The first three articles in this series:
Part three of this series of articles explored the morality of killing, and exposed the reality that the police not only cannot protect any individual, they have no legal obligation to do so. It ended with this observation:
Whose survival best serves a just society governed by the rule of law: the honest and law-abiding that wish harm to none, or the brutal, cruel and sociopathic? In Los Angeles in 1992, New Orleans in 2005. Ferguson in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015 the politicians and the police knowingly chose the latter. In truth, the veneer of civilization is thinner and far more fragile than most imagine.
When the rule of law is suspended, those that violate societal norms justly do so at their own risk, unless public servants disarm the innocent.
When a woman found herself the only thing standing between her young children and an armed burglar, she saved all their lives because the politicians of her state had been unable to disarm her:
Sometimes, the mere threat of deadly force does not suffice, as in the January, 2013 case of a woman at home alone with her 9 year-old children when a burglar armed with a crowbar and trailing a long criminal record broke into her home during the day. Armed with a revolver, she hid her children and herself in the attic, but the criminal searched every room of her large home, hunting them down, and when he opened the attic door and advanced, she fired, striking him with five of six rounds. He was knocked to the floor. Holding an empty handgun, she was able to bluff him, threatening to shoot him again until she could flee the house–her own home–with her children. He eventually got up and fled, soon crashing his car nearby. Who could legitimately argue that society would have been better served by the deaths of the mother and her children, that the burglar–who did survive–might practice his trade unmolested?
Some people of good will oppose capital punishment, arguing, among other things, that to put men to death is playing God, capital punishment is not a deterrent, and that with life imprisonment, capital punishment is no longer necessary as a means of protecting the innocent. Perhaps the strongest argument against capital punishment is that human beings make mistakes and sometimes execute the innocent.
But if the individual may act in self-defense, why is the state, a government deriving its just powers from men, prohibited from acting in defense of men? True, it is the nature of our criminal justice system that execution takes place not on the spot, but after many years of the exhaustive application of due process, but this long, careful process would seem to be an argument for, rather than against, the capital power of government, for it provides multiple safeguards against the accidental execution of the innocent, which might even be more likely to occur on the spot. In fact, the police, forced to barge into ambiguous and potentially deadly situations, often shoot, and sometimes–fortunately rarely–kill, the wrong person.
Can we limit human action to only that which may be performed perfectly, without possibility of error, at all times and in all circumstances?
Christian theology recognizes that killing is sometimes justified and necessary, hence men acting in good faith under those conditions are not playing God, but acting in ways anticipated and approved by God. And while capital punishment does not deter the psychopath, common sense (and my own police experience) suggests that some will be deterred, and that we will likely never know their names or numbers. Unquestionably, some innocents will live who would have otherwise died, and their names and numbers will likewise remain unknown.
Life imprisonment is all too commonly anything but. There is such a thing as life without parole, but this is far from universal and relatively uncommon in practice. Killers sometimes continue to kill while behind bars, taking lives that while not entirely innocent, are not deserving of that fate. In addition, escape from prison is not unknown, and foolish politicians have been known to commute the sentences of, or pardon, those who might be in political favor, a case in point being the cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who, for the moment, remains behind bars, yet continues to be a popular cause célèbre for progressives who have for more than 30 years labored ceaselessly for his release. It takes little imagination to believe that he will eventually be released or pardoned by a politician of “enlightened” political leanings.
As we have already agreed that evil does indeed exist, there is a strong argument for destroying evil wherever it is found, for evil exists to destroy the good and innocent. There are many apocryphal stories of stereotypical southern lawmen asking of murder victims: “Well, did he need killin’?” Those telling such tales usually do so to ridicule supposedly simple-minded lawmen and the unenlightened denizens of “flyover country.” As Barack Obama put it when explaining such unsophisticated people to a friendly audience, unaware his words were being recorded:
And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
In reality, any competent police officer investigating an unattended death (all unattended deaths are investigated as homicides until homicide can be ruled out) must determine if the death was caused by another and if it was justified or unjustified. Asking if the dead “needed killin’” is simply a direct, politically incorrect way of asking if the killing was justified, hence, not murder. To put it simply, to protect the lives of the innocent, some people do “need” to be killed.
It is indeed disturbing that some innocent people—their numbers are thankfully few–have been put to death. This is not an argument against capital punishment but an argument for the perfection of the criminal justice system to the greatest degree possible. And while we must always strive for perfection in every human endeavor, we cannot cease our endeavors because they do not, at all times and in every way, reach perfection. It is indeed terrible when the innocent are executed, but error is a part of humanity and it cannot be allowed to paralyze us from achieving worthy ends. Of course, the argument about whether the good of capital punishment is greater than the tragedy of executing the innocent goes on.
LAW AND THE BALANCING ACT:
How does this apply to governments? To individuals? Each sovereign nation or state may adopt its own laws, which may be applied within its borders and within territories under its control. One of the essential powers of sovereignty is the power to punish those who transgress the law, including the power of capital punishment. Our laws come from the British tradition, under which, during the Medieval period, there were some 200 capital offenses. This led to many bizarre spectacles, including that of pickpockets happily working the crowds gathered to watch the execution of other pickpockets.
Fortunately, American law has evolved such that there are commonly only two capital offenses: Murder and treason. While kidnapping, under some circumstances, may also invoke capital punishment, these two are our primary remaining capital crimes. Our society has devolved to the point that it is difficult to imagine anyone being prosecuted for, let alone being put to death for treason, such “old fashioned” values having fallen out of fashion among the self-styled cultural and political elite whose default position is to apologize for, rather than to defend, America.
For example: With the fall of the Soviet Union, Soviet archives were opened and it was discovered that the late Senator Teddy Kennedy (Democrat of Massachusetts) actually contacted the KGB (through an intermediary Democrat Senator) in 1984 trying to enlist their aid to defeat Ronald Reagan and his arms control policies to pave the way for a Kennedy presidency. While there is no known evidence that they took him up on his offer, it’s hard to imagine a sitting US Senator committing a similar transgression during WWII not being tried for treason, but now it’s a completely different matter. This was known–by the media and the Department of Justice–during Kennedy’s lifetime. It was also known, and widely suppressed, by the legacy media.
ERRARE HUMANUM EST (To Err–Sin–Is Human):
Is killing, in every instance and always, a sin, and if so, may that sin be forgiven? Again, these are questions that have been argued for millennia. There are several possibilities:
(1) Killing, under any circumstance, is always a sin. God’s gift of life is precious and to take life is God’s province, not Man’s.
(2) Killing, when justified, as in self-defense, is not a sin. God is omniscient–all-knowing–and understands that his creation–Man–will be subjected to situations where killing is necessary, therefore why would God consider that which he has set into motion—ordained–to be sin? Man has free will, also ordained by God, so he who tries without justification to take the life of another sins, but the person who defends them self or other innocents against an unjustified attack and takes the life of the attacker as a consequence of that defense does not sin. They have preserved God’s greatest gift (affirmed good) while their attacker tried to destroy it (manifesting evil). Sin lies with the attacker.
(3) Killing, even when legally justified as in self-defense, is a sin. However, there is no degree to sin, therefore one may ask for and receive forgiveness for any sin. But what about a serial killer who asks for forgiveness after each murder? It is inconceivable that God does not know whose plea for forgiveness is sincere and whose is not. God pardons whom He chooses, and He knows the hearts of all men.
Even if one should consider killing under any circumstance, whether homicide, self defense, killing while serving in the armed forces during war, or by accident to be sin, our shared faith tradition makes clear that even this sin, if one sincerely repents and begs forgiveness, will be forgiven. This does not mean that the aftermath of a justified killing will be trouble-free or ever forgotten, but one need not worry for the final disposition of their soul if forced to defend their life or the life of another.
THE AFTERMATH OF KILLING:
America has, since the founding, had the experience of citizen soldiers reintegrating back into society after exposure to combat. Men, and more recently, women, who have killed others have, for the most part, successfully reintegrated into civilian society, becoming productive citizens. Indeed, some have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, some few have been driven mad by their experiences, but the overwhelming majority learned to deal with the experience of taking the life of another.
So too have police officers who have been forced to kill in the line of duty, and citizens who have been forced to kill to protect their lives or the lives of others, been successful at living with their experiences. Some have been able to simply and effectively compartmentalize, to wall off their experiences as past and done. They accept what they did as necessary and justified, and it does not haunt them. Others have sought and found peace through faith and forgiveness. Some periodically deal with the doubt and pain of their experiences, experiences that never entirely leave them. Such is the burden of being honorable people, people of good will and conscience, people who deserve to live that society might benefit from their example and that those that love them might benefit from their presence.
That these issues are of concern to you speaks well of your conscience, of your humanity, for if you were not concerned about them, you might very well be a sociopath and as such, completely indifferent. Have no doubt that if and when killing ever becomes necessary and is justified, the aftermath may be, personally and in every other way, intense, demanding and difficult. The way in which one deals with it will depend upon their upbringing, their faith, the strength of their character, their beliefs and those who love and support them, but it will always, always be better to be around to have to deal with the aftermath than the alternative. I’ll cover this issue to a greater degree in following articles.
Let us further assume that you now accept the inalienable right and necessity of self-defense. Let us also assume that you accept the idea that killing–never murder–is justified and is not sinful. Or in the alternative that it is a sin, but that sin may be forgiven for those who sincerely ask for forgiveness. The next article in this series will deal with the political issues of crime, social disorder, and employing deadly force. I’ll get to the matter of attitudes, weapons and accessories a bit further down the line. I hope to see you next Tuesday on the continuing journey.