Elite and Popular Opinion on Self-Defense

Self-defense is one of those areas there’s often a fairly significant gap between elite opinion and popular opinion.  That’s no better illustrated than in the comments at the story I linked to previously here.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet the people there being hardest on DePaul are other people who have LTCs who don’t appreciate DePaul’s reckless behavior making the whole community look bad.

But it shows what happens when the authorities don’t take maintaining the peace seriously.  Anyone who frequents the Schuylkill River Trail knows that youths are a common problem.  Most of these problems don’t rise to the level of deadly force, but with cases like this, if the authorities do nothing, that’s often just a matter of time.  Additionally, if problems like this fester, it reduces popular respect for the law, and before too long, juries are going to start letting guys like DePaul walk.

I heard a local attorney tell a story of a guy in my county, who back during the crime wave in the 1980s, popped a guy from his house, who had broken into his shed.  By the Pennsylvania Consolidates Statutes, that’s pretty unambiguously murder, but during the 80s the Bucks County DA declined to bring charges, probably knowing that there wasn’t a jury to be found in the county that would have been in the mood to convict under those circumstances.  Once you can’t find a jury to convict someone for a specific crime, for all intents and purposes the act becomes legal.  If the government fails to maintain public order, populist opinion will typically yeild to the people doing it, often not in pretty ways.  While I am a strong advocate for self-defense, I don’t advocate vigalantism, but that often ends up happening when the state cannot perform its basic functions adequately.

15 thoughts on “Elite and Popular Opinion on Self-Defense”

  1. Unfortunately if the state cannot or will not fullfill its obligations and undertakings, such as “we will monopolize the use of force for your protection”, and lets crime go loose, it will have to cede its power back to citizens.

    This includes healthcare and other social compacts where the state is either ineffective or worse at doing what it promised. Some situations are too complex for legislators and bureaucrats to manage successfully, and they should not try.

    We agree on vigilantism, too. The cure too easily may exceed the disease.

  2. I suspect Atlanta is pointed in that direction as reductions in the numbers of officers has given rise to violent crime. Pretty soon neighbors will have to provide covering fire for each other just to unload groceries.

  3. I was sorta OK with this posting, especially since I don’t live in PA.

    Until I read the word “vigilantism”.

    The police power is ours, not the State’s. Ain’t no such critter as “vigilantism”. Unless you’re an employee of the State, and your paycheck is dependent on a monopoly of force.

  4. What you’re speaking of is anarchy, not rule of law. That’s not our system, and never has been. Under a system of laws, there is certainly such a thing as “vigilantism”

  5. Oh, look! You applied a perjorative term to our ancient right to deal with assault. You win!

    This poor SOB is going down because he didn’t start firing until the threat was retreating, but to smear him with the term ‘vigilante’ is insult on top of injury.

    This has not a blessed thing to do with anarchy. Unless you were applying the term to the two teen-aged felons who assaulted a citizen lawfully using the trail.

  6. “What you’re speaking of is anarchy, not rule of law.”

    I have to disagree Sebastian. a vigilante, according to the actual definition, is one who watches. Vigili is still to this day what a local Police officer is called in Italy. Vigili, from the Latin, “to watch.” the perjorative “vigilante” is the person who takes it upon him or herself to punish those he believes are criminals, like in comic books.

    “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence”

    The whole argument that police are the only ones who are supposed to maintain order is false. it would be nice if all we had to do was report the crimes and the police would take the offender away permanently, but in this world, we have to sometimes help out. We are police. the police are us.

  7. Maybe it’s not a good fit by the exact Webster’s definition, except maybe in the broad category

    Main Entry:
    vig·i·lan·te Listen to the pronunciation of vigilante
    Spanish, watchman, guard, from vigilante vigilant, from Latin vigilant-, vigilans

    : a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate) ; broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice
    — vig·i·lan·tism Listen to the pronunciation of vigilantism \-ˈlan-ˌti-zəm\ noun

    I’ll concede the point, and agree that he just stands accused several counts of several violent crimes. But I stand by my assertion that people being able to assert their own retribution and justice is anarchy, rather than rule of law.

  8. The whole argument that police are the only ones who are supposed to maintain order is false.

    It depends on what you mean by “maintain order.” If by maintain order, you mean deciding to act as judge, jury and executioner on someone who commits simple assault against you, then I would challenge you to go try it and see what happens.

    DePaul would have been justified in using force (but not deadly force) to detail the kids until police could arrive, authorized under this statute:

    A private person who makes, or assists another private person in making a lawful arrest is justified in the use of any force which he would be justified in using if he were summoned or directed by a peace officer to make such arrest, except that he is justified in the use of deadly force only when he believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or another.

    It’s hard to argue that deadly force was justified when the kids who attacked DePaul were apparently in the process of fleeing, and by DePaul’s own statement were 200+ feet away.

    But even detaining people for police is legally extremely risky, as a private citizen does not have qualified immunity. Meaning if you’re wrong, you can be held civilly and criminally liable in situations where a police officer would have immunity.

    But nonetheless, if DePaul had chased down the kids, and used a reasonable amount of force to detain them until police arrived, I would be arguing he acted as a good citizen rather than acting as a jackass. It’s not “taking the law into your own hands” to act as an agent of the law, within the law, but it sure as hell is to exact your own retribution. The latter is what DePaul appears to be guilty of.

  9. The justification for Vigilance committees “taking the law into their own hands” was that, in some circumstances, the rule of law had broken down, due to the inability or unwillingness of the duly-appointed authorities to enforce the law or the lack of any such “official” presence.

    For instance, in Gold Rush Alaska there was at times a single Judge and US Marshall assigned for the entire Territory. In those circumstances out of necessity miners formed their own “Miner’s Courts” which imposed what was, in effect, the common law.

    Citizens, acting in concert, to provide for enforcement of law and justice with at least an attempt made to maintain some sort of mutually agreed upon order with a defined due process. It wasn’t just an individual or group acting as “judge, jury and executioner” at will.

    The former is part of the American legal tradition, the latter is barbarism.

    Shooting a fleeing kid is NOT anything relating to Justice (capitalization deliberate). It is retaliation with only vengeance as justification. Which is no justification at all for action by a civilized person who claims to respect the law.

  10. I should note, I’m not pooh poohing that kid of frontier justice that you speak of. When the government is unable or unwilling to establish law and order, I have no problem with the people filling i the gap. But that’s not the situation faced in Montgomery County, or anywhere in the United States today.

  11. Since we’re quibbling over the definition of words, I just want to throw in that Sebastian is abusing “anarchy” as a pejorative term, the same way others are contending he has misused “vigllante.” While “anarchy” has acquired a pejorative meaning synonymous with “chaos,” through deliberate misuse and abuse, it originally implied only the absence of a “state” structure, not an absence of order, even order with “law,” as the law was understood through a consensus of society.

    Some might contend that what we have at present is chaos, existing due to our laws being largely applied arbitrarily and for the convenience of the state and its minions.

  12. I probably shouldn’t imply that anarchy would be chaos. It is not chaos. People will tend to develop social structures that keep order. The problem with anarchists it that they assume the order will promote freedom, rather than be the rule of the most brutal, ruthless, and violent people.. forcing everyone else to swear loyalty to one group of thugs or another. Nation states, while far from perfect, are a vast improvement over this order.

    People are not peaceful and accommodating by nature. We are brutish creatures. Give up rule of law, you might keep some semblance of order for a while, but eventually human nature will take over, and it won’t be pretty.

  13. forcing everyone else to swear loyalty to one group of thugs or another.

    You mean like the choices I had last November? :-)

    (Just having fun at this point — but come to think of it. . .)

  14. I figured that was coming :) But as bad as our government is sometimes, you at least have some recourse through the law, and some means, in theory, to restrain and change it. It’s far from perfect. But it beats having to live in constant fear that the group of thugs next door will sweep in, burn your houses, rape your women, kill your sons, and demand you switch your allegiance to their leader. That’s what most of human history was until the advent of nation states.

  15. Vigilantism is when a few decide to hunt down the teenagers and then administer punishment without a trial.

    Police powers are given to the police from the people and when the police and justice system fails then it is within the authority of the people to withdraw those powers and take them upon themselves.

    When law and order failes then juries refused to convict peole who defend them selves.

    This guy had survived the attack and was shooting when the kids fled. So he is guilty of abusing his right to use a weapon.

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