Gun Laws & Legislation

NRA President James Porter on the job of police: No duty to protect

Guns and Gear Contributor
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By James W. Porter II, NRA President

As NRA members, one of our key roles in defending liberty is to educate people who have little understanding of the real meaning of the Second Amendment. And often our responsibility is to dissect the biggest lies of the gun-ban crowd—among them, the notion that individuals don’t need guns to protect themselves because that’s the job of the police.

“… a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen.”

“The duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists.”

Those are the opinions of the District of Columbia Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals issued in 1978 and 1981 blocking a suit by three young women who had been raped and beaten for 14 hours during a nightmarish home invasion in 1975. Two of the women had repeatedly called the D.C. police. They watched a police car slowly roll by their townhouse after their first call for help, then were told help was on its way in subsequent calls, when indeed it was not.

The decisions in that case, Warren v. District of Columbia, came at a time when D.C. was still enforcing its ban on firearms in the home for self-defense.

The decision by those lower courts in Warren mirrored decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedents. The latest high-court opinion declaring police have no duty to protect ordinary citizens was handed down in June 2005.

All this gives the lie to the gun-ban crowd’s mantra: “let law enforcement protect you.”

The simple truth is, were individual citizens owed an absolute duty to individual protection by police, no law enforcement agency in the nation could exist because of the glut of litigation claiming violation of individuals’ rights to police protection.

Admittedly, the circumstances that have led to some lawsuits against police departments involve horrendous indifference by police, but if a duty is owed in one awful situation marked by incompetence, it is owed in all cases by all law enforcement officers. And that is the rub.

Duty to protect? Police officers simply cannot be everywhere a crime of violence is occurring. Most of the time, their job is to investigate, pursue criminals and make arrests after a crime has been committed.

I don’t know who originated the notion that “when seconds count, the police are minutes away,” but it defines why the individual right to keep and bear arms is such a core right today. In rural areas, those minutes might be hours.

The question our friends and neighbors and fellow gun owners should ask is:

Who, then, protects you if the police have no duty to do so?

The answer is, You do. Responsible members of your family do. Neighbors do.

Had the young women in the Warren case been armed, they could have defended themselves. But at the time, such armed self-defense was a crime in Washington, D.C.

That was the issue finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark June 2008 Heller decision striking down the D.C. handgun ban and the city’s “prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.”

In his ringing majority defense of the Second Amendment, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The handgun ban amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of ‘arms’ that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose. The prohibition extends, moreover, to the home, where the need for defense of self, family and property is most acute.”

That remarkable decision was followed by the high court’s June 2010 majority opinion in McDonald v. Chicago, which extended the protection of the Second Amendment in Heller to every corner of the nation.

People need to understand that the Second Amendment preserves their choice to defend themselves with arms against criminal violence.

The gun-ban crowd always assumes that people are stupid. Given the truth—the facts—most Americans will begin to understand the personal meaning of the Second Amendment.

If there is a “duty to protect,” it is our duty as members of the NRA to protect the Second Amendment. We can do that with our votes; by exercising the First Amendment and one-on-one convincing friends, co-workers and neighbors of the truth of our cause. That must be a major part of our mission. It is mine.