I recently conversed with a coworker about the issue of armed self defense, and expressed my support for the right of law abiding citizens to use a gun to defend themselves. This same coworker knew that I was strongly opposed to the death penalty, and thought that my support of armed self defense and opposition to capital punishment were hypocritical. As I explained to that coworker, there is no hypocrisy in supporting armed self defense and opposing capital punishment:
Capital punishment refers to the situation where the government kills a convicted criminal who is physically restrained and poses no imminent threat. As the name suggests, capital punishment punishes the criminal for a murder that they have already committed. It does not save the already-dead victim.*
Armed self defense, on the other hand, refers to the situation where a law abiding citizen uses a firearm (or other weapon) to stop a criminal who poses an imminent threat to that citizen’s life or bodily integrity. It is a recognition that each of us has a right protect ourselves from violent attack. The primary goal of armed self defense is to prevent the criminal from harming the victim – not to punish the criminal. While it is true that some criminals who are shot in self defense end up dying, that is because reliably stopping a violent attacker requires inflicting the sort of injury that may result in death. The ancillary result – the criminal’s death – in no way diminishes the fact that self defense is aimed at saving the victim.
The following example helps illustrate the above points: This woman was in her own home, going about her peaceful business. She had been raped earlier that week by a convicted sex offender, and got a shotgun for self defense after suffering that first terrible attack. That same rapist cut the power line to her home then broke in again, intent upon raping her for a second time. The woman used her shotgun to shoot the rapist, preventing him from victimizing her again. The rapist died, but his death was merely a side effect of the woman’s use of (morally and legally justified) deadly force to prevent him from raping her. (To be clear, I’m not lamenting the death of this rapist – society is certainly better off with one fewer violent sex offender around.)
*Note: Since I didn’t want to stray too far from the topic of gun rights, I didn’t go into a detailed discussion of the other proported goals of capital punishment or why I oppose capital punishment in this article. Anyone who wishes to read my thoughts on capital punishment should see this article.