Mischaracterizing Self Defense

Published by the LearnAboutGuns.com Author on August 21, 2009 at 12:01 am
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The intro to a report by Fox on the recent self defense shootings in WI mischaracterizes self defense as vigilantism.  Fox’s statements, and the problems with those statements, are below:

In a recent spate of crimes the victims have taken the law into their own hands.

It is true that there has recently been a spike in the number of criminals shot by their would-be victims.  However it is wrong to say that those armed would-be victims “took the law into their own hands.”  Taking the law into one’s own hands is vigilantism.  It is where a citizen takes it upon themselves to seek out a suspected criminal, and punish that criminal for a crime that has already been completed, out of a desire for vengeance.  Vigilantism is wrong and illegal, because it often results in innocent people being punished in terrible and inhumane ways.  For example, it is vigilantism for a citizen to go looking for a suspected robber, then stab that person.  Self defense, on the other hand, is the use of force by a victim to stop a criminal from completing an in-progress crime.  Self defense is morally and legally right, since it allows an innocent person to save themselves from violent attack by a criminal.  For example, it is self defense to shoot home invading criminals who are preparing to commit rape and murder.  In sum, vigilantism and self defense are worlds apart, and should not be confused with each other. Confusing the two does a great disservice to our right to self defense, and maligns those brave citizens who rightfully defended themselves against violent criminals. A more detailed explanation of the difference between the two can be seen here.

FOX 6’s Mike Lowe says when you take the law into your own hands you’re actually protected by state law.

This statement is laden with problems.  Firstly, it again confuses self defense with vigilantism, which is a problem for the reasons discussed above.  Secondly, it suggests that citizens may lawfully engage in vigilantism, which is flatly untrue, again for the reasons discussed above.  Finally, it suggests that it is surprising law abiding citizens have the right to defend themselves from criminals.  This last part is perhaps the worst.  All too often, the media and overzealous prosecutors blame citizens who have lawfully acted in self defense.  Indeed, many of the ordinary people that I’ve spoken with about self defense rights don’t seem to understand that it is a constitutional right and basic human right to use force in defense of oneself against a criminal.  I just don’t see it as responsible journalism to suggest it is surprising that a citizen has the right to self defense.

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Having discussed the problems with this Fox article, I would like to note that I am in part happy it was published.  All too often, the news media fails to report self defense cases, while giving much coverage to criminals’ misuse of guns.  Discussing these self defense cases is a step in the right direction – now if only Fox would pick writer who uses proper terminology and doesn’t overly sensationalize the headlines…

My thanks to Anders for pointing out this Fox report.

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