I get asked “that question” several times a year: “Is it time yet?”
My standard answer is some variation on, “Morally, it’s past time to shoot the bastards, but the result would be catastrophic, not only for the shooters but for all gun owners and all freedomistas.”
Yesterday reader TW sent a link to an article that aims for a more sophisticated answer.
As TW noted, “It’s also unusually thoughtful for Reason. I guess unusual thoughtfulness happens when you farm out work to a Georgetown prof.”
The professor in question, Jason Brennan, teaches ethics, economics, and public policy. And for a change, a teacher of ethics turns out not to be weaselly. He begins:
In August 2017, Richard Hubbard III stopped at a red light in Euclid, Ohio, but his front bumper went a few feet past the white line. The cops pulled him over. That’s no surprise: Police in Euclid, Cleveland Heights, and the surrounding cash-strapped towns strictly enforce traffic rules. But officers didn’t just give the driver a ticket.
The police demanded Hubbard—a black man—step out of his vehicle. Dashcam footage shows that he calmly complied. Yet one officer immediately spun Hubbard around, bent his arm, and slammed him against his Hyundai. He flipped Hubbard again, punched him in the face, and kicked his groin. Hubbard screamed and put his arms up to protect himself. The other officer joined in.
They threw Hubbard to the ground but continued to punch, hammer, and kick him. When he tried to protect his face, they chanted the informal motto of American police, “Stop resisting!” Even when Hubbard was subdued, prostrate with his hands behind his back and two large officers pinning him down, one officer continued to pummel his skull.
Imagine you witness the whole thing. A thought occurs to you: You’re armed. You could shoot the officers, perhaps saving Hubbard’s life or preventing him from being maimed and disabled. May you do so?
Below, I defend a controversial answer: Yes, you may. Shooting the cops in this case is dangerous—they may send a SWAT team to kill you—and in many places it’s illegal. But it is nevertheless morally permissible, indeed heroic and admirable. You have the right to defend yourself and others from state injustice, even when government agents act ex officio and follow the law.
Normally it’s wrong to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, manipulate, destroy property, or attack people. But commonsense morality as well as the common law hold that such actions are permissible in self-defense or in defense of others. The basic principle is that you may use deception or violence when you are not the initial aggressor and when you reasonably believe such actions are necessary to protect yourself or others from imminent, severe injury from an aggressor. You may lie to the murderer at the door. You may smash the windows of the would-be kidnapper’s car. You may kill a violent attacker when you reasonably fear for your life.
Now ask: Does it make a difference if the murderer at the door or the kidnapper is a lawfully appointed member of the U.S. government, acting in his or her capacity as an agent?
Brennan has written a very bold article for this age (and this isn’t his first to take the same honest stance), and Reason is unusually bold for publishing it.
I hope you’ll read the whole thing.