On June 27th, in Castle Rock v. Gonzales, the Supreme Court found that Jessica Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police protection from a private individual even in the presence of a restraining order. By a vote of 7-to-2, Gonzales has no right to sue her local police department for failing to protect her from her estranged and, ultimately, lethal husband.
The post-mortem discussion on Gonzales has been fiery but it has missed an obvious point. If the government won’t protect you, then you have to take responsibility for your own self-defense and that of your family.
Before analyzing the Gonzales decision, however, it is useful to review the facts and arguments surrounding the case to-date.
In 1999, Gonzales obtained a restraining order against her estranged husband Simon, which limited his access to their children. On June 22, 1999, Simon abducted their three daughters. The next morning, Simon committed ‘suicide by cop’. That is, he shot a gun repeatedly through a police station window and was killed by returned fire. The murdered bodies of Leslie, 7, Katheryn, 9 and Rebecca, 10 were found in Simon’s pickup truck.
The Castle Rock, Colorado police department disputes some details of what happened with Jessica Gonzales up to that point…but the two sides are in basic agreement. After her daughters’ abduction, Gonzales repeatedly phoned the police for assistance. Officers visited the home. Believing Simon to be non-violent and, arguably, in compliance with the limited access granted by the restraining order, the police did nothing.
Gonzales claimed the police violated her 14th amendment right to due process and sued them for $30 million. She won at the Appeals level.
What were the arguments that won and lost in the Supreme Court?
Winners: local officials fell back upon a rich history of court decisions that found the police to have no Constitutional obligation to protect individuals from private individuals. In 1856, the U.S. Supreme Court found (South v. Maryland) that law enforcement officers had no affirmative duty to provide such protection. In 1982 (Bowers v. DeVito), the Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit held, “...there is no Constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen.” Later court decisions have concurred.
Losers: anti-DV advocates and women’s groups, such as the National Association of Women Lawyers, failed to establish that restraining orders were Constitutional entitlements. If they had succeeded, the enforcement of such orders would have been guaranteed by due process. Failure to enforce them would have been grounds for a lawsuit against the police, a precedent that local officials feared would flood them with expensive litigation.
Public analysis of Castle Rock v. Gonzales has been largely defined by these two opposing positions.
A third position cries out: given that responsible adults need the ability to defend themselves, no law or policy should impede their access to gun ownership.
Responsible adultsboth male and femalehave both a right and a need to defend themselves and their families, with lethal force if necessary. If DV advocates had focused on putting a gun in Jessica’s hand and training her to use it, then the three Gonzales children might still be alive.
Nevertheless most anti-DV advocates strenuously avoid gun ownership as a possible solution to DV. Instead, they appeal for more police intervention even though the police have no obligation to provide protection.
When groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) do focus on gun ownership, it is to make such statements as, “Guns and domestic violence make a lethal combination, injuring and killing women every day.”
In short, NOW addresses the issue of gun ownership and domestic violence only in order to demand a prohibition on the ability of abusersalways defined as mento own weapons.
That position may be defensible. But it ignores half of the equation. It ignores the need of potential victims to defend themselves and their families. Anti-DV and women’s groups create the impression that guns are always part of the problem and never part of the solution.
The current mainstream of feminismfrom which most anti-DV advocates proceedis an expression of left liberalism. It rejects private solutions based on individual rights in favor of laws aimed at achieving social goals. A responsible individual holding a gun in self-defense does not fit their vision of society.
In the final analysis, such advocates do not trust the judgment of the women they claim to be defending. They do not believe that Jessica Gonzales’ three children would have been safer with a mother who was armed and educated in gun use.
The clear message of Gonzales bears repeating because you will not hear it elsewhere. The police have no obligation to protect individuals who, therefore, should defend themselves. The content of state laws does not matter; by Colorado State law, the police are required to “use every reasonable means to enforce a protection order.” The Supreme Court has ruled and that’s that.
In the wake of Gonzales, every anti-DV advocate should advise victimsmale or femaleto learn self-defense. They should lobby for the repeal of any law or policy that hinders responsible gun ownership.
The true meaning of being anti-DV means is to help victims out of their victimhood and into a position of power.
|Wendy McElroy is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. Her books include the Independent Institute volumes, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century, and Freedom, Feminism, and the State.|
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