Who Protects Your Family?

By Peter O’Brien

Senior Fellow, London Center for Policy Research

There’s lots of talk about new gun laws, and further narrowing who may carry weapons and what weapons they may carry. But before we go there, let’s ask a more basic question: Who is responsible for protecting you and your family, personally and specifically?

If your town was invaded, the police, or the National Guard, maybe even the US Army, would show up. Many years ago, in the comedy “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” Police Chief Links Mattocks didn’t act until the town was threatened, then he attempted to arrest the captain of the Russian submarine. The scene (perfectly played by Brian Keith), inadvertently displays a truth about your security, so, return to the question: Who is responsible for protecting you – individually and specifically – from harm by another? Put differently, if you’re attacked, is it the legal responsibility of the police to protect you?

In fact, no. There have been a number of cases addressing this issue and for the last 38 years they have in the main fallen back on a ruling in the case of Warren v. The District of Columbia in which a woman was brutalized and raped and the police, while responding to a 9-1-1 call, failed to enter the house and stop the attack. The court ruled (since upheld in a number of other cases) that:
“[t]he duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists.”

In 2005, in Castle Rock v. Gonzales, the Supreme Court made it even more clear:
“You, and only you, are responsible for your security and the security of your family and loved ones. That was the essence of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the early 1980’s when they ruled that the police do not have a duty to protect you as an individual, but to protect society as a whole.
“It is well-settled fact of American law that the police have no legal duty to protect any individual citizen from crime, even if the citizen has received death threats and the police have negligently failed to provide protection.”

If the nation is threatened, the Defense Department is responsible. If there’s large scale unrest, the governor may call out the Guard. For smaller situations there are state and local police offices and special units. Local police provide for general public safety, investigate crimes, and provide an overarching deterrence against crime. But defending your family, personally and specifically? That’s your problem.

Which leads to some thoughts:

1) Why don’t stores provide security? A store – small, large, or global in scope – is given the same level of support by the local police as is the individual. The police are not responsible for specifically protecting that store. Security is up to the store owner, just as security in your house is up to you. Small store owners may not be able to afford it, but what about some of these huge stores? Why don’t they hire real security teams, rather than deny everybody the ability to protect themselves? The answer, I suppose, has to do with both cost and legal fears. But those really are excuses. So, I repeat, why don’t they have real security?

2) What about your security? The 2nd Amendment was intended to protect the people’s right to overthrow the government, or at least keep the government a bit cowed. In 6000 years of recorded history some 75 billion people have lived, give or take. In those 60 centuries some 300 million have died in wars; roughly the same number have died at the hands of their own government, with the 20th century – so far – being easily the most violent in terms of raw numbers in both categories – war and government inflicted deaths.

Total deaths from violent crimes is hard to know, but using current global murder rates and yields something in the neighborhood of 20 – 60 million (depending on weighing various factors).
But the 2nd Amendment has also been interpreted as protecting your right to defend yourself. Unless, of course, the city or state of your residence is limiting that right. Yet, as the Supreme Court has pointed out, it’s not simply a right, it’s also your responsibility – that is, it’s no one else’s. Who is responsible for protecting your kids from bad people? You. Yet some states and some cities work diligently to restrict you in executing your responsibility to protect your family.

3) Why do police carry guns? To protect themselves and to overpower bad guys. Not to protect you directly.

4) Why do rich people hire folks who carry guns to protect them? Because they can. They aren’t waiting for or counting on the police.

Go back to the movie: Chief Mattocks might be overstepping his authority and acting in the place of the DOD, but he’s acting to protect the community. His failure to defend Walt Whittacker (Carl Reiner) from Lt. Rozanov (Alan Arkin) and the Russians is irrelevant; he has no obligation or requirement to protect the individual.

The courts have held that the “authorities” are not responsible for your specific protection. Not the sheriff, not the National Guard, not the FBI or the CIA; not the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard. It’s you. Tag, you’re it.

So, shouldn’t you be allowed to protect yourself? Rich folks have armed guards – what do you have?