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Use of Deadly Force in Defense of Property

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I think the idea probably is that there could be someone in the building or that the fire could get way out of hand and kill many. But lets speak hypothetically and say we knew it wasn't going to kill anyone.

First: What is the justification for punishing someone for commiting a crime? If they pay you the monetary damages then what right to you have to lock them up? I assume it is the fact that they endager the rights of others therefore it is just to suspend their rights until you think they will again honor the rights of others. Therefore when you see someone about to infringe upon the rights of someone (set a fire) you are just in attempting to stop them.

So the question becomes how far can you go to stop them? To this I can not answer seeing as how I am not very good at thinking that deeply or philosophically, so at this point I will stray from my logic and philosophy and just turn to hyperbole by saying that I don't think you should be able to kill someone who is about to cause monetary harm.

But this now raises another philosophical point, if it is unjust to kill someone over monetary matters, what happens when the monetary value becomes large (like blowing up billions of dollars in infrastructure) and lets say we foresee that the loss of this infrastructure will possibly be a factor in the death of someone (like a starving African village that can't get medicine now because the cost is to great). Then is it right to kill them?

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You have to think in principles. Your property is your life. Suppose your house took you 10 years of labor to purchase, and someone's going to burn it down. They mean to take 10 years of your life from you. If you use force to stop them, you are using force to prevent them from taking that which is rightfully yours. If they should die because of this (i.e. the force becomes deadly), then this really isn't your problem.

That's the other thing: "use of deadly force" does NOT mean that you can shoot them, and when they go down just go over and put the gun to their head, execution style. It means you can shoot at them so long as they still represent a threat to you (or you are reasonable in assuming that they are, such as if they are still holding a weapon or you think they are). Self-defense scenarios are rarely clear cut - you can't afford the luxury of risking the idea that they may not be trying to hurt you or risking anything but a lethal shot.

(and the very idea of "shooting to disable" is a highly naive hollywood myth)

Basically, the short answer is that if you know anything about how self-defense scenarios actually work, then this makes perfect sense.

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The first fact which you need to come to grips with is that you are living in a society of law and reason, where your right to use of force has been ceded to objective control in the hands of the government. This means that you should ordinarily not use force in this case, and you should leave that to the police. The only circumstance when it is conceivably moral to use force to prevent the arson would be when it is not possible to turn the matter over to then, as might be the case if the crime is imminent. If that is so, you would essentially be doing what the police would do were they there to stop the crime. The police would not say "Oh, look, a perp. I get to kill him!", and you would not either. You would do what is necessary to prevent the crime and stop the destruction of the proprety. There will be important differences, because the police have special skills and knowledge that you don't have, so your response would be less measured, but essentially you would need to know that the person is commiting a rights-violating act, you should use the minimum level of force needed to stop the act, but you should stop the act (if it is in your interest to do so).

This is the basic outline of principles, but there are some complications involving post-hoc legal remedies and level of damage that should be considered. Suppose you are a little old lady who is barely able to lift a shotgun, much less wrestle a grown man into submission, and some vandal is threatening to break a window in your house right now. You are faced with letting him destroy your window, or blowing his head off with a shotgun. With present medical technology, there is no "making things right after the fact" if you go for option 2, but with option 1, you can use a legal remedy to get the window repaired. Therefore, you should use option 1, augmented by a session in court. Again, the basic moral principle is that you have ceded your right to use force to the objective control of government, though it is not an absolute surrendering whereby you must never use force. The primary question you should be addressing (and the reasoning that you use will determine whether your are acting morally or not) is whether there is a compelling reason to not continue to operate under the "civilized society" assumptions that Objectivism makes.

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1, you can use a legal remedy to get the window repaired. Therefore, you should use option 1, augmented by a session in court.

That's assuming that the old lady knows for a fact that after he shatters her window his intent is not to climb through it and murder her. Since she emphatically doesn't know that, then she might do well to take the shot while she has it.

A rational court ought to acquit her. But even if she ends up in an irrational court, it's not worth it to risk her life by not shooting when she has the chance.

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That's assuming that the old lady knows for a fact that after he shatters her window his intent is not to climb through it and murder her. Since she emphatically doesn't know that, then she might do well to take the shot while she has it.
Well, no, she was outside where the guy was, and she even said "Don't you dare break my window!", so we know that she is only trying to save her property, and there isn't any question of this being self-defense of her life. There isn't any serious question about the propriety of actually saving your own life, as is recognised in every self-defense statute in the US. The only topic worth discussing (at least among people who do not subscribe to the pacifist code) is the kind implicit in the original question, namely to what extent is it moral to use deadly force in defense of your property.
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You have to think in principles. Your property is your life. Suppose your house took you 10 years of labor to purchase, and someone's going to burn it down. They mean to take 10 years of your life from you. If you use force to stop them, you are using force to prevent them from taking that which is rightfully yours. If they should die because of this (i.e. the force becomes deadly), then this really isn't your problem.

Is there an objective line where you should refrain from the use of deadly force (or forces that happens to be deadly)?

Like, if the guy is trying to burn down a tool shed that took you a couple of days to build, would there be a difference in the amount of force you are allowed to use compared to the house that took you ten years to pay off? In principle, that is.

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Didn't include this in my original post.

http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/503-00/080.PDF

DavidOdden says, "police would not say "Oh, look, a perp. I get to kill him!"."

I think that some robotic yahoos exist in law enforcement that may do this.

My non-Objectivist younger brother is in law enforcement and loves to point out laws that he thinks that I will disagree with. Our discussion of an issue similar to the the old lady and a vandal is what led to my post on arson. My state says a person may use deadly force if it is believed that it is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony involving use of force, and that a person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person's dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence. http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/503-00/055.PDF

I believe that I see these issues as DavidOdden sees them, and believe that this is in line with Ayn Rand's comments on initiation of force in Chapter eight of OPAR.

Off topic, but here is another item regarding use of force that my brother has brought up in regards to disciplining children.

http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/503-00/110.PDF

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My state says a person may use deadly force if it is believed that it is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony involving use of force, and that a person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person's dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence. http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/503-00/055.PDF

It's refreshing to see at least one state which upholds this right. It would seems that many states/municipalities encourage you to call the police and not take steps to defend your property (including using deadly force). The guy is a thug, better off without him.

Edited by Drew1776
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I think the deadly force is involved in any substantial property crime. (arson, theft, or vandalism) As Inspector said, these items represent months or years of your lifes productive effort. If they steal or destroy the products of your life, they are quite literally enslaving you for the portion of your life used to earn that property. I don't think anyone would say it was immoral to stop a slaver who was going to send you to the salt mines for a decade, or a year, or even a month; and I view this situation as exactly morally analagous.

Just for further enlightment:

From the Texas Penal Code:

"A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect his property to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent the other's imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, theft during the nighttime or criminal mischief during the nighttime, and he reasonably believes that the property cannot be protected by any other means."

"A person is justified in using deadly force against another to pervent the other who is fleeing after committing burglary, robbery, or theft during the nighttime, from escaping with the property and he reasonable believes that the property cannot be recovered by any other means; or, the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the property would expose him or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury. (Nighttime is defined as the period 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise.)"

A person is justified in using force or deadly force against another to protect the property of a third person if he reasonably believes he would be justified to use similar force to protect his own property, and he reasonably believes that there existed an attempt or actual commission of the crime of theft or criminal mischief."

"Also, a person is justified in using force or deadly force if he reasonably believes that the third person has requested his protection of property; or he has a legal duty to protect the property; or the third person whose property he is protecting is his spouse, parent or child."

Texas is, I believe, unique in allowing deadly force to protect property. Of course, "Criminal Mischief" at night is the minimum threshold to use deadly force in Texas.

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You're right, prevention of criminal mischief during the nighttime seems very permissive in the use of deadly force.

The check on that, I think, would be the reasonable belief of necessity standard. I might have to look into how that standard is applied in such cases. Specifically, how reasonable is it to believe that deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent criminal mischief during the nighttime? And does the reasonableness standard make justification more difficult where the crime to be prevented is less of a threat? Interesting...

~Q

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The first fact which you need to come to grips with is that you are living in a society of law and reason,

Are you referring to the United States? If so, please check your premise. Indeed we are a society of law, but of reason?

If this were the case, how do you account for the kind of regulation of individual an private by means of law? We are restricted in what medicines we may purchase and how we purchase them. We live in a state where redistribution of income is rampant. We live in a state where free trade is restricted. Are these the results of reason? I think not.

Our problem is we have too much law, and too little reason.

That being said, we clearly ought not to have a society where people are killing each other for relatively trivial causes. So I accept your conclusion. It is your premise I have trouble with. Perhaps you should restate your position by writing

"In a society governed by both law and reason etc .....". Then your argument would be rock solid. Of course it would also be hypothetical since we DO NOT live in a society government by both law and reason.

Bob Kolker

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