Sunday, July 6, 2008

My stuff versus your life

I simply can not understand believing that it's okay to kill another human being over things.

When I say this, most people ask me if I'd let a robber just take my stuff. Yes, I would. I'd rather lose my things than kill somebody, even if they are doing me harm. And to put a finer point on it, just how much harm are they doing me by stealing some things?

Not much, in my estimation. If another is that desperate, I say, go ahead and take it. Don't hurt me. Just rob me.

In my real-life arguments with others, I am usually asked this question, "Do you think other people are entitled to take your stuff?" No, I don't. But I'm not willing to live with their deaths on my conscience. Somehow this irks folks further, as if my refusing to stand up to these imaginary robbers is akin to inviting them in and saying, "Take my stuff", or saying I'm all for total havoc and the looting, pillaging and raping of law-abiding citizens.

Years ago, an acquaintance lived in area of an New York City that was truly dangerous (as opposed to Maine, where the fear is mostly in peoples' imaginations). Guys walked around with visible handguns at their hip or brandished large knives in holsters. She was robbed nearly every week (or not, for they'd taken everything). All she was tired of was the mess that these people would make. So, she bought some heroin, put it on a dish and made some very big signs that read "Please don't steal from me" and "Please don't make a mess" and then "Help Yourself to some Heroin". The amazing thing is that the intruders complied. After a few weeks they stopped showing up, in spite of the free heroin. That last bit is interesting, for it gives credence to the idea that showing compassion can stop the cycle of violence.

If that woman had had a gun, who knows what would have happened. There wouldn't have been a creative solution,that's for sure. And whatever reasons that caused her apartment to be broken into on a such a regular basis would not been examined.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is a part of the Bill of Rights that protects the pre-existing individual right to possess and carry weapons (i.e. "keep and bear arms") in case of confrontation. Codification of the right to keep and bear arms into the Bill of Rights was influenced by a fear that the federal government would disarm the people in order to impose rule through a standing army or select militia, since history had shown that a tyrant's ability to suppress political opponents was accomplished by simply taking away the people's arms.

I can understand and even agree with the underlying rationale behind this, but today it is an archaic notion, given the fact that we don't have the right to store plutonium or have our own personal stockpile of nuclear devices. Hell, even roman candles are illegal here in the state of Maine.

The right to bear arms never was intended to be a substitute for trained people to promote and enforce laws. Killing people in the course of a crime, people who are not a direct threat to ones' life, flies in the face of nation's legal system, in which a person is guaranteed due process.

But beyond legal arguments, there are ethical arguments to be made. Just as my friend figured out a way to deal with the breaking and entering that went on in her little tenement apartment, if we take the use of force out of the list of possible ways of dealing with those who threaten us, we are faced with the much harder task of figuring out how to deal with crime and criminal in a more creative way.

I know, for a fact, when I've been face to face with those who meant me physical harm, that disarming them with my actions and words worked. Pure and simple. The concepts of non-violent resistance do work, not just in the political arena, but in the area of personal "safety".

Of course, they don't work all the time, but that is not a case against taking the path of non-violence. We all know that the death penalty has done little to keep people from killing each other, but that doesn't keep folks from supporting it.

I am not a pure pacifist. I'm sure that if words failed and my life, or the life of someone else, was on the line, I wouldn't hesitate to use all the force I could. If I had to kill someone to save my partner's life, I doubt I'd hesitate.

But I wouldn't think of myself as a hero, as some do when people kill the bad guys. Life is precious. A crackhead's life is precious (even if they do not know this).

So, I'll continue to argue my point. I have no problem with disagreement.

Photo note: The Smith and Wesson Magnum .44
Dirty Harry's gun

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