Perspective on the Self-Defense Defense

The topic of self-defense in this ridiculously over-armed culture is a fraught one, with many contradictions. On one hand, there are the people who insist that “good guys with guns are needed to stop bad guys with guns” and on the other they implicitly assume that the police cannot be relied upon to be the “good guys” – thereby supporting the notion of armed vigilantism, e.g.: Bernie Goetz or (maybe) Kyle Rittenhouse, George Zimmerman, and many others.

I remember when Bernie Goetz was the big news item and the debate swirled around what self-defense meant. In fact, as I pointed out before, Goetz suffered severe financial and personal consequences. Zimmerman has failed to achieve a level of stardom with the cryptofascist set, possibly for racist reasons, and Rittenhouse is still “wait and see.” My prediction is that, after his 15 minutes are up, he’ll reveal himself to be ridiculous; after all, he’s the quintessential dumb kid that let a situation go to his head – he’s going to find a way to screw up, publicly, worse than he already has. That’s just a guess, but I don’t see any way to interpret Rittenhouse as anything more complicated than a gullible fuckup. But what’s happening surrounding these characters is a series of dramatic changes to how the US’ law interprets self-defense. If you step back and look at it, it’s actually an honest-to-goodness slippery slope.

Typically for a slippery slope, it’s hard to point at the edge. Was it the “stand your ground” laws? George Zimmerman slid us collectively a bit further down the slope when he used a foolish law for protecting your home to “protect” his neighborhood, stalking, harassing, and killing a harmless kid. American fantasies of home invasion attacks are what brought us to this, fueled by NRA propaganda and racist fears of the anonymous (but dark-skinned) other. Meanwhile, militarized cops continue to serve “no knock” warrants and shoot people in their homes, so as usual Americans are worrying about the wrong threat model. It is unquestionable, in my mind, that Rittenhouse and Zimmerman went looking for trouble and found/became it. Goetz, as I have argued before, also created trouble – drawing a gun and opening fire is not negotiation and it’s not really self-defense, either. Self-defense used to mean that a person used deadly force when their life was in danger. Unfortunately, in order to justify absurd levels of police violence, Americans have been fed a diet of “he was scary so I had to shoot him.” Being scared is not being in danger, but the NRA, American police, and toxic American masculinity would tell you otherwise. Being scared and overreacting with stupid levels of jaw-dropping violence is the American way, after all.

I know some of you disagree with me about some or all of that, and you’re welcome to. But I think that many of us are too far down that slippery slope that justifies a person’s deciding that they’re under threat and therefore can deploy radically overpowered weapons. If we want to talk about who’s scary, in what situation, a 17 year-old midwestern goober with a .223 is pretty damn scary. Not as scary as a squad of militarized cops, under-trained and over-geared, ready to enforce their obsession with obtaining compliant submission no matter what – but, still, scary. If we want someone to deal with skateboard-wielding rioters or kids with packs of skittles, the cops are in theory society’s preferred option. That gets lost in the shuffle: the “good guys with guns” were not in any position to intervene in any of these situations, by design. After all, in New York City, Bernie Goetz would have been face down with handcuffs being applied if the cops knew he was carrying a gun. And, perhaps, the cops would have recognized George Zimmerman as a creepy stalker-dude if they had been able to intervene in that situation, in time. I also see what happened to Ahmaud Arbery as fitting on that slippery slope; the men who killed him tried to claim that they were doing some neighborhood watch-ish stuff because Abery was scary, etc., it’s familiar. They just sort of decided they were the neighborhood lynching party watch and got to work. The pattern is that these over-reactions are driving down out barriers of what is acceptable, and it’s just going to fuel more of the same until some bunch of cops walk into a faceful of bullets, or two groups of fueled-up white people blaze away in rough order. Which brings me to another part of the grease on the slope: some incredibly irresponsible dickheads began promoting the idea that “open carry” is an appropriate way to go to a protest. How did that happen? Well, I’m going to tag NRA propaganda feeding white fear, once again. There are suckers who can apparently be convinced that the right to peacefully assemble includes the right to bring guns, which I’ll say is inherently un-peaceful. We are far down that slippery slope, as well, and unfortunately we got there because white cops don’t want to disarm their bowling league buddies and because it became the norm, it somehow became acceptable.

What I never got about any of that is how the justice department, police, and everyone else, wrapped their brains around the idea that coming to a protest with weapons you brought to intimidate is not being a threat. The slippery slope there leads to a dumb chucklefuck like Rittenhouse concluding that he was going to saddle up and grab his (straw purchased, illegally “owned”) rifle and go make his stand someplace quite a distance from his “ground.” The cryptofascist movement in the US concluded that they were going to “peacefully protest” with weapons in their hands, and got away with it – and they shouldn’t have. As long as “open carry” protests continue eventually both sides will be bringing guns (as has already happened) and we’re no longer talking about ‘protests’ we’re talking about ‘militias’ – and militias aren’t protected free speech. They never were.

Anyhow, I’d like to drop a bunch of reality about this topic, from someone who arguably knows about it. My experience with self-defense and “standing ground” is specific to Pennsylvania, where I’ve had to chase armed hunters off my property while they yelled threats and pointed deer rifles at my back. And, when I called the state police they a) knew the guys and told me that “they’re OK folks they’ll just vent at you and leave” (oh, great) and I’ve been mugged at gun-point back when I lived in Baltimore, and escaped without violence, lightened to the tune of the $60 I had in my wallet. But, without further ado, from [counterpunch] we have a piece by Ronald Sullivan who is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. The way he puts it is: “Rittenhouse Verdict Flies in the Face of Legal Standards for Self-Defense” but I’m more inclined to hyperbole – I think the verdict is ridiculous:

In delivering its verdict, a Wisconsin jury decided that Rittenhouse’s conduct was justified, even though the prosecution argued that he provoked the violent encounter and, therefore, should not be able to find refuge in the self-defense doctrine.

As prosecutor Thomas Binger said in his closing argument: “When the defendant provokes this incident, he loses the right to self-defense. You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”

The Wisconsin jury disagreed, and its decision may portend a similar outcome in another high-profile case in Georgia, where three white men are on trial for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery after they claimed the Black man was a suspect in a rash of robberies. Like Rittenhouse, the three men claimed they were acting in self-defense.

Self-defense arguments are often raised during trials involving loss of life. Juries are then asked to determine whether a defendant’s conduct is justified by principles of self-defense or whether the offender is criminally liable for homicide.

My prediction is that the shit will truly hit the fan when someone shoots a cop and says it was self-defense. If you want to tolerate people stomping around with guns in military-looking gear, sooner or later someone is going to confuse a cop with some other proto-fascist goon and shoot the cop. Their defense will be “I thought he was an Oath Keeper” or something like that. It won’t be funny.

But here is the part that I remember from the 80s:

As a professor of criminal law, I teach my students that the law of self-defense in America proceeds from an important concept: Human life is sacred, and the law will justify the taking of human life only in narrowly defined circumstances.

The law of self-defense holds that a person who is not the aggressor is justified in using deadly force against an adversary when he reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. This is the standard that every state uses to define self-defense.

To determine whether this standard is met, the law looks at five central concepts.

First, the use of force must be proportionate to the force employed by the aggressor. If the aggressor lightly punches the victim in the arm, for example, the victim cannot use deadly force in response. It’s not proportional.

If someone uses harsh language on you, you are not to respond with bullets.

Second, the use of self-defense is limited to imminent harm. The threat by the aggressor must be immediate. For instance, a person who is assaulted cannot leave the scene, plan revenge later and conduct vigilante justice by killing the initial aggressor.

Third, the person’s assessment of whether he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury must be reasonable, meaning that a supposed “reasonable person” would consider the threat to be sufficiently dangerous to put him in fear of death or serious bodily injury. A person’s own subjective view of this fear is not enough to satisfy the standard for self-defense.

Fourth, the law does not permit a first aggressor to benefit from a self-defense justification. Only those with “clean hands” can benefit from this justification and avoid criminal liability.

Finally, a person has a duty to retreat before using deadly force, as long as it can be done safely. This reaffirms the law’s belief in the sanctity of human life and ensures that deadly force is an option of last resort.

That is the understanding of self-defense that I learned in the 80s, though my iaido instructor modified them slightly by arguing that if you’re wearing a sword you are signaling that you are prepared for violence and therefore you must actually be prepared to the point where someone attacking you gets the first move. Is that fair? No, it sucks and it might cost you a lot. But that’s life in the big leagues and you don’t get to kill someone for looking at you funny. Unless you’re a cop, of course. Sensei’s reasoning still extends itself to my understanding of a gun as an offensive weapon that cannot be used, effectively, to defend because you have to be sure you’re under attack even if that means accepting a bullet will be coming your way so you know the other guy shot first. The key bit of Sullivan’s very lucid summary is: “a person has a duty to retreat before using deadly force, as long as it can be done safely” – I have to admit I’m a bit sanguine (so to speak) about the sanctity of human life, but I think it’s a beautiful aspirational goal. My opinion remains that the person who is prepared and trained for violence has a proportionally increasing duty not to be violent because their ability to do so ought to restrain them. That is why I have absolutely no respect for Zimmerman or Goetz or the many over-armed and under-brave cops who shoot unarmed people: if you’re being tough in the line of duty, let the other guy take a shot. Be dodging and heading for cover, naturally, but courage does not come out of the barrel of a gun – Mao was right, power does. But courage doesn’t.

The proliferation of states that have adopted “stand your ground” laws in recent years has complicated the analysis of self-defense involving the duty to retreat.

Dating back to early Anglo-American law, the duty to retreat has been subject to an important exception historically called the “castle doctrine”: A person has no duty to retreat in his home. This principle emerged from the 17th-century maxim that a “man’s home is his castle.”

The “castle doctrine” permits the use of lethal force in self-defense without imposing a duty to retreat in the home. Over time, states began to expand the non-retreat rule to spaces outside of the home.

In the Zimmerman case, for example, under traditional self-defense law, the combination of first-aggressor limitation and duty to retreat would not have allowed Zimmerman to follow Martin around and kill him without being liable for murder.

But, in a stand-your-ground state such as Florida, Zimmerman had a lawful right to patrol the neighborhood near Martin’s home. As a result, during his trial, all Zimmerman had to prove was that he was in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

In Wisconsin, Rittenhouse was also able to put in evidence that he was in reasonable fear of death. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rittenhouse testified. “I defended myself.”

I am uncomfortable with the language of fear regarding self-defense. There is “being in mortal danger” and then there is “being afraid one is in mortal danger.” Professon Sullivan’s language is used precisely, because I suppose there is no sure way of knowing you are in moral danger until you are. In the Goetz case the situation was definitely complicated by the fact that Goetz told the same story over and over (well-rehearsed, in fact) but the stories of the people he shot varied a bit, as one would expect. That uncertainty translates to fear. But, rather obviously in my mind, a guy with a loaded .38 cannot truly be said to fear a couple of unarmed men; if, in fact, he was afraid, he’d have given them his wallet.

The prosecution was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse was not reasonably in fear for his safety. This represents a high bar for the prosecution. They were unable to surmount it.

That’s a good summary. It steps away from the question of fearing for one’s safety, though. In my mind a person with an AR-15 or a katana cannot say that they are legitimately afraid of an unarmed person. I don’t know how the laws can reasonably encompass that, but its inherently disproportional “fear” to say “I was afraid he might punch me” when he’s afraid I might blow his heart out through his spinal column. What’s really going on, is that perhaps one of the people involved in the incident didn’t really think that they were going to get shot, so they weren’t afraid for their life until it was too late for them.

The important take-away, for me, from Professor Sullivan’s article, was the realization that the sphere of space around us which we can claim to need to defend, has grown considerably, as has our fear. That’s the slippery slope. Our fears are not rational, either – not by a long shot: the US is the greatest power on Earth, yet we are bombarded with fear that, I dunno, Russia might attack Ukraine (because they sure as fuck aren’t going to invade Los Angeles). Our police are absurdly over-powerful and violent yet we are bombarded with fear of home invasion by gun-toting baddies and therefore the NRA says we should become gun-toting baddies, ourselves. In samurai culture, the sword was the indicator of elite status. In France, under absolutism and empire, only court nobles wore swords. Are we heading back to some ridiculous “preparedness-signaling” in which the fully-fledged American is known by the muzzle of the AR protruding above their shoulder? In reality, we have little need to defend ourselves and the rational response to much danger remains to run away. That’s the part of the puzzle everyone seems to be missing: Goetz, Zimmerman, Rittenhouse – all were armed men who didn’t run away when they could have. And I say “should have.”

It’s a failure of strategy to put yourself into a position that you can only shoot your way out of.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Goetz was cornered, deliberately. His multiple assailants prevented his retreat. More later when I’m not i typing on a phone.

  2. Dauphni says

    Even just going by his own statement Goetz might have had a reasonable assumption that he was being robbed, but he did not have a reasonable assumption that he would be physically harmed.
    Until he did that gun should have stayed right where it was.
    But of course you also believe that escalating directly to murder is a reasonable response to a dog barking, so you’re not exactly the most qualified person to make that assessment.

  3. says

    My prediction is that the shit will truly hit the fan when someone shoots a cop and says it was self-defense.

    See Ex-Ohio State Football Player Sentenced For Shooting Officers:

    Foster admitted that he went to the house to gamble, and admitted that he brought his gun –which he had a license to carry — for self-defense.

    Foster told investigators that he never heard officers identify themselves before initiating the raid. He said he fired two shots through a door because he thought robbers were trying to force their way inside.

  4. lanir says

    My personal view is that our society is batshit crazy about guns. The laws may be constructed with logic and reasonable thinking in many cases but not all, and in practice somehow a lot of that tends not to matter anyway. What we end up with feels inconsistent and frankly just brutal at times. In practice it feels like the person with the gun has the right of way or something in the cases we end up hearing about on the news. Even the flimsiest of self defense claims from a shooter ends up outweighing any considerations an unarmed individual might claim as their right. Especially if the person who was shot is no longer alive to counter the shooter’s narrative.

    I think we can reach a much more reasonable conclusion by trying a couple substitutions and seeing if we still come to the same conclusions.

    1. Unarmed: Imagine everything about the situation is the same but instead of shooting someone the person claiming self defense instead attacks with punches and kicks. Would we still consider this self defense or would it feel like they’d just flown off the handle and started a fight?

    2. Credible Threat: When reviewing whether something is a credible threat worth shooting another person over, let’s consider this threat on its own merits for a moment. If this threat happened and the incident ended, would the shooter be able to report it to the police and have them act on it or would they say they need to wait until something happens first?

    The first point works because our society is a little more responsible about punching someone than it is about shooting someone. Yeah, let that sink in a bit. We generally recognize that there are no words or gestures that justify punching someone for example. The second point works because the police have a definition of what sort of threat they can act on. If the threat doesn’t rise to at least a level where police would be able to act then it’s not time to shoot anyone yet.

  5. says

    A lot of this is a sort of long-winded answer to the question Lochaber posed on my last posting: where is this all going?

    I think that we’re looking at a slow slide into performative armed standoffs and eventually one is going to turn into an exchange of gunfire that leaves a bunch of people dead and a day and a night of chaos. After that, I expect that the justice department will actually get its ass in gear and it’ll be like Jan 6 only worse: there will be arrests and investigations and a lot of lawsuits and trials and maybe we’ll get some rational ratchet-back on the open carry and self defense bullshit. Remember: “stand your ground” is just a law some assholes wrote and other laws can be written, too. “There ought to be a law” that armed protest is a riot, by definition. In the Haymarket riot, [wik] cops gunned down everyone in the vicinity that they saw running; they didn’t pick sides – it was just “the authority” versus everyone else. I think USAians’ love of authority may serve to cool the situation down if the proto-fascists go too far. The few “conservatives” I talk to are not comfortable talking about Jan 6 and try to play it down because they suspect (but won’t say so) that they went too far.

    I hope (but doubt) that the democrats, who are hardly progressives, would use these events to push a narrative that the conserative/proto-fascists are going too far and the justice department and the legal system needs to haul them back in. I think that is wishful thinking; the democrats are going to continue to shit all over the place, support and enhance the military/police state, etc. They won’t use the fascists’ tendency to armed performance politically, unfortunately. There was a time when Hitler was arrested for being a gun-waving rebellious idiot and the Germans didn’t lock him away long enough. Ditto Mussolini. To me, the irony is that the proto-fascists like to talk about “law and order” and so forth but they don’t mean it for a second – there is nothing lawful and orderly about having armed rallies and breaking into government buildings carrying weapons. They’d freak the fuck out if it was black people or first peoples doing that. Fucking Biden is incapable of actually doing anything progressive, i.e.: “gun grabbing” but some federal legislation making all federal property “no guns carried” would throw a big spanner in the works and it’s past time. The democrats are blockheads for not pushing to equate these armed protests and jackasses like Rittenhouse as “active shooters” aligned with other mass shooters. After all, Rittenhouse was an “active shooter”!

    I’m actually optimistic. I think that this kind of stochastic disturbance doesn’t lead to anything except a stomp-down from the power establishment. In the 60s it was the power establishment stomping on the civil rights/anti-war protesters because simply it’s bad for business. So is QAnon and the Proud Boys, etc. One thing I’m a bit optimistic about is the way the “Unite the Right” rally was crushed with lawsuits and civil judgements. That’s going to leave a mark. Rittenhouse is going to get crushed legally, too, and eventually his supporters are going to be tired of paying to keep him out of bankruptcy. After all, Donald Trump wants that money! I am unhappy with the relatively dilatory response of the department of justice and the FBI to Jan 6, and I attribute that to the DOJ having to do a lot of internal alignment-checking as to who’s on whose side before proceeding. The FBI is basically proto-fascist and it’s hard to order them to arrest their buddies. But there is slow movement in that direction and their buddies are getting the message.

    Summary: the US swings like a pendulum and I think a violent incident will swing it back the other way. I don’t expect the country to dissolve into brawling factions and death squads. That stuff is fairly localized and basically they’re sending out “invite to a fight! Y’all come down!” and Rittenhouse did not encourage more of his ilk to come see what the what is. I know there is a lot of talk in Parler, etc, about “this green lights us to kill the libs!” but the truth is that dogs that post on Parler don’t bite unless there’s someone that herds them together and gets them fired up. Sadly, if that happens, it’ll be someone working for the FBI who does it by accident. I think the lid will stay on. And I think one good thing that will come from this is the permanent destruction of US smug self-satisfaction about our democratic ideals, etc. Of course that should have been destroyed in the 1920s but global media was very different, then, and much more controlled. Today, the US is shitting the hot tub for all the world to see and one positive consequence of that is any moral authority we thought we had is gone. Lastly, climate change is going to distract everyone from this side-show.

  6. kestrel says

    I’m seeing laws that are written very poorly, and in a way that makes sense because a lot of times these situations are very complicated. On the other hand, these exact same poorly written laws always seem to favor white men. For some reason the same law that lets Zimmerman stalk and murder someone and get off, put a woman in jail – even though the woman did not kill anyone, only fired a warning shot, and was definitely in fear for her life in her own home. It’s just so funny how that works… I bet you’d never guess that woman was black…

    One of my neighbors just shot and killed another neighbor. But he has not been arrested. For one thing he’s closely related to nearly all the judges and lawyers in the area. For another, he was on his own property, so I guess it doesn’t matter the other man was unarmed, was just talking to our “hero”, and people nearby heard three rapid shots, a silence, then one final shot… yep, our “hero” shot his “assailant” three times, got him on the ground, then walked up and shot him in the head. Yet that’s considered self defense. I guarantee you that if I did the exact same thing I’d be typing this from inside a jail cell.

    Marcus, you should move here. Maybe they’d let you shoot those deer hunters.

  7. says

    Technically, I can. Pennsylvania has a “stand your ground” law too and if I stay in my truck and roll down the window and shoot someone, I can claim I was being threatened and they can’t argue their viewpoint. A hunter with a deer rifle standing next to my “no trespassing no hunting” sign is an armed trespasser and quite scary. I guess I’m foolishly unafraid or something.

    Problem is I don’t want to shoot anyone. If you want to, in America, it seems to be easy if you’re a well off white guy.

    A couple years ago a guy up the street got in a bar fight with another guy from up the street. The next day, the guy was found dead, shot in the stomach and wired to a chair with baling wire. Then the assailant had set his trailer on fire. The police actually investigated and arrested the guy because the deceased’s video panel was in the killer’s garage. Now the killer is in prison for a few more years, and I always figured he’d have gotten away with it except he couldn’t bear to see that big flat panel burn. Everyone up here is scary; shoot on sight.

  8. crivitz says

    If we are going to slide down the slope leading to some sort of battle royale that gets the USDOJ to take effective action against gun-brandishing whackos, I sure hope it happens before the Republicans have slid down their own self-lubricated slope to take over all three branches of government in January 2025.

    DOJ action on vigilantism after that date will likely be that groups like The Oath Boy Percenters will be feted as heroes while their opponents get maximum penalties.

  9. snarkhuntr says

    It seems pretty clear to me that the laws, vague as they are, work exactly as intended. After the US (and Canada/UK et al) were forced by the threat of Communist competition to actually pretend that their laws were racially equal, a mechanism needed to exist to allow for the racist enforcement of those laws.

    Enter Vagueness, enter Discretion. Passing laws that gives ‘everyone’ the right to armed self-defence isn’t a threat to white supremacy (or upper-class supremacy), because the lawmakers trust that their agents will enforce those laws in an unequal fashion. And they do. Rittenhouse, a young-looking young teen carrying a rifle was waved past police lines, because they saw him as the kind of person who should be allowed to exercise his ‘right’ to be armed with an assault weapon during a public demonstration. Had he been wearing a blue mohawk, black bloc, or just black skin – he would certainly have been challenged by officers who ‘feared for their safety.’ Anything other than immediate grovelling subservience would, of course, be met with the traditional fusillade of poorly-aimed gunfire. If the ‘wrong’ sort of person survives their immediate contact with the police, they will simply be met with ever-more intrusive questioning, searches, etc to find a reason to arrest or charge them. Assuming the ‘wrong’ person manages to come through that not having been discovered comitting any one of the byzantine variety of crimes the US has invented, the police will still likely give them a ‘lawful order’ to depart – thereby making their continued existance in that space enough of a crime to justify arrest.

    If a substantial number of Antifa show up armed at the next proud-boys circle-jerk, it will be police violence that they face.

    You can see this in the drug laws, as well. When politicians pass draconian sentences for possession or distribution of drugs, they do so with the explicit understanding that neither they, nor their children, nor anyone of their class will ever face actual enforcement of those laws. If one of their progeny happens to be caught distributing narcotics, it will simply be chalked up as a foible of youth, and certainly not something to trouble the criminal courts with. Again, discretion saves a law from equity.


    There already has been at least one incident of a person shooting (at) police because they thought those police were right-wing milita shooting at them. He was acquitted, but spent a substantial amount of time in jail and the prosecution was using the threat of major sentences to try to get him to plead out and take ‘only’ 13 years in jail. It seemed the police were driving around in unmarked vans shooting impact munitions at people without identifying themselves. This veteran with a concealed carry permit rightly percieved himself to be under fire from racist thugs (police, but the shoe fits), and returned fire. He immediately surrendered as soon as they identified themselves and was thusly beaten quite severely before being charged with serious offenses.

  10. lochaber says

    I feel obligated to comment, since this post seems to be at least in part a response to a previous comment I made, but I don’t really have much of substance to add.

    Al I really have, is that I had been sorta half-assedly attending a jujitso dojo in my middleschool and highschool years, and I think my attitudes towards self-defense and use of force were at least partially shaped by what I was told/taught by my sensei and the senior students. And, I think it was generally pretty similar to what Marcus stated in the post, but maybe with a touch of legal CYA (from a not-legally educated perspective). But, yeah, it typically boiled down to: if you hurt someone, and you had any other option, than you WILL suffer legal repercussions, and you deserve to. And this wasn’t even lethal force, this was like, breaking a wrist or something. When we talked about potentially violent situations, there was a big emphasis on being aware of your situation and doing what you could to minimize your chances of ending up in a potentially violent conflict.

    Now, to go off on a tangent, I am starting to lean more heavily in favor of concealed carry for people who want to carry firearms. I feel that all too often open carry is done as an implied threat, but for some reason (that I’m sure some people here will point out…), open carry is considered more acceptable than concealed carry. Although, I guess it’s sorta difficult to conceal carry a fucking assault rifle…

  11. brucegee1962 says

    I know there has been a lot of talk recently about whether we are heading towards a civil war. Rebellions need leaders, though, and fortunately we know Trump is too lazy to lead his troops into battle even when they beg him too. He’ll just make some vague statements about how people ought to take their country back, then retire to the golf course while they run amuck and get arrested. That isn’t really much of a threat.

    I’m much more worried about Ted Cruz and his ilk. I think the media should have given much more play to his recent comments supporting the idea of Texas seceding if Democrats managed to chalk up a few victories. If either Texas or California or any other state managed to stage a successful secession vote, it very well might lead to a civil war. Of course such a vote would be illegal, but it’s likely those who voted for such a thing wouldn’t care. And I can’t think of a single country that ever split apart into two countries without substantial bloodshed.

  12. says

    Here’s another prediction: Rittenhouse will be financially obliterated – and his parents (he was a minor) and his straw purchasing buddy, too in the civil litigation that is to come.

  13. snarkhuntr says

    Incidentally Marcus, I like your policy on book reccomendations and will make a similar offer to you. There is a book that I found quite enlightening on the topic of modern American gun/military culture. “Warrior Dreams” – by James William Gibson. The book traces the changes in the public attitude towards the military and soldiery post-vietnam, with the thesis that a lot of ‘modern’ gun culture (the book is from 1994) is descended from a collective feeling of a sort of lost manhood as a result of the defeat by the Vietnamese.

    There is much that I think the author missed regarding the role of firearms lobbying and marketing in shaping this culture and he was too early to really contend with the effects of video games on shaping American conceptions of manhood, but I do think his central thesis holds water.

    Unfortunately, my only copy of the book vanished from a friends truck when it got stolen. So if you buy it and don’t like it, I’ll happily buy it from you for your cost of purchase plus shipping to me.

    As for that poor sap Rittenhouse, it’s pretty clear that he’s not the right kind of person to really be able to profit from his 15 minutes of right-wing fame. Some people might be able to turn this into an ongoing grift, but from that last interview of his, it’s pretty clear that he’s not willing to abandon all intellectual thought for the kind of groupthink that the right demands these days. Nor is he dishonest enough to make it work. Actually admitting, in public, that systemic racism exists? Might as well abandon any hope of working for Matt Gatez or his loony cohorts.

  14. says

    Fear is a terrible criterion for determining whether use of force was justified. People have all kinds of phobias, anybody can be scared of literally anything. For example, if somebody had a phobia of babies, it wouldn’t give them a right to claim that they injured some kid in self defense even if they felt terrified of said kid.

    For a non-absurd example, people who have lived with a female-appearing body will attest that they have been afraid of strangers they met in public places on numerous occasions. That stranger who groped their butt in public transport. That drunk-appearing stranger who made a catcall while they were walking home through a mostly empty street late in the evening… The fear is always there. If I were to kill every assholish dude who frightened me in some public place, I would have left a trail of bodies in my wake. For a more practical solution—most jerks don’t chase after you when you distance yourself from them.

    The idea of defending one’s neighborhood is also nonsensical. I can partially accept the fact of people defending their private property, namely land, home, or apartment that they either own or rent. But I still think that murder is not an acceptable solution to dealing with thieves who want to steal some electronics from your home. It is disproportionate.

    But a private citizen cannot possibly defend a neighborhood. Public streets are exactly that—public. Everybody has a right to plant their feet on public property if they choose to do so. The fact that some person owns a home adjacent to a public street does not give them a right to remove from said street people who “look scary” according to some arbitrary subjective standard.

  15. sonofrojblake says

    Goetz might have had a reasonable assumption that he was being robbed, but he did not have a reasonable assumption that he would be physically harmed

    I’d have said that on a subway in NYC in the 80s if a group of four men larger than me physically isolated me from potential help then asked for money, it is more than reasonable to assume they mean physical harm if they don’t get what they want. And I also think it’s reasonable not to simply pony up cash to anyone who asks for it. Furthermore, in that specific context I’d say it was reasonable to assume that at least one of his assailants was armed – it was NYC in the 80s ffs. That’s the problem with an over-armed culture – if it’s reasonable to assume someone threatening you has a gun – and in the USA it absolutely is – then it’s reasonable to take steps to defend yourself against it. It would not be reasonable to do the same in, e.g., the UK, where handguns are vanishingly rare since Dunblane.

    you also believe that escalating directly to murder is a reasonable response to a dog barking


    I suppose there is no sure way of knowing you are in moral danger until you are

    There’s fearing/knowing you’re in danger. The only way of knowing it’s mortal danger is after you’re dead. Expecting you to wait until then to unleash defence is unreasonable.

    a guy with a loaded .38 cannot truly be said to fear a couple of unarmed men

    Four men who he has reason to suspect may be armed would be different though. And again – he didn’t threaten them. He didn’t initiate ANY contact with them. Why would he? It’s a wildly different set of circumstances to Zimmerman and Rittenhouse who both indisputably went looking for trouble.

    perhaps one of the people involved in the incident didn’t really think that they were going to get shot, so they weren’t afraid for their life until it was too late for them

    One of the people involved didn’t make the reasonable assumption that the other person was armed…

    All of this, to me, comes down to the problem of too many guns. But I don’t think anyone can disagree with that./shrug/

  16. GerrardOfTitanServer says


    What I never got about any of that is how the justice department, police, and everyone else, wrapped their brains around the idea that coming to a protest with weapons you brought to intimidate is not being a threat.

    That’s easy. Because there are laws in that State protecting open-carry of a 16 year old with a rifle, and there is no law against doing so in public area during a protest. It’s fucking stupid, but that’s what the law apparently is.

    Re “stand your ground” is not relevant in this case because Rittenhouse was trying to run away for the whole time. He was retreating – not standing his ground. Rittenhouse satisfied any potential legal duty to retreat.

    It was also his “ground”. IIRC his father lived in the city, and there’s strong evidence that the car dealership owners did ask for Rittenhouse and friends to come and defend the dealership.

    Re in fear for his life. Rosenbaum did clearly threaten Rittenhouse with death prior to the shooting, and moments before he was shot, Rosenbaum was actively chasing Rittenhouse, and lunged at him and lunged for the gun. They were at grappling range when Rosenbaum was shot. With context, it’s hard to imagine a clearer case of lawful justified self defense by shooting than this.

  17. lochaber says

    “With context, it’s hard to imagine a clearer case of lawful justified self defense by shooting than this.”

    I think it would be very generous to merely suggest your imagination blows.

  18. says

    lochaber @12

    I am starting to lean more heavily in favor of concealed carry for people who want to carry firearms. I feel that all too often open carry is done as an implied threat, but for some reason (that I’m sure some people here will point out…), open carry is considered more acceptable than concealed carry.

    I can offer maybe a bit of perspective on how we got here (from my point of view). This is what happened here in Ohio.

    In the early 2000s, gun rights groups were starting a campaign (I don’t know how well organized) to increase gun rights. As a result, in 2003 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a case called “Klein v Leis”, that Ohio’s prohibition on concealed carry was constitutional. They more or less said that carrying concealed was merely a time, place, and manner restriction (similar to free speech restrictions), and that as long as one could carry openly, the Right to Bear Arms provision in the Ohio Constitution was not violated. (The Ohio provision is not mixed up with militia the way the US one is.)

    So, the gun rights groups started carrying openly. Blatantly and flagrantly. And very soon after that, the Ohio Legislature finally started writing and enacting some concealed carry legislation. But, it had already been established that open carry was legal (i.e., there were no laws against it). And the carrying of military-looking weapons from then became the kind of tactic we see today.

    Although, I guess it’s sorta difficult to conceal carry a fucking assault rifle…

    Interestingly enough, as part of justifying some restrictions on firearms carry being constitutional, the Court ended up directly addressing this kind of military-looking intimidation. Quoting from State v. Hogan (1900), 63 Ohio St. 202, 58 N.E. 572, it said:

    The constitutional right to bear arms is intended to guaranty to the people, in support of just government, such right, and to afford the citizen means for defense of self and property. While this secures to him a right of which he cannot be deprived, it enjoins a duty in execution of which that right is to be exercised. If he employs those arms which he ought to wield for the safety and protection of his country, his person, and his property, to the annoyance and terror and danger of its citizens, his acts find no vindication in the bill of rights. That guaranty was never intended as a warrant for vicious persons to carry weapons with which to terrorize others. Going armed with unusual and dangerous weapons, to the terror of the people, is an offense at common law. A man may carry a gun for any lawful purpose, for business or amusement, but he cannot go about with that or any other dangerous weapon to terrify and alarm a peaceful people.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Of course, these days, there is no criminal common law–it’s all codified. So in the absence of a written law, vicious persons can carry weapons to terrorize others. But it sure looks like it would be (Ohio) constitutional to write a law prohibiting it.

  19. lochaber says


    thanks, that’s interesting. Although, something hasn’t been done about it when it’s been a potential issue for over a century isn’t so promising… :(

  20. says

    It’s terrifying how easy it is to get a concealed carry permit in Pennsylvania. I could go to the courthouse on monday and walk out with a permit by 10:00am.

  21. xohjoh2n says

    @23 OOI, is that publicly visible? Can you go to some records building and find out who of your neighbours have CC licenses?

  22. says

    Can you go to some records building and find out who of your neighbours have CC licenses?

    Almost certainly not – the NRA has done a good job of making sure legislators make it impossible for anything like a registration database or anything like that to be available except (and sometimes even) to law enforcement.

  23. says

    That’s easy. Because there are laws in that State protecting open-carry of a 16 year old with a rifle, and there is no law against doing so in public area during a protest. It’s fucking stupid, but that’s what the law apparently is.

    That is how the law has been interpreted, in favor of certain political interests. I’ll remind you that when the Black Panther Party decided to exercise their open carry rights, they found that suddenly the justice department wasn’t that interested in those parts of the law.

    There are jurisdictions where the police have announced they will not enforce state firearms regulations; that’s how law-abiding we are.

    The point being: waving at the law is pointless – the law is bullshit and always has been. The fact of the matter is that if some local chief of police decided to muster up and pull up a bearcat near a bunch of “open carry” protesters and tell them “take these post-it notes and put your name on your weapon, then put it on the ground and step away, you can come sign for it at the station-house tomorrow.” there would almost certainly be no political repercussions. The fact is that US police are quite comfortable working in a way that ignores local laws and ordnances – they just do what the fuck they want. That’s the issue. If the police wanted to shut this crap down, it would be shut down instantly because everyone knows what happens when you scare cops. The kind of force NYPD deploys against protesters could perfectly be easily applied to right-wing militias, on the basis of disturbing the peace or whatever – they just aren’t. The laws are irrelevant in the US; it’s just power.

  24. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Cynical, and mostly correct. However, I still don’t want to advocate for the police to ignore civil rights when convenient because I think that reasoning is a big part of the story of how we got into the police brutality mess. I’d much rather argue against the other examples of police excess and to change the law around open carry, and especially for minors.

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