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January 18, 2006

Paul Hackett on gays, god, and guns

Paul Hackett chats with the The Columbus Post Dispatch public-affairs team:

"I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it. Equal justice under the law for all regardless of who they are and how they were born is fundamental to our American spirit and our American freedoms. Any person or group that argues that the law should not apply equally to all Americans is, frankly, un-American."

"The Republican Party has been hijacked by religious fanatics, who are out of touch with mainstream America. Think of the recent comments by Pat Robertson - a religious fanatic by any measure - that the United States should assassinate a democratically elected leader in Venezuela, and that Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment because Sharon wished to trade land for peace."

"Since the Republican Party has been utterly unable to stand for something positive, they have created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and have pandered to religious fanatics not to vote for something they believe in, but to vote against their fellow Americans with whom they disagree. Those among us who would use religion and politics to divide rather than unite Americans should be ashamed." [CPD]

Great! However, I'm not wildly enthusiastic about Hackett's position on the summary execution of burglars:

"Break into my house, we won’t have to worry about the application of the death penalty. It’s going to be a simple 911 call: Come pick up the body."

I don't care much about gun rights one way or the other, but a DIY death penalty is not a step forward.

Addendum: Obviously, this is Hackett being Hackett. It's the sort of thing I expect him to say about guns. As Eli and others have argued below, there's nothing controversial about a strong presumption of self-defense when a resident uses deadly force against an intruder in the home. However, if we believe in a presumption of self-defense, we've got to be specific about what we're presuming. Legitimate self-defense presupposes that the shooter has a good-faith belief that they were exercising reasonable force. You don't have a moral right to shoot someone just because they're trespassing on your property. Granted, if someone overreacts and shoots an unarmed intruder, the state should cut that person a lot of slack, given the circumstances. But the presumption of self-defense is about excusing mistakes, or possible mistakes--not licensing vigellanteism.

Via One Good Move.


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Hackett seems like he's just using coarse language to state a pretty moderate - if not 100% settled - position. I don't have any problem with a strong presumption of self-defense in the case of established forced home entry.

If I had my choice, should a person or persons break into my house, I would ask them if they were there merely to steal from me or to kill me or my family.

Setting aside the silliness of that statement for a moment....I would gladly let a burglar take whatever the hell he/she/they wanted if they were only there to thieve. After all it is only stuff.

I might even, if possible, just run out of the house and leave them to steal what they want. Again it is only stuff.

However in the real world I do not think burglary victims get the opportunity to negotiate the breadth of the crime that is about to occur, nor would I believe the burglar if he announced his intentions, so I would tend to err on the side physical violence.

I don't have any problem with a strong presumption of self-defense in the case of established forced home entry.

Neither do I, Eli. But I the presumption of self-defense should only come into play in retrospective assessments of individual acts of violence.

The presumption shouldn't be that it's okay to shoot people who break into your house. But rather, that if you say after the fact that you believed that the intruder was a deadly threat, then the court should probably take your word for it.

Jswift, that's just it, to err on the side of physical violence. And when people do, the courts should give them a pass. We don't want to be locking up innocent homeowners who panicked while trying to defend their families.

However, it's these kinds of scenarios that make me doubt that guns in the home are an unalloyed good thing for most people. If you're not confident about your ability to use your gun with a certain amount of discipline in a self-defense situation, you shouldn't have one around.

I think it's dangerous to create the perception that you're morally entitled to shoot burglars just because they break into your house. We should be saying that you have the right to use reasonable force to defend yourself, and that society will cut you a fair amount of slack about what constitutes reasonable force when someone is invading your home.

I think it's dangerous to create the perception that you're morally entitled to shoot burglars just because they break into your house. We should be saying that you have the right to use reasonable force to defend yourself, and that society will cut you a fair amount of slack about what constitutes reasonable force when someone is invading your home.

I certainly agree with that. Undoubtedly, there are at least a few people every year who are killed precisely because people put the cart before the horse in the way they conceived of the issue. When my father was younger, an elderly woman in his hometown shot a child in the back because he ran across her yard chasing a raccoon. Troubling stuff.

I'm more distressed, actually, by the degree to which assumptions about using force to protect property play into the huge ball of wax that is our fairly distressing manner of thinking about property rights in America. The idea that using force to defend your home is predicated on property rather than safety seems to be largely born of the idea that property is a largely inviolable thing in kind of a natural-law way, rather than just a regulatory regime for divvying up the disposal of resources. That way of thinking hurts more people every year than unwise shootings of burglars.

I was mainly giving Hackett leeway because it didn't seem too much more inartful a statement than the other ones. I'm sure one could quibble as well with exactly how much power in the GOP actually goes to people who share Robertson's more unique beliefs. But his thrust is right on that point, as, at least partially, his thrust is right on use of guns as defense within the home.

I apparently enjoy the word "distressing."

I think the whole "I need a gun to defend my family / property" is really just part of the culture of fear that the right sells and feeds on. I once had the misfortune of chatting with a Faux News talking point spewing idiot who was obsessed with the idea that his family might be carjacked, and that's why he needed a gun. How many people does that actually happen to? Does anyone here know anyone who ever confronted a burglar in their home? I don't.

(The apartment next to mine was robbed twice in the last three years. Both times the tennant was out for the night. The first time, the tennant was a petite 19 year old woman. It made me think.)

What Trystero said.

And by the way, he's just trying way too hard with the macho-man song and dance. Reminds me of Kerry in camoflage.


I don't know anyone who's been in that specific situation. When my grandmother was a young woman and travelling, she once brandished a gun to stop a man from trying to force his way into her hotel room. If I remember the story correctly, her words were along the lines of "Either you leave now or they'll be wiping your ass in the morgue." Many of the women in the last town where I lived also had a legitimate fear of the Charlottesville serial rapist, who had entered through windows or forced his way in as women unlocked their doors. Also, one of my uncles was kidnapped from his place of work as part of some awful robbery spree in the earl 1970s, and ended up being shot in the head and dumped in a ditch. Though I suppose that's more along the lines of anecdotal support of guns in places of business.

The point, though, is that while Americans genuinely are excessively worried about violent crime perpetrated by strangers, the appropriate response is not to pretend it's such a remote risk that it's negligible. People in gated communities outside town may have the luxury of being virtually completely shielded from the problem, but it's still a legitimate concern. There's nothing illogical about devoting some serious thought to dangers that aren't incredibly ubiquitous but are so extraordinarily high-cost when they do happen.

Well, he didn't just say he'd shoot a burglar. He said he'd kill a burglar.

Anyway, the gun owners I know are not fearful. They're scary. They're not afraid that burglars will enter their homes. They're hoping they'll get the chance to kill someone. So many liberals seem to believe that macho conservatives are just pretending to be brave. No, they really are reckless maniacs.

None of the gun owners I know are reckless maniacs, for the record. And I know a lot.

LOL the people I'm talking about are physically much braver than I. They consider me cowardly; I consider them reckless.

Anyway, the gun owners I know are not fearful. They're scary. They're not afraid that burglars will enter their homes. They're hoping they'll get the chance to kill someone. So many liberals seem to believe that macho conservatives are just pretending to be brave. No, they really are reckless maniacs.

You know some very, very scary people, Gary. The kind of people who are exactly the sort who should not be owning weapons (in my personal opinion, not one I'm willing to argue be enforced by legislation).

Maybe there's a difference in my experience because I've usually lived in cities where guns are illegal; so all the gun owners I knew were breaking the law. I guess willful criminals are reckless by definition. On the other hand, in rural areas where most people own guns, it would be hard to generalize about the gun owners at all except to say they live there.

Hacket's a former Marine, right?

Most of the Marien's I've known are like that, and, as a bunch, Hacket seems to fall into the mellow end of the spectrum.

I grew up with guns, so I am comfortable and capable with them. However, right now the guns I have are guns I inherited from my grandfather and I have no ammunition.

Even if I had a gun I could use I would not be quick to use it. Why? Because I am comfortable and capable with them. I know what they can do. I was taught at the age of 13 and mentored by my grandfather about what they can do.

Also, you are more likely to assaulted by someone you know than you are by a stranger burglar.

The people who are scary are those who have no respect for guns and are inordinately fearful or inordinately arrogant.

If you are not prepared to learn about guns, respect them and overcome your fear you have no business using one.

Eli, people who are hoping they get the chance to kill someone who breaks in the house do not respect guns and do not have a clue what they would be doing to their souls if they were forced to kill someone.

And just for the record being a gunowner does not make you that way.

Finally, I may talk with conviction about what I am prepared to do, but if I were faced with the actual situation I frankly do not know what I would do. The only thing I can hope for is that if I were put in that situation I keep my wits about me and make a moral and reasonable decision, whether that meant running away screaming or beating the crap out of him.

Lindsay: It's a broad speech (as noted) but all things considered it's merely a coarse expression of "a man's home is his castle."

Being one who grew up with guns (my uncle was an NRA instructor, I was taught to shoot from age five), and one who (for the same reasons as Hackett) has spent long stretches of time with a rifle in my hands, I can say that he is likely to exercise the restraint you want him to.

Hackett, for perfectly understandable reasons, probably assumes (wrong though such an assumption is) that others are all possessed of the same level of descrimination he has.

Someone breaks into my house, while I'm there, runs a significant risk of being injured. Because I favor restraint, and know how easy it is to make a permanent error with a gun, I prefer cutlery/wooden implements for home defense (but I've got years of training with swords, both steel and wooden) because I am not willing to assume such a persons intentions are merely to steal my stuff.

If the burglar chooses to head toward me when I tell them to sit down and wait for the police, I'm going to clobber them. If they run for the door, they get away.

One of the reasons I don't favor a gun for home defense is the risk of shooting someone in the back, in a moment of hair-trigger response.

Not only is that against the law, it's a moral wrong. Self-defense only works when one is being attacked.

Trystero: I know someone who had such a confrontation.

He heard noise in the housemates room (at something like 0300) and, in his sleeping state, realised the housemate was in Colorado, not Los Angeles. Not owning a gun, but having an axe (of fearsome appearance) near to hand he stepped across the hall, and kicked the door open.

The burglar was climbing in the window, when he saw a naked man, bearded; with long hair, come into the room with said axe.

He jumped backwards out the window.

With a gun, it might not have gone so well.


Trystero: I forgot, because it wasn't a burglar, and it was a long time ago (long before I joined the Army), I had to point a rifle at someone.

He wasn't a stranger, and he was breaking into the house. He was an abusive sonofabitch who wanted to talk to his girlfriend (who was staying with us).

I didn't have to shoot him.

I did have to threaten him (and I think I would have shot him, had I the need).

It was the last we saw of him.


pecunium: I think we're on the same page. I'm not personally afraid of guns; I think target shooting is a blast (so to speak). But I also fall on the "Bowling for Columbine" side of the debate in that I think our culture is too obsessed with guns, and I would prefer that fewer people had access to them.

That said, having recently relocated from the northeast to the West, I have a new appreciation that "Guns" as an political issue is regional. So I'll give Hackett a pass on that topic.

After my neighbor was robbed I considered my own safety. I decided that a Blunt Object was my best choice, because I don't trust myself to properly operate a gun in a bleary just-woken-up state.

There's recently been in my city a string of taxi holdups. I chatted with a cabbie about this, one who proudly carries a SW .38 police-issue revolver (I think). He wanted to go park in the neighborhood where the taxi holdups he could kill that MF. He is one of those freaks who carries because he wants to kill someone.

Cory Maye could have benefited from a presumption of self defense. Instead he is on death row. I don't like guns, in part because a society full of them includes a lot of shooting mistakes.

I think Mr. Hackett is crudely expressing the sentiment most homeowners would feel if someone invaded their home. MOST burglars don't want to hurt anyone; they just want to steal. However, SOME have a more malicious intent. If he (the burglar, most of them are male) is armed and decides he might also want to rape any females present, could I allow that to happen, even if I knew for certain that no one would be killed? I have to say "NO", and I don't even own a gun. The life of a burglar, no matter how much he has stolen, is still worth more than everything I own. The trauma and long-term psychological suffering that attend rape changes the equation. Even if rape is not on the burglar's agenda, how do we know murder isn't? I'm not prepared to accept that risk either.

There are too many variables to factor in such a short period of time. Does a garden-variety cat burglar deserve summary execution? Absolutely not. Does that mean I have to gamble on a home invader's intentions before I react? Absolutely not. I think that may be what Mr. Hackett is trying to express. I hope this doesn't sound like I'm trying to be his apologist. I still don't know enough about this man to form an educated opinion. Maybe he really is trigger-happy. People like that scare me. However, based on this one statement I am not going to draw any conclusions.

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