A citizen of Kołobrzeg city defended himself against criminals. He received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment. Another 64 year old man awaits his trial – he defended himself with a pocket knife. A French jeweller shot a robber – he may be sentenced to 30 years in prison. Is that how it should be?
During an exhibition organized by Silesian Gun Enthusiast Association during Expo Hunting 2013, one small firearm called “Women’s Muff” got a lot of attention. This toy-looking black powder gun was designed as a tool for women’s self-defense. Worn in a muff, it could be used as last line of defense for women – it could be quickly deployed from the muff and fired. Its effective range was described as “as far as your arm will go,” but what’s more important is the product’s implication – The 19th century woman had the right to defend herself. Even with the use of a firearm.
“Someone who allows his life to be taken away by any person which doesn’t have authority to do so, where he can keep it by resisting that act, is guilty of suicide, because our Lord ordered him to maintain his life, and Nature teaches every living being to defend itself.”
– Those are the words of a Philadelphia pastor. In many states in the USA, specific laws – often referred to as “Stand Your Ground-laws” exist, which permit self defense against any attacker, without specifying a “duty to retreat.” In practice that means that you can use all available resources to defend yourself against an attack, and you do not have to try to flee the attacker. From time to time, people arguing for stricter gun control point to cases where “innocent” people were wounded or killed. In many such examples, the fact that those shot had violated private property, and that the shooting would not have occurred had they not done so, tends to be downplayed.
It is also thought-provoking that during firefights, civilians are far less likely than the police to shoot bystanders – statistically five times less likely. There are several reasons why, one is simply being at the crime scene and seeing the situation develop. When the police arrive, officers may be unaware of which person at the scene actually represents a threat.
Perhaps it is hard to believe, but a similar approach to defending your property also was found in Poland in the past, even during occupation in the 19th century. Even when the occupying forces established rules concerning guns, the rules were not as restrictive as they are today, and people were able to sway government so they could take care of their own security. No one said a word, when in 1909, a land owner in his residence near to Sochaczew started shooting at some thugs. Worthy of mentioning is also the fact that the land owner’s wife supplied the defenders with ammunition and during “free” time she also engaged the thugs. They were able to defend themselves and two hours later a Cossack patrol arrested the thugs, who were found by following blood trails. At the time thugs had easy access to weapons, especially after the Revolution of 1905. That was the reason why the Russian Tsar allowed people to own guns for self defense. In 1906, revolvers and suitable ammunition were available without applying for a purchasing permission. For those who had gun permissions, all weapons were available to buy. Moreover, weapons requisitioned for use by the police or the military were returned to their owners afterwards. The Tsar understood that his Polish subjects also had the right to defend themselves. The period between WW1 and WW2 did not bring any major changes in this matter. In independent Poland, all guns were available subject to permission, moreover, the government granted those permissions readily. In any event the government understood that the people should be able to defend themselves. A well known episode concerns one Mr. Nowakowski, who was attacked by a thug in the street. The thug was shot and hospitalized. The prosecutor visited the hospital, in order to ask Nowakowski if he was satisfied or if he wanted to press criminal charges against his attacker.
Present times look far more bleak. A few weeks ago, a citizen of the city of Kołobrzeg was assaulted in his home by armed thugs. He grabbed a knife and stabbed his attackers. He received a sentence of 10 years in prison. According to the judge’s verdict, he had the right to use the knife, however he should have used it only to stop the assault. Evicting the attackers from his home, and killing them in the process was, in the Judge’s opinion, a double homicide.
The next story is about a 64 year old man, who was assaulted by a 27 year old thug. He had only a multitool for his defense. The verdict? Allegation of injury.
Under prevailing law, responsibility to recognize the attacker’s intentions and the appropriate means of defense rest entirely upon the victim. It’s up to a woman who is being raped to choose the appropriate defense, to not defend the good with lower value (her physical health and emotional wellbeing) at the expense of the good with greater value (the health and life of the rapist). She has to be aware that her actions will be reviewed, in hindsight, by a prosecutor, whose job it is to check whether the action she took in her defense was caused by fear, or by a conscious decision to cause injury.
Unfortunately, even service men are not much better off. One police officer had to explain to the prosecutor why he shot an axe wielding attacker. In the opinion of the prosecutor, the possibility existed that the attacker was only attempting to scare the officer. If that were the case, using a firearm would have been unacceptable. However, if the officer had been hit in the head with the axe, the prosecutor could possibly accept that an assault had actually occurred.
Even worse is the lack of understanding from politicians. Some of them, for example Mr Arkadiusz Mularczyk from the Polish Solidarity Party, are attempting to introduce regulations which will help only the criminals. His proposed changes to the Act of Guns and Ammunition would turn the scout who forgot to remove his camping knife from his backpack into a criminal. At the same time, the comfort of criminals definitely would be served by such a law, because they (not surprisingly) do not care what the law says, but are aware that those who do care will not be carrying a knife.
We can point to several instances where regulations like these give completely opposite outcomes. For example, Great Britain’s knife ban disarmed victims, while criminals simply began to use screwdrivers instead.
Another point which we feel is very important is that Mr Mularczyk, after reading ROMB’s letter pointing out the lack of logic in his proposal, called the organisation “gang lovers”. Strong words from the mouth of someone trying to ensure that even that 64 year old man will have no knife with which to defend himself from the gangs.
The situation is similar all over Europe. Not too long ago a jeweller assaulted by a thug shot him dead. He was arrested and is facing the possibility of serving 30 years in prison. This incident has prompted a growing scandal. Only ten days ago a FaceBook page demanding the jeweller’s release was created, currently standing at over 76000 likes. The question is whether French indignation will allow for a change in the laws, so that finally victims will be empowered to defend themselves, without having to worry whether their attacker is killed or not. Furthermore, perhaps this event will provide an impulse for changes in other countries as well?
If citizens will not demand changes from their governments in order to secure their right to defend themselves, governments will not initiate those changes. After all – the people who run the government have armed bodyguards. Everyone else should just call the police. Even if there is no answer.