Rights — And Responsibilities

The other day, my colleague DJ talked about Joe Horn of Pasadena, Texas, and his shooting of two men robbing his neighbor’s house. I’m not going to go into the particulars of Horn’s case — DJ did a fine enough job on that — but I’m going to expound on what DJ wrote, and give my own thoughts.

“Rights” are an essential part of our American identity. One of the most revolutionary elements of our Constitution was that it does NOT grant Americans any rights. Rather, it RECOGNIZES them.

That is a critical distinction. It was one of the things that distinguished our Constitution with that of tyrannies like the Soviet Union. There, the people had all sorts of rights — on paper. And they were granted by the government.

And as I’ve heard — and repeated — so many times, anything someone else gives you, someone else can take away.

It’s the foundation of my militant opposition to the “new” educational system, which fosters “giving our children self-esteem.” I fear that it will be ultimately destructive to them. Should we get our children dependent on others to give them self-esteem, then they might not ever develop the ability to earn it on their own, to take it as their rightful due. In the name of making them feel better, we make them dependent on others — their so-called superiors — for affirmation.

So it is with fundamental rights. In the Soviet Union, the government giveth — and, far too often, the government taketh away. Here in the United States, the government has been told what rights we have, what rights they can not infringe upon.

But that is only half the equation. To steal a couple of hoary old lines, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Or, as Paul Harvey likes to say, “self-government without self-discipline is self-defeating.”

I don’t think of myself as having a “right” to vote. I think of myself as having a duty to vote. If I can’t find the time and energy and interest to cast an informed vote in an election, then by god I have forfeited my right to complain about the results.

And I have little use for “voter registration drives.” Registering to vote is NOT that difficult, people. Nor is getting to the polls. And if you look at the record of organizations that do the most to get people registered to vote, you see a rather appalling record of agenda-driven moves and the rankest, most disgusting, most corrupt practices — that, by rights, ought to put their asses in jail and their groups banned — at least from receiving federal money, if not out of existence entirely.

So, how does that tie in to Mr. Horn’s case?

Because Mr. Horn — in his own mind, and in the eyes of many others — took his citizenship as not only a right, but a duty. He saw a gross assault on the civil contract we all share — to look out for our neighbors, to “love them as you love yourself,” to put a religious spin on it — and protected his neighbor and his neighbor’s interests. He was asked by the neighbor to protect his property in his absence, and took that responsibility literally — he protected the man’s home as if it was Horn’s own.

At first, Horn did precisely what everyone agrees he should have done. When he saw people breaking into his neighbor’s home, he called the police. But as the old saying goes, “when seconds matter, the police are only minutes away.” The police were not going to arrive in time to prevent the crime from being committed, so Horn intervened.

OK, I lied. I am going to go into the specifics of the Horn case.

Two men broke into Horn’s neighbor’s house, stole a bunch of the guy’s possessions, and were shot and killed by Horn as they tried to flee.

The argument I have heard so many times when the subject of killing of criminals is “no material possession is worth more than a human life.”

I don’t disagree with that argument. I reject it.

That is the case made by the thieves who threaten their victims. “Your money or your life.” “Gimme or I’ll hurt you.”

The argument made by the unwilling would-be victim is this: “I value my right to keep what is mine above your right to take it from me. And if you push it, I will demonstrate that with force.”

One of the most obscene legalisms I have ever heard of is a doctrine called “the duty to retreat.” It says when a person is confronted by a criminal in a place where the would-be victim has a legal right to be and the criminal does not, the would-be victim does NOT have the right to use force in his or her self-defense if they can safely withdraw. In short, you have a legal duty to run away and can not stand and defend yourself and your home.

Mr. Horn did not obey that doctrine, and thank heavens for that.

Mr. Horn’s neighbor was away from home, and asked Mr. Horn to look after his home in his absence. Mr. Horn did that, and more. He defended the man’s home precisely as if it was his own.

I don’t know the precise reasons for Mr. Horn’s actions, but to me, they speak of the duties of citizenship at its highest. Mr. Horn was legally obligated to do exactly nothing. Morally, he was required to notify and summon the police, which he did. But they weren’t going to arrive in time to do anything besides say “tsk, tsk, what a shame” and take some notes. He was in a position to stop a crime — and two criminals — in progress. He was in a position to save his neighbor from being robbed. And he did so.

That the two thieves were killed in the process is, to me, irrelevant. That they were both illegal aliens with lengthy criminal records is icing on the cake, as it were, but also irrelevant.

Mr. Horn had the right — and saw as his duty — to stop them as best he could, with the tools he had available to him at the time. He did just that.

Good for him.

Good for all of us.

I’d like to live next door to Mr. Horn. Hell, I’d like to live in a whole neighborhood of Mr. Horns. I’d like to live in a whole nation of Mr. Horns.

Because he understands that citizenship isn’t just a right, just a privilege, just a blessing. It’s also an obligation, a duty. And he not only accepts that, he embraces it.

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