People who support gun ownership frequently state that one of the reasons for doing so is that people who own guns should be able to do so to protect from criminals.

What are the arguments that people need to protect themselves against criminals, and not let the trained professionals - that is, law enforcement officers (whose duty it is to protect people against criminals) do their job?

  • 10
    I think the main argument is that everyone doesn't have a trained professional of their own.
    – user1530
    Apr 10, 2013 at 12:30
  • 8
    Police are there to respond to crime after it occurs not to actively prevent crime. In the US the police can not act until they are certian that someone is about to commit the crime and then unless it is a dangerous crime they have to allow the crime to happen before they can even attempt to make an arrest. Apr 10, 2013 at 15:06
  • 1
    @DA. - I'd phrase it more of "impossible to supply a trained professional for every demand of protection", and if you can find a cite of someone notable making that claim, it's worth a separate answer IMHO
    – user4012
    Apr 10, 2013 at 16:24
  • That phrasing works too. I can't say I know of any particular people to quote, though.
    – user1530
    Apr 10, 2013 at 16:33
  • 1
    it works about as well as their management of roads unless if you like potholes then you probably like state monopolization of force
    – user1726
    May 6, 2013 at 3:02

4 Answers 4


One of the main arguments is that - simply put - there is literally nobody "whose duty it is to protect people against criminals". More specifically, Police/Law Enforcement legally "do not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm".

This was repeatedly handed down in multiple court cases all the way up to US Supreme Court. Among the most famous were:

  • Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981) found that:

    fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.

  • DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (109 S.Ct. 998, 1989).

    It stated that the duty of care and protection only exist as to certain individuals, such as incarcerated prisoners, involuntarily committed mental patients and others restrained against their will and therefore unable to protect themselves.

    The affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State's knowledge of the individual's predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitation which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf.

  • Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Department. (901 F.2d 696 9th Cir. 1990)

    the Court ruled that the police had no constitutional duty to protect people from crime, even when special relationship exists (e.g. restraining order).

  • Hartzler v. City of San Jose, 46 Cal. App. 3d 6

  • Riss v. New York, 240 N.E.2d 860 (N.Y. 1968)

  • Castle Rock v. Gonzales, No. 04-278, SCOTUS decision.

    (from NY Times) the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.

Moreover, in some jurisdiction, explicit laws exist to preempt even arising of such lawsuits.

  • California's Government Code, Sections 821, 845, and 846:

    "Neither a public entity or a public employee [may be sued] for failure to provide adequate police protection or service, failure to prevent the commission of crimes and failure to apprehend criminals.''

  • 4
    All good points. Now how effective the guns are at protecting individual citizens is a different matter for a different question, but this is a great summary of the legal background.
    – JNK
    Apr 10, 2013 at 13:35
  • If that really is the problem, make it a duty of the government to maintain law and order. Apr 10, 2013 at 22:51
  • 8
    @MartinSchröder - that's... naive to the extreme to put it mildly.
    – user4012
    Apr 10, 2013 at 23:22

Police aren't omnipresent, and you can't just instantly summon them upon demand. When you have a gun, however, you have more control over whether or not you have that on-hand.

  • 3
    Exactly. Massively Parallel can beat highly trained in this situation. May 20, 2013 at 13:26

Your forgetting the most dangerous criminals, the trained professionals, the law enforcement officers. The 2nd Amendment is there to protect the the citizens from a tyrannical government. If only law enforcement has guns, who will protect you from law enforcement?

And what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure. --Thomas Jefferson

  • And if you think that this is someone's imagination, you should know of clear examples even without being a history buff. Sherriff of Nottingham is one of the most infamous criminal-law-enforcer ever. But corrupt law enforcement abounded (and still does) throughout every country in every age.
    – user4012
    Sep 11, 2020 at 20:29

Private citizens defending with guns turn out to be much less likely to accidentally shoot the wrong person than the police are. The private defender has a number of key advantages over the police, including these:

(1) Response time. The private local defender is present at the scene (or near the scene) when crime happens, whereas the police have to be called in and come there from elsewhere. It is quite likely the private defender actually saw the crime or criminal attempt, whereas the policeman has outdated third-hand information conveyed through a few intermediaries over an unreliable phone and/or radio connection.

(2) Geographic knowledge. As somebody who lives or works near the scene of the crime, private defenders are intimately familiar with the territory. They know where the entrances and exits are; it's hard to catch them by surprise. They have "home field advantage", to use a sports metaphor, whereas the police arriving in a hurry after the fact do not.

(3) Human knowledge. As a local, the private defender knows the other locals. The boss, the employees, the loyal customers, the shopkeeper next door - the defender knows all those faces! Policemen arriving in a hurry after the fact do not; they have to make a snap decision who the bad guys are.

(4) Flexibility. The private defender doesn't have to attack - it's not his job to do so. So if he's pinned down or exposed or if attacking seems impractical for any reason at all, he has the option of simply not defending. Letting the criminal succeed and leave is still an option. Waiting for the cops to arrive and letting them handle it is also still an option.

(5) Liability incentives. A private defender can be sued into bankruptcy if they shoot someone by mistake - cops can't. The private defender can be held responsible for any property damage they do; cops can't.

In summary; if individual private citizens have the freedom to defend against criminals, they tend to use that freedom pretty productively. They can stop crimes by virtue of being present and well-informed and well-prepared and properly-incentivized to produce a remarkably low chance of causing collateral damage. Cops show up late, are ill-informed about the original crime, don't know the territory, don't know the people, aren't held responsible for their actions, so surprisingly often they end up shooting into the crowd, needlessly killing dogs, needlessly damaging property, and just generally causing more violence and mayhem than was necessary to address the situation.

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