The media has spent much of the past ten days covering the arrest of New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress on gun charges and the tragedy in India where 125 people lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. (A recent L.A. Times article can be found here) Both bring the discussion of gun control to the forefront of public discourse.
India has a ban on guns, yet terrorists were able to smuggle machine guns into the Taj Hotel while the victims of the attacks, helpless and unarmed, found themselves hostage. Many of the police who manned the hotel’s metal detectors weren’t even armed because of India’s strict licensing requirements. And, there have been extensive reports of frustration over Indian authorities’ decision to sit for hours outside the buildings the terrorists occupied, instead of ambushing the building with a SWAT team to try to save civilian lives.
“Concerned for his safety” Burress allegedly violated New York City’s gun regulations by carrying a concealed handgun and in the process managed to shoot himself in a crowded club last weekend. Would Burress really have been safer trusting the police to protect him? Or, is his arrest significant because he represents an arrogant culture that thinks that they can take the law into their own hands?
Both of these incidents bring to light problems with gun control. But I think embedded in this debate are issues of self defense, the police’s role of protecting citizens, and what the ramifications are when they don’t effectively do their job. Academic research has shown that the police are the most important factor in reducing crime—but, as in the case of the terrorist attack in India, the police can’t always be depended on to act quickly enough.
This country’s foundation was built on notions of a civil society, i.e. that citizens relinquish the right to take aggressive actions to protect themselves to the government and in return, government will step protect their members – such as forming a protective police force and a penal system that punishes those who don’t abide by this social contract. The theory of course is that people cannot be taking matters into their own hands or we would be living in utter chaos. The right to bear arms is arguably the second most important freedom that the founding fathers solidified via the second amendment. When police can’t promise to protect law-abiding citizens like the victims in India, should we be allowing people the right to protect themselves like Burress did? Or are we asking for chaos?
Comments about this post can be directed to Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William Weinberg at (714) 834-1400.