spell death or loss of livelihood for an entire family victimized by predators, robbers, sneak thieves and sundry other miscreants. In that light, protection of life and property took on the mantle of morality, because it was and is moral to protect one’s life, and property which could stave off a lingering death of one, his family or their livelihood.

    We simply have held to that culture more assiduously than the people of the east who came to expect help or aid or surcease from deprivation because they were surrounded by people who claimed to believe in a new morality. Unfortunately the majority of those people do not step up and show the support nor provide the protection they claim to be part of the new morality. Yet, they hold each other to legal strictures that prevent them from providing for their own support and protection under threat of penalty.

    That is not a position based in morality, nor even good sense. Moreover, it has encouraged the miscreants among us to become ever bolder in their predations.

    Now that we have built this society in which the law abiding must acquiesce to the criminal in all but the most serious of circumstances, I share with Sebastian the puzzlement of how to fix it. A reasonable man does not want to give his life or freedom in a situation he might avoid altogether if he just allows his life and his to belongings to belong to those who would take them. Nor can he replace the years spent in prison if that should be the end result. Yet, he refuses to view the years he lost to a thief in that same light.

    The rationale for it is simple, he can replace his things given enough time, though he has lost the time he used to acquire them. He can never replace his life, so at that point when his life is threatened, he has nothing to lose if he is at risk of it in the immediate or at the hands of unjust laws because he did defend it.

    Most of the discussion here has used the hypothetical of the theft of a car stereo. Nobody would be in danger of loss of life or livelihood by the theft of a stereo. Ergo, most here, myself included, would not opt to take a life over such an inconsequential belonging. However, that does not change the moral equation. So, while I would not do it, I would not vote to convict a man who did if he tried to stop the thief and met threat. Because the morality of it remains unchanged despite my reluctance to live by it so strictly. I still maintain that the decision is to the owner of the property. I may not like him or his decision, but a trespasser of another person’s rights has surrendered his own voluntarily.

    Someone on the other thread on this issue said at one time a horse was worth more than a man’s life, that’s why they used to hang horse thieves. That isn’t quite accurate, in those days a horse was worth a man’s life. For without it the owner of it was at great risk of death. The thief who took it very likely condemned the owner of that horse to death. That is why they were hanged.

    There weren’t a great many horse thieves, despite Hollywood’s portrayals. Anyway, outlaws always had the best horses. Their lives depended on them. Since honest people don’t steal horses, outlaws had little to fear in that regard, unless they were caught on a horse not theirs. They might be jailed for many things, but condemning a man to die of thirst, exposure or starvation for want of his own horse would not be treated with leniency. This is a little far afield, but I wanted to address it, though I am a day late and a dollar short, or more.

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