When I was approved for my first License to Carry Firearms (generically referred to as a “CCW” – permit to Carry a Concealed Weapon) in Massachusetts in 1978, the document issued stated the purpose as “Protection, Life and Property.” Over several renewal periods of five years, that phraseology changed to “Personal Protection.” Somewhere around the late 1990s, the reason for issuance disappeared from the Massachusetts permit.
Earlier this year, when renewing my California CCW, I attended the required biannual four-hour refresher course in the law and handling of weapons, which also involves a live-fire range qualification with the handguns to be carried. (As an aside, this is a reasonable safety measure for those who have a CCW, although very few states require it.) During that class, it was stressed that, in California at least, it is impermissible to use deadly force to protect property. The only legal justification in that state is a bona fide fear for your life or safety, or that of others present.
The philosophical evolution from allowing the protection of one’s personal property as well as the right to life into a sole focus on threats of physical harm is a far more profound change than it first appears. If one cannot protect one’s property, is it really owned at all? If a stranger can lay claim to my property and be immune from consequences solely by avoiding deadly threats, and I must somehow prove that I was, in fact, in grave danger in order to protect that property, how is the property mine? And if the notion of private property is so vulnerable, have we not evolved into a communist society in the true sense of the word?
I do not mean this to advocate vigilante justice. Once the owner and property are separated and any threat removed, it becomes the job of police to investigate and prosecute the criminal(s). But at the time that a piece of property is being stolen in the presence of an owner, there is no reasonable doubt of the criminal’s intention or culpability. I submit that if the perpetrator is menacing in any way, refuses to relinquish the property, or there are two or more perpetrators involved, that by definition there is a threat to life that justifies the use of deadly force.
This does not relieve an owner of the obligation to protect innocent bystanders in responding. But if the owner of the threatened property can safely respond with the use of firearms and chooses to, he or she should not be held liable for that use of force regardless of the outcome. I believe that a robber willing to defy you face-to-face, or any cooperating group of multiple people (that is thus an implied threat) should forfeit the protection of the law and must live with, or die by, the consequences.
I have no doubt that armed robberies and mob stealing will diminish dramatically when the stakes are raised in this manner. Either owners or hired guards could truly make a difference in deterrence. Our society is in dire need of this correction.
The idea of private property is essential to a society that values the rights of the individual. The public officials who enact laws to restrict the concept of self-defense or use existing statutes to intimidate people into allowing property to be taken are contributing to the anarchy that is increasingly making living in and doing business in many cities untenable. A relatively simple (though highly consequential) change in the codes related to self-defense and how it applies to property will go a long way toward restoring the orderly society that seems to be disappearing by the day.
Winston Reilly is a pseudonym to avoid disclosure of the location of firearms.