Many people might believe that the state has a legal “public duty” to protect their lives and persons. This theory is dubious, and in fact, it has failed in court when put to the test. In the 1981 case Warren v. District of Columbia, the Washington government successfully argued that it had no such obligation to three women who were held hostage and repeatedly raped and beaten over a 14-hour period on Sunday. Although two of the women had repeatedly called 911 just when the incident began, an incompetent police response failed to find them, resulting in the plaintiffs’ prolonged, horrific ordeal. Based on the same logic, a separate plaintiff, in that case, lost his case after a Washington, D.C., police officer let the men go who had been beating him and bashing in his car without identifying them so that he could seek restitution.
On the other end of the country, the Seattle Police recently made the same stipulation, albeit more reluctantly. Police Chief Carmen Best had to warn business owners downtown that, thanks to a new ordinance forbidding nonlethal crowd control tools such as pepper spray, the police would be unable to protect their establishments from harm. The legislation, she wrote, “gives officers NO ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd.”
The lesson here is clear. Even in a world with fully-funded police, citizens require the means to protect themselves. But in a world where police become less effective or less competent (or possibly even more brutal), or vanish because of a misguided effort to defund them, there is no substitute for the right to keep and bear arms. People who are fearful of crime will be more likely to exercise that right, and it may not always be a good thing.
When public officials talk about abolishing the police, they need to consider all the consequences.