Self-Defense Is A Human Right

I’d like to think a statement like the headline above wouldn’t be all that controversial, but I know better. In fact, one of the biggest groups that supposedly fights for human rights would (and has) whole-heartedly disagreed with that conclusion, and on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co. we’re wading in to Amnesty International’s amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court that argues the right to armed self-defense not only violates international law, but is in fact a human rights violation.

Kudos to Dave Kopel at Reason‘s Volokh Conspiracy law blog for doing a deep dive into the legal inadequacies of Amnesty International’s argument, and if you want a lawyerly take on why AI’s brief doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, I’d encourage you to check out his entire piece.

I’m not an attorney, but I am a big believer in supporting and defending human rights, which is why it always infuriates me to be reminded of Amnesty International’s asinine stance on armed self-defense. This isn’t anything new for the organization, by the way. I still remember back in 2005 when an Amnesty International official was asked whether the victims of the Darfur genocide should have weapons to defend themselves.

“We at Amnesty International are not going to condone escalation of the flow of arms to the region,” said Trish Katyoka, director of Africa Advocacy. “You are empowering (the victims) to create an element of retaliation.

“Whenever you create a sword-fight by letting the poor people fight back and give them the arms, it creates an added element of complexity. You do not know what the results could be.”

Put bluntly, Amnesty International would prefer a genocide over a civil war. A slaughter instead of self-defense. Mass murder instead of armed conflict.

That both turns my stomach and hurts my head. I honestly can’t fathom how someone could believe that the slaughter of unarmed civilians is preferable to them being able to fight back and defend themselves, because at least more guns weren’t introduced into the equation. But that, in fact, is exactly what Katyoka and Amnesty International believe.

Self-defense could exacerbate the situation, Katyoka said. “Fighting fire with fire is not a solution to the genocide. It is a dangerous proposition to arm the minorities to fight back.”

Which brings us back to Amnesty International’s court brief in defense of New York’s subjective and draconian carry permitting laws. According to AI, not only is carrying a gun for self-defense a violation of international law, it is itself a violation of human rights. I’ll let Dave Kopel explain.

AI cites a 2006 report to the Committee on Human Rights by University of Minnesota Law Professor Barbara Frey.  According to the Frey Report, a state’s failure to restrict self-defense is itself a human rights violation. The report states that a government has violated the human right to life to the extent that a state allows the defensive use of a firearm “unless the action was necessary to save a life or lives.” Thus, firearms “may be used defensively only in the most extreme circumstances, expressly, where the right to life is already threatened or unjustifiably impinged.” In other words, a government that allows the use of deadly force to defend against rape, arson, carjacking, or armed robbery has violated the criminal’s right to life. By the Frey theory, every U.S. state government and the federal government are and always have been violators of violent criminals’ right to life.

The Frey report states that it is a human rights violation for persons to be allowed to possess a firearm without a permit, and the permit should enumerate “specific purposes” for which the gun could be used. Today, no U.S. jurisdiction is compliant with this standard. Most states do not require a permit to possess a handgun, and hardly any require a permit for a long gun. Anyone who may lawfully own a gun may keep it at home for self-defense, may take it to a target range, hunt with it (for which a hunting license is usually required), or use the gun for any other lawful purpose. So even the severe gun control laws of New York State are human rights violations, according to the Frey report and its adoption by U.N. committee. In New York, you can buy a shotgun upon passing a background check, and you can then keep the gun for self-defense, skeet shooting, or other purposes, with no specific permission.

As far as legal arguments go, Amnesty International’s isn’t a good one. It’s even worse as a statement of moral principles; a willingness to sacrifice the lives of countless individuals and tacitly accept an outright genocide rather than acknowledge the human right of self-defense is a monstrous position to take. And while this philosophy may find support at the UN Human Rights Council, I don’t think it will receive a warm reception by a majority of the Supreme Court.