The Natural Right of Self-Defense

Heller’s Lesson for the World

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller constitutionalized the right of self-defense, and described self-defense as a natural, inherent right. Analysis of natural law in Heller shows why Justice Stevens’ dissent is clearly incorrect, and illuminates a crucial weakness in Justice Breyer’s dissent. The constitutional recognition of the natural law right of self-defense has important implications for American law, and for foreign and international law.

Open PDF in Browser

Reasonable use of the force is to be judged according to the circumstances as the defender perceived them; and must consider: (a) that a person acting for a legitimate purpose may not be able to weigh to a nicety the exact measure of any necessary action; and (b) that evidence of a person’s having only done what the person honestly and, volume 76, p. 138 – 179

Posted: 2008-07
  1. Id

    A right of self-defense without a right to at least some defensive arms would be a right of little practical utility. It is arms-especially, firearms-which allow a weaker person to defend herself against a stronger attacker or group of attackers. It is the firearm which best makes a deterrent threat of self-defense

    Posted: 2008-07-16
  2. Paul Letiwa

    How can the Government ask us to surrender our guns when we know very well that there is no security for us? If we give out our firearms, say today, who will protect us when the neighbouring tribes strike? How about our stolen livestock? Who is going to return them to us

    Why Herders Won’t Surrender Their Firearms Just Yet, THE NATION (Kenya)

    Posted: 2008-04-30
  3. In the past, critics of liberalising access to firearms have argued that they would put ordinary people’s lives in peril because even squabbles in the streets or the bedroom would be resolved by bullets. Incidentally, such incidents are few and far between in the Kerio Valley despite the easy accessibility of AK-47s as well as the relatively low levels or education and social sophistication

    see also Ng’ang’a Mbugua, Law Should Be Changed to Free Guns, THE NATION (Kenya)

    Posted: 2008-04-25

Electronic copy available at:
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
David B. Kopel†
INTRODUCTION ……………………………………………………………………………… 999
A. In the Heller Case ………………………………………………………….. 999
B. Roots of the Right ………………………………………………………… 1004
DISSENTS …………………………………………………………………………… 1007
A. Natural Right and the Stevens Dissent ……………………………. 1007
B. Natural Right and the Breyer Dissent …………………………….. 1009
DEVELOPMENTS …………………………………………………………………. 1011
A. Implications for American Law ……………………………………… 1011
B. Implications for Foreign Law ………………………………………… 1013
One of the most important elements of the District of Columbia v.
Heller decision is the natural law.1 Analysis of natural law in Heller shows
why Justice Stevens’ dissent is clearly incorrect, and illuminates a crucial
weakness in Justice Breyer’s dissent. The constitutional recognition of the
natural law right of self-defense has important implications for American
law, and for foreign and international law.
A. In the Heller Case
Heller reaffirms a point made in the 1876 Cruikshank case.2 The right
† Research Director, Independence Institute, Golden, Colorado. Associate Policy
Analyst, Cato Institute, Washington, D.C. J.D., University of Michigan, 1985. In District
of Columbia v. Heller, Kopel wrote the amicus brief for the International Law Enforcement
Educators & Trainers Association, and other law enforcement organizations and leaders; the
brief was cited four times in Justice Breyer’s opinion. Kopel was one of three lawyers who
joined Alan Gura at the Supreme Court counsel table on March 18, 2008, to assist Gura in
his presentation of the oral argument.
1. 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008).
2. See United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 553 (1876) (stating that the Second
Electronic copy available at:
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1000 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
to arms (unlike, say, the right to grand jury indictment) is not a right which
is granted by the Constitution. It is a pre-existing natural right which is
recognized and protected by the Constitution:
[I]t has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment,
like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The
very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the preexistence
of the right and declares only that it “shall not be infringed.”
As we said in United States v. Cruikshank, “[t]his is not a right granted
by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that
instrument for its existence. The Second [A]mendment declares that it
shall not be infringed. . . .”3
As Heller pointed out, the 1689 English Declaration of Right
(informally known as the English Bill of Rights) was a “predecessor to our
Second Amendment.”4 According to the Declaration: “the [s]ubjects which
are Protestants may have [a]rms for their [d]efence suitable to their
[c]onditions and as allowed by [l]aw.”5 The Convention Parliament which
wrote the Declaration of Right stated that the right to arms for defense was
a “true[, ancient,] and indubitable Right[ ].”6 Yet, as Joyce Malcolm has
detailed, 1689 was the first time that the right to arms had been formally
protected by a positive enactment of English law.7
The explanation is simple. The Convention Parliament did not
believe that it was creating new rights, but simply recognizing established
ones. Although previous Parliaments had not enacted a statute specifically
to protect the right of armed self-defense, British case law since 1330 had
long recognized an absolute right to use deadly force against home
invaders.8 The right to self-defense itself, along with its necessary
implication of the right to use appropriate arms for self-defense, was
considered to be firmly established by natural law.9
Thus, Heller quoted Blackstone’s treatise (which was by far the most
Amendment contains powers “‘not surrendered or restrained’ by the Constitution of the
United States”) (citation omitted).
3. Heller, 128 S. Ct. at 2797-98 (2008) (citing and quoting Cruikshank, 92 U.S. at
4. Id. at 2798.
5. Bill of Rights, 1688, 1 W. & M., c. 2 (Eng.), available at
6. Id.
RIGHT 117-18 (1994).
8. David I. Caplan & Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan, Postmodernism and the Model Penal
Code v. the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments—and the Castle Privacy Doctrine in
the Twenty-First Century, 73 UMKC L. REV. 1073, 1084-1134 (2005).
9. See id. at 1091-92.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1001
influential legal treatise in the early American republic10) explaining that
the Declaration of Right protected “‘the natural right of resistance and selfpreservation,’”
which was effectuated by “‘the right of having and using
arms for self-preservation and defence.’”11
Some other parts of the Heller opinion include citations to sources
describing the right of armed self-defense as a “natural” or “inherent” right.
The majority writes that “Justice James Wilson interpreted the
Pennsylvania Constitution’s arms-bearing right, for example, as a
recognition of the natural right of defense ‘of one’s person or house’—what
he called the law of ‘self preservation.’”12
Likewise quoted with approval is the 1846 Georgia Supreme Court
decision Nunn v. State, which “construed the Second Amendment as
protecting the ‘natural right of self-defence.’”13 Similarly, “A New York
article of April 1769 said that ‘[i]t is a natural right which the people have
reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep arms for
their own defence.”14
Thus, the Heller opinion concludes: “[a]s the quotations earlier in this
opinion demonstrate, the inherent right of self-defense has been central to
the Second Amendment right.”15 Heller’s recognition of self-defense as a
natural right was consistent with the same view in The Federalist,16 in most
state constitutions,17 and in case law from before the Civil War to modern
10. Heller, 128 S. Ct. at 2798 (writing that “Blackstone, whose works, we have said,
‘constituted the preeminent authority on English law for the founding generation,’, cited the
arms provision of the Bill of Rights as one of the fundamental rights of Englishmen.” (citing
Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 715 (1999))).
11. See id. (citing WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, 1 COMMENTARIES *139-40, 144); id. at 2972
n.7 (“with reference to colonists’ English rights: ‘The right of every individual to keep arms
for his defence, suitable to his condition and degree; which was the public allowance, under
due restrictions of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation’”) (citing WILLIAM
STATES 31-32 (1833)).
12. Id. at 2793 (citations omitted).
13. Id. at 2809 (citing 1 Ga. 243, 251 (1846)).
14. Id. at 2799 (citations omitted).
15. Heller, 128 S. Ct. at 2817. The opinion includes other statements that self-defense
is a right. See id. at 2820 (“It is inconceivable that this law would have been enforced
against a person exercising his right to self-defense on New Year’s Day against such
drunken hooligans.”); see also id. at 2801 (“Justice Breyer’s assertion that individual selfdefense
is merely a ‘subsidiary interest’ of the right to keep and bear arms, is profoundly
mistaken. He bases that assertion solely upon the prologue—but that can only show that
self-defense had little to do with the right’s codification; it was the central component of the
right itself.”) (internal citation omitted).
16. THE FEDERALIST NO. 28 (Alexander Hamilton) (“that original right of self-defense
which is paramount to all positive forms of government”).
17. David B. Kopel, Paul Gallant, & Joanne D. Eisen, The Human Right of SelfKOPEL
MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1002 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
Defense, 22 BYU J. PUB. L. 43, 101-02, 128 (2007) (Thirty-five U.S. state constitutions
affirm that human rights are inherent, natural, or created by God; thirty-seven state
constitutions affirm a right of self-defense, sometimes, but not always, articulated in the
same clause as right to arms).
18. See, e.g., Finch v. State, 445 So. 2d 964, 966 (Ala. Crim. App. 1983) (“We agree
with proposition expounded in Blankenship that: ‘Self-defense is a common instinct and a
natural right, and, as we understand it, means standing one’s ground and repelling, as a
means of self-protection, unprovoked force with force.’”) (citing Blankenship v. State, 11
Ala. App. 125, 128 (1914)); St. Louis S.W. Ry. Co. v. Berger, 44 S.W. 809, 814 (Ark. 1898)
(Railroad cannot be sued because of an employee’s act of lawful self-defense—the
employee’s self-defense is “not within any employment he may make, being a natural right
which he can neither surrender, nor gratify by any contractual act. . . .”); People v. Watson,
133 P. 298, 303 (Cal. 1913) (“While defendant’s conduct with the woman was immoral, it
did not take away from him the natural right of self-defense. . . .”); People v. Young, 825
P.2d 1004, 1007 (Colo. Ct. App. 1991) (citing the 1960 Colorado Supreme Court decision
Vigil v. People that “self-defense is a natural right which is based on the law of selfpreservation”)
(citing 353 P.2d 82, 85-96 (Colo. 1960)); People v. Burns, 133 N.E. 263, 265
(Ill. 1921) (“When a citizen exercises the right of self-defense, he is not taking the law into
his own hands. He is simply exercising a natural right which the law recognizes and
protects.”); Thornton v. Taylor, 39 S.W. 830, 831 (Ky. Ct. App. 1897) (“The right of selfdefense
is a natural right. . .”); Nat’l Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Turner, 174 So. 646, 647
(La. Ct. App. 1937) (“The right of self-defense is a natural right.”); Allen v. Currie, 8 La.
App. 30, available at 1928 WL 3792, at *3 (La. Ct. App. 1928) (“even men of mature years
will, in the exercise of their natural right of self-defense, meet or repulse any aggressor who
may attempt to encroach on their rights. This is unquestionably true.”); State v. Arnett, 167
S.W. 526, 529 (Mo. 1914) (If statute against exhibiting a weapon in an angry manner:
was designed to abrogate the right of self-defense, and if its effect be to do so, it is
then more than possible that its constitutional validity might well be questioned,
for that it whittles away a part of that “natural right to life, liberty and the
enjoyment of the gains of their own industry,” which is vouchsafed to the citizen
by the organic law.
(citation omitted)); R.R. Comm’n of Ohio v. Hocking Valley Ry. Co., 91 N.E. 865, 866
(Ohio 1910) (“By universal consent self-defense is recognized as a natural right of every
individual and of every collection of individuals.”); Robinson v. Territory of Oklahoma, 85
P. 451, 455 (Okla. 1905) (“The right of self-defense is founded upon the natural right of a
man to protect himself against the unlawful assault upon him by another.”), rev’d, Robinson
v. Territory of Oklahoma, 148 F. 830 (C.C. Okla. 1906); Hummel v. State, 99 P.2d 913, 917
(Okla. Crim. App. 1940) (“The law adopts the natural right of self-defense, because it
considers the future process of law an inadequate remedy for present injuries accompanied
with force.”); Konigsberger v. Harvey, 7 P. 114, 115 (Or. 1885) (“The law upon that subject
is the same as it was 500 years ago. The right of self-defense is a natural right, inherent in
mankind. . . .”); State v. McGonigle, 45 P. 20, 22 (Wash. 1896) (“The plea of self-defense
rests on the natural right. . . .”); Miller v. State, 119 N.W. 850, 857 (Wis. 1909) (“the divine
right of self-defense”). It also written in Isaacs v. State, that:
It is the necessity of the case, and that only which justifies a killing—on that
necessity the right to kill rests, and when the necessity ceases, the right no longer
exists. This limitation, which the law puts on the right of self-defense, is founded
on the same law of nature and reason which gives the right of self-defense; and it
does not restrain it, but protects it and prevents its abuse by those who would,
under its color and the pretense of defense, seek to gratify revenge or an occasion
to kill.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1003
25 Tex. 174, 177 (Tex. 1860).
Even in the South on the eve of the Civil War, the natural right of self-defense
guaranteed the right to a free black to use violence against a white law enforcement officer:
The conviction of the defendant may involve the proposition that a free negro is
not justified, under any circumstances, in striking a white man. To this, we cannot
yield our assent. . . . An officer of the town having a notice to serve on the
defendant, without any authority whatever, arrests him and attempts to tie him!!
Is not this gross oppression? For what purpose was he to be tied? What degree of
cruelty might not the defendant reasonably apprehend after he should be entirely
in the power of one who had set upon him in so highhanded and lawless a
manner? Was he to submit tamely?—Or, was he not excusable for resorting to the
natural right of self-defense? Upon the facts stated, we think his Honor ought to
have instructed the jury to find the defendant not guilty. There is error. Venire de
State v. Davis, 52 N.C. (7 Jones) 52, 53, 55 (N.C. 1859).
A decision from a few decades earlier shows the connections with the English and
American common law natural right:
the right of necessary defence, in the protection of a man’s person or property, is
derived to him from the law of nature, and should never be unnecessarily
restrained by municipal regulation. However proper it may be for every well
ordered community to be tender of the public peace, and careful of the lives of its
citizens, there can be neither policy or propriety in extending this tenderness and
care so far as to protect the robber, the burglar and the nocturnal thief, by an
unnecessary restraint of the honest citizen’s natural right of self-defence. Sir
Matthew Hale, in speaking on this subject, says, “the right of self-defence in these
cases is founded in the law of nature, and is not, nor can be superceded by the law
of society. Before societies were formed, the right of self defence resided in
individuals, and since, in cases of necessity, individuals incorporated into society,
can not resort for protection to the law of society, that law with great propriety and
strict justice considereth them as still, in that instance, under the protection of the
law of nature.”
Gray v. Combs, 30 Ky. (7 J.J. Marsh) 478, 481 (Ky. 1832). Sir Matthew Hale was Lord
Chief Justice of England from 1671-76, and one of the most influential of all common law
judges and treatise authors. The quote actually appears to be from MICHAEL FOSTER,
CROWN CASES AND CROWN LAW 273-74 (photo reprint. 1982) (1762). Foster was a judge of
the Court of King’s Bench from 1745 to 1763, and was much respected by Blackstone. The
quote, with attribution to Foster, appears in the 1847 American annotated edition of
Matthew Hale’s History of the Pleas of the Crown. See MATTHEW HALE, 1 HISTORY OF THE
PLEAS OF THE CROWN 478 n.1 (W.A. Stokes & A. Ingersoll eds., 1847) (1732) (note added
by editor). Because the 1847 “first American edition” of Hale post-dates the 1832 Kentucky
court decision, it seems probable that the Kentucky court was using an English edition of
Hale which also included an editor’s annotation with the Foster language.
To muddy the trail a little further, part of the quote appears in Parrish v.
Commonwealth, citing to Hale as quoted in “Rutherforth Institutes”—which is a reference
to Thomas Rutherforth, Institutes of Natural Law: Being the Substance of a Course of
Lectures on Grotius De Jure Belli Et Pacis, a series of English-language lectures on Grotius
and natural law; Rutherforth’s treatise was very popular in the United States in the
Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. See 81 Va. 1, 4 (Va. 1884) (citing THOMAS
LECTURES ON GROTIUS DE JURE BELLI ET PACIS 187-88 (1832)). Cf. Commonwealth v.
Riley, Thacher’s Criminal Cases 471, 474-75 (Boston Mun. Ct., Mass., 1837) (quoting
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1004 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
B. Roots of the Right
Although some modern scholars deny that natural law exists, there is
no dispute that the Founders strongly believed in it.19 In a constitutional
sense, the natural law basis of the right to armed self-defense is part of the
original public meaning of the Second Amendment. That human rights
were inherent, and not granted by government, was, after all, the basis on
which the nation was created: “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .
that [all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights. . . .”20
“Natural law” as a term of legal art was originally based on Catholic
legal thought. In the twelfth century, Gratian’s “Treatise of the Discordant
Canons” consolidated and synthesized disparate sources in various canon
laws (church laws). He began with an explanation of natural law:
Natural law is common to all nations because it exists everywhere
through natural instinct, not because of any enactment. For example: the
In the case of justifiable self-defence, the injured party may repel force by force in
defence of his person, habitation, or property, against one who manifestly
intendeth and endeavors by violence or surprise, to commit a known felony upon
either. It is justly considered that the right in such case, is founded in the law of
nature, and is not, nor can be superseded by any law of society. There being at the
time no protection from society, the individual is remitted for protection to the law
of nature.
JUDICIAL REVIEW (1980). Ely, who denies natural law, argues that judicial review should be
limited to situations where the ordinary democratic process has failed to protect the rights of
minorities. Id. at 135-85. His theory would lead to the same result in Heller. Every state
legislature in the United States includes representatives from urban, suburban, and rural
districts. The diversity of constituencies helps ensure that legislators have a diversity of life
experiences, and makes it possible to legislators to explain to their colleagues aspects of
daily life which may be unfamiliar. For example, a rural legislator may not understand from
personal experience how big-city traffic jams waste so much time for suburban parents who
are picking up children from school or daycare, and shuttling them to sports or music
lessons; but the rural legislator can learn about the problem by talking to her suburban
colleagues. Similarly, an urban legislator may have no personal understanding of the
traditional role of the shooting sports in American life, but a rural legislator can explain it to
her. The District of Columbia, however, is a compact and densely-populated city. Its
members represent only urban areas, so the Council necessarily suffers from a unique lack
of intellectual and life-experience diversity, compared to state legislators. Moreover, the
current Council’s predecessors worked to eradicate the culture of legitimate firearms usage
within the District; zoning rules outlaw indoor shooting ranges throughout the District.
Because of the urban-only structure of the District’s government, it is uniquely susceptible
to bigotry and irrational prejudice against law-abiding gun owners. To cite but one
example, the District was the only government in the United States which forbade legal
firearms owners from using their guns for self-defense in the home.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1005
union of men and women, the succession and rearing of children, the
common possession of all things, the identical liberty of all, or the
acquisition of things that are taken from the heavens, earth, or
sea, as well as the return of a thing deposited or of money entrusted to
one, and the repelling of violence by force. This, and anything similar,
is never regarded as unjust but is held to be natural and equitable.21
Gratian’s formulation of the natural right of “repelling violence by force”
was similar to an expression of the same principle in Roman law.22
In the five centuries from Gratian to the American Constitution, the
concept of natural law, including natural rights, was developed by Catholic
scholars such as Thomas Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria, Juan de Mariana,
and Francisco Suárez (who called self-defense “the greatest of all rights”).
From the personal right of self-defense against lone criminals, they derived
the people’s right of self-defense against criminal, tyrannical
Few Americans were familiar with these Catholic scholars, except for
Aquinas. The Anglo-Americans learned the language of natural rights,
including the natural right of self-defense, from Protestant thinkers who
had adopted the Catholic self-defense theories. The first of these writers
were the persecuted Protestants of sixteenth-century France and England,
including Theodore Beza, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Christopher
21. GRATIAN, THE TREATISE ON LAWS 6-7 (Augustine Thompson & James Gordley
trans., 1993) (Distinction 1, C.7, §§ 2-3). In the original:
Ius naturale est commune omnium nationum, eo quod ubique instinctu naturae,
non constitutione aliqua habetur, ut uiri et feminae coniunctio, liberorum
successio et educatio, communis omnium possessio et omnium una libertas,
acquisitio eorum, quae celo, terra marique capiuntur; item depositae rei uel
commendatae pecuniae restitutio, uiolentiae per uim repulsio. Nam hoc, aut si
quid huic simile est, numquam iniustum, sed naturale equumque habetur.
See Isidore, Etymologiae V, Like selfdefense,
the natural law right of marriage and child-raising is not enumerated in the United
States Constitution, but is a constitutionally-protected fundamental right. See, e.g., Zablocki
v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 383-84 (1978) (marriage as a fundamental right); Meyer v.
Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399 (1923) (raising children).
22. The key Roman law rules for self-defense were “arms may be repelled by arms”
and “it is permissible to repel force by force.” DIG. (Ulpian, Edict 69) (“Cassius
writes that it is permissible to repel force by force, and this right is conferred by nature.
From this it appears, he says, that arms may be repelled by arms.”).
23. See David B. Kopel, The Catholic Second Amendment, 29 HAMLINE L. REV. 520,
553-55, 561 (2006) (Aquinas and Mariana); Kopel et al., supra note 17, at 63-68, 70-72
(Vitoria and Suárez); see generally David B. Kopel, Self-Defense in Asian Religions, 2
LIBERTY L. REV. 79 (2007) (Hinduism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and [in practice]
Buddhism all respect self-defense as an inherent right; that the Asian religions have, in this
regard, quite similar attitudes to Western religions provides an important data point in
support of the theory that natural law is a real phenomenon).
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1006 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
Goodman. For the Americans, the most influential were John Ponet, author
of A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power (1556), and the pseudonymous
Stephanus Junius Brutus, who wrote Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos
(Vindication Against Tyrants) in 1579.24 According to John Adams,
Vindiciae was one of the leading books by which England’s and America’s
“present liberties have been established.”25 Adams wrote that there were
three key periods in English history where scholars addressed the problems
of tyranny and the proper structure of governments. The first of these,
according to Adams, was the English reformation; next, when John Ponet
put forth “all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward
dilated on by Sidney and Locke.”26
The Founders were also familiar with the great writers of international
law, who based their entire system on the foundation of the natural right of
self-defense. Hugo Grotius, the most important writer of all time in
international law, built the laws of international warfare by extrapolation
from the natural right of personal defense.27 Samuel von Pufendorf, who
extended and elaborated Grotius’s work on international law and political
philosophy, called self-defense the foundation of civilized society.28
The Declaration of Independence affirms that governments are created
for the purpose of protecting natural rights.29 Accordingly, a necessary
OVER A PRINCE (George Garnett ed., Cambridge Univ. Press 1994) (1579); JOHN PONET, A
FROM THE 16TH THROUGH 18TH CENTURIES 44-46 (1992) (explaining Vindiciae’s debt to
ed. 1922) (“the greater part of the political ideas” of John Milton and John Locke “may be
found in the ponderous Latin of Jesuits who were subjects of the Spanish Crown,” such as
Mariana and Suárez).
STATES OF AMERICA 209-10 (3rd ed. reprint, Scientia Verlag Aalen 1979) (1778).
26. Id. at 210. Jefferson described John Locke, Algernon Sidney, Aristotle, and Cicero
as the four major sources of the American consensus on rights and liberty, which Jefferson
distilled into the Declaration of Independence. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee
(May 8, 1825), in 16 THE WRITINGS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON 117-19 (Andrew A. Lipscomb
ed., 1903).
VOLUMES (Gaunt 2001) (1625) (reprint of 1737 English translation by John Morrice of the
1724 annotated French translation by Jean Barbeyrac).
trans., 4th ed. 1729).
29. See DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE para. 2 (U.S. 1776).
That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving
their just powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of
Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1007
feature of a legitimate government will be the protection of natural rights.
As the Supreme Court explained in Cruikshank, the right to assemble and
the right to keep and bear arms are, each, “found wherever civilization
exists.”30 Although personal self-defense is not specifically mentioned in
the Declaration of Independence, that natural right is the intellectual
foundation, in Western philosophy, of the right of the people to defend all
their natural rights by using force to overthrow a tyrant.31
A. Natural Right and the Stevens Dissent
Justice Stevens’ dissent does about as well as possible, given the facts
available, on issues such as how much weight to give to the Second
Amendment’s preamble, and whether “bear arms” must necessarily mean
the carrying of guns only while in military service.32 Throughout the
opinion, he argues passionately for his interpretation, although that
interpretation requires a very selective view of the evidence; the dissent is
alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on
such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem
most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
30. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. at 551. The right to assemble, with which the right to arms
was construed in pari materia:
existed long before the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In fact,
it is, and always has been, one of the attributes of citizenship under a free
government. It ‘derives its source,’ to use the language of Chief Justice Marshall,
in Gibbons v. Ogden, ‘from those laws whose authority is acknowledged by
civilized man throughout the world.’ It is found wherever civilization exists. It
was not, therefore, a right granted to the people by the Constitution. The
government of the United States when established found it in existence, with the
obligation on the part of the States to afford it protection.
Id. at 551-53 (including similar analysis regarding the “The right . . . of ‘bearing arms for a
lawful purpose.’ This is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner
dependent upon that instrument for its existence.”).
31. Even if one claims that there is no such thing as natural law, the right of selfdefense
is so well-established in the common law and in long-standing American tradition
that it is precisely the type of unemunerated right which requires constitutional recognition.
See, e.g., Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 588 (2003) (Scalia, J., dissenting)
(unenumerated rights should be constitutionally recognized if they are “deeply rooted in this
Nation’s history and tradition”) (citing Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721
(1997)); Montana v. Egelhoff, 518 U.S. 37, 56 (1996) (Scalia, J., plurality op.) (“the right to
have a jury consider self-defense evidence” has strong support in the “historical record” and
may be “fundamental”); Eugene Volokh, State Constitutional Rights to Keep and Bear
Arms, 11 TEX. REV. L. & POL. 191, 208-17 (2006) (many state right to arms provisions
explicitly mention self-defense).
32. SeeHeller, 128 S. Ct. at 2822-47 (Stevens, J., dissenting).
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1008 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
like the argument that a sheet of paper has only one dimension, because if
you look at it from just the right angle, it appears to be a straight line. Vast
amounts of evidence have to be willfully ignored. For example, one
treatise by Justice Story describes the Second Amendment in terms which
are, at least arguably, not necessarily incompatible with Stevens’ militiaonly
view.33 But another treatise by Story, which was quoted by the
majority, describes the Second Amendment in terms which fit the Heller
majority’s view, and which are plainly contrary to the Stevens militia-only
theory.34 The majority opinion discusses both treatises,35 but Stevens
writes at length about the first treatise, ignores the existence of the second
treatise, and provides no explanation for having done so.36
Justice Stevens dismisses the English Declaration of Right, and
Blackstone’s description thereof, by contending that they addressed issues
which were not of concern to the Founders, who according to Stevens were
only thinking about the state ratification debates involving state vs. federal
powers over the militia.37 Stevens’ view is contrary to that of James
Madison, the author of the Second Amendment. In Madison’s notes for his
speech introducing the Bill of Rights into the House of Representatives, he
described the arms rights amendment as remedying two crucial defects in
the English Declaration of Right: that the right included only the Protestant
population, and that the right was, as a statutory enactment, efficacious
against the King, but not against the actions of later Parliaments.38
STATES § 1000-01 (Harper Bros. 1855) (1840).
34. Heller, 128 S. Ct. at 2798 (“One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants
accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an
offence to keep arms, and by substituting a regular army in the stead of a resort to the
militia.”) (citing STORY, supra note 33, at § 450).
35. Heller, 128 S. Ct. at 2798, 2800, 2806 (citations omitted).
36. Id. at 2839-41 (Stevens, J., dissenting) (citations omitted).
37. Id. at 2837-38 (Stevens, J., dissenting).
38. “They [the proposed Bill of Rights] relate 1st. to private rights— . . . fallacy on
both sides—espec[iall]y as to English Decln. of Rts—1. mere act of parl[iamen]t. 2. no
freedom of press—Conscience . . . attainders—arms to Protest[an]ts.” Notes for Speech in
Congress (June 8, 1789), in 12 THE PAPERS OF JAMES MADISON 193-94 (Charles F. Hobson
et. al. eds., 1979). One can only speculate about why the Heller majority did not mention
Madison’s notes. The notes were certainly discussed in one of the most important amicus
briefs. See Brief of Amicus Curiae Academics for the Second Amendment in Support of the
Respondent at 34-35, District of Columbia v. Heller 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008) (No. 07-290),
available at
290bsacAcademicsforSecondAmendment.pdf. Oral argument made it clear that, at least,
Justice Kennedy had read that brief. Perhaps Justice Scalia was being absolutely faithful to
the “original public meaning” theory of interpretation. That is, consider what the public
thought the constitutional language meant; do not try to divine “original intent” two
centuries later by looking at diaries of the Founders.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1009
But even without reference to Madison’s notes, the Stevens theory
that the Second Amendment does not include the right of self-defense
simply collapses when one gets to the word “the.”
The Second Amendment does not purport to grant a right, but instead
declares that “the right . . . shall not be infringed.”39 Thus, the Second
Amendment guarantees a pre-existing right. The Heller majority says so,40
and Stevens concedes the point.41 What was that pre-existing right? There
are only two possibilities. One, as explicated by Scalia (consistent with
Madison), is that the right is the English/Blackstone/natural right of arms
for self-defense.42 Stevens, however, contends that “the” right is the right
to serve in an armed militia.43 Only if he is correct about this point can his
dissent as a whole be correct that the Second Amendment is purely about a
right to have arms while in militia service.
There is not a shred of evidence from 1789, or from anytime before
1789, that militia service was a “right.” As Justice Scalia pointed out, the
Stevens claim that “the” pre-existing right in the Second Amendment was a
pre-existing right to service in the militia is unsupported by any evidence.44
There is simply no document or other source, from the eighteenth,
seventeenth, or sixteenth centuries (or indeed from any century until the
twenty-first, when the claim was invented as part of the Heller litigation)
that the Second Amendment was preceded somewhere in Anglo-American
law by a right to serve in the militia, or to have arms solely while in the
militia. Rather, this novel theory appears in the Heller amicus brief filed
by the Brady Center.45 The brief, too, is unadorned by any citation for its
B. Natural Right and the Breyer Dissent
Most of the Breyer dissent lays out an interest-balancing test, in which
Justice Breyer argues that there is some social science evidence in favor of
39. U.S. CONST. amend. II.
40. Heller, 128 S. Ct. at 2797.
41. Id. at 2831 (Stevens, J., dissenting).
42. See id. at 2797-99.
43. Id. at 2822-25 (Stevens, J., dissenting).
44. Id. at 2793.
45. Brief for Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence et al. as Amici Curiae Supporting
Petitioner at 17-18 n.6, Dist. of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008) (No. 07-290),
available at
290tsacBradyCenter.pdf (pointing out that the state militia systems pre-dated the
Constitution, but providing no evidence that militia service was a right). For history of
militia litigation in the United States, and the near-total absence of the Second Amendment
therefrom, see generally J. Norman Heath, Exposing the Second Amendment: Federal
Preemption of State Militia Legislation, 79 U. DET.MERCY L. REV. 39 (2001).
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1010 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
the D.C. handgun ban, and therefore a judge cannot say as a matter of law
that the ban is unconstitutional.46 A crucial step in that interest-balancing
test is the weight of the interest on each side. Justice Breyer points out that
preservation of arms ownership for use in a citizen militia was a major
concern of the Second Amendment.47 Accordingly, he disputes the
majority’s statement that the right of self-defense is “central” to the Second
Amendment, and that the “core” of the Second Amendment is armed selfdefense
of the home.48
Justice Scalia responded by explaining why interest-balancing was
inappropriate for a core constitutional right, but he did not directly address
Breyer’s question about why self-defense should be considered part of the
core in the first place.49 However, the answer is fairly clear from the
natural law perspective which is incorporated in the majority opinion.
Blackstone describes the right to personal defensive arms (protected, but
not created by the 1689 English Declaration of Right) as a “natural” right.50
Other sources in the majority opinion make the same point that the Second
Amendment protects a “natural” right.51
Even if balancing were appropriate, Justice Breyer’s scales are
inaccurate, because they underweigh the importance of self-defense.
Surely nothing could be more fundamental than a natural right. The
Declaration of Independence, after all, did not begin with a statement of the
46. See Heller, 128 S. Ct. at 2847-70 (Breyer, J., dissenting). Justice Breyer supported
the argument by pointing to gun restrictions in a few cities in early America. The
centerpiece of the argument was a Massachusetts law which prevented taking loaded guns
into buildings in Boston. Id. at 2849 (Breyer, J., dissenting) (Statute providing a fine for
“‘any Person’ who ‘shall take into any Dwelling-House, Stable, Barn, Out-house, Warehouse,
Store, Shop, or other Building, within the Town of Boston, any . . . Fire-Arm, loaded
with, or having Gun-Powder.’”). Justice Breyer took the case as standing for the possible
constitutionality of bans on self-defense guns in the home:
Even assuming, as the majority does . . . that this law included an implicit selfdefense
exception, it would nevertheless have prevented a homeowner from
keeping in his home a gun that he could immediately pick up and use against an
intruder. Rather, the homeowner would have had to get the gunpowder and load it
into the gun, an operation that would have taken a fair amount of time to perform.
Id. (Breyer, J., dissenting). Justice Breyer appears to have misread the statute, which only
outlawed the taking of guns into buildings. The statute did not prohibit loading a gun within
one’s own home or business, and keeping it loaded therein. See id. (Breyer, J., dissenting).
47. Id. at 2848 (Breyer, J., dissenting). The balancing test is offered arguendo, since
Justice Breyer explains that he is also joining the Stevens dissent, which argues that there is
an individual Second Amendment right, but that right has no application outside of militia
service. Id. at 2848, 2870 (Breyer, J., dissenting).
48. Id. at 2866 (Breyer, J., dissenting) (“at most a subsidiary interest”).
49. See id. at 2821.
50. Id. at 2798 (citing WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, 1 COMMENTARIES *139-40, 144).
51. SeeHeller, 128 S. Ct. at 2793-2809.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1011
importance of rights which were created by government (e.g., the right of a
citizen to be assisted by his nation’s consular offices when he is traveling in
a foreign country). Rather, the Declaration starts with natural, inherent
rights, and states that the very purpose of government is to protect these
rights. By the Declaration’s principles, the time that is most appropriate for
rigorous judicial review is when a government infringes on one of the
natural rights which the very government was established to protect.
From Grotius, Pufendorf, and many other sources, the Founders could
see that self-defense had been protected under the laws of Ancient Rome
and Ancient Greece, and from the very inception of the Hebrew nation.52
The historical episodes when the right of armed self-defense was
endangered—the persecution of the disarmed Huguenots in France, the gun
bans of the power-mad Stuarts monarchs in England, the 1775 confiscation
of privately-owned firearms from the people of Boston by General Gage’s
army—were precisely the episodes of tyranny which the Founders aimed to
ensure would never again take place in the United States of America. From
the Founders’ perspective, the right to arms truly was found “wherever
civilization exists.”53
A. Implications for American Law
Self-defense has generally been highly regarded by the American
public, and Nicholas Johnson has persuasively argued that self-defense is
the epitome of an unenumerated Ninth Amendment right.54 In contrast,
some commentary has denigrated self-defense as a privilege, not a right.55
Heller moves self-defense from the shadowy limbo of the Ninth
52. See Kopel et al., supra note 17, at 121-22; see also David B. Kopel, The Torah and
Self-Defense, 109 PENN. ST. L. REV. 17, 29-36 (2004); David B. Kopel, The Religious Roots
of the American Revolution and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, 17 J. ON FIREARMS &
PUB. POL’Y 167, 173 (2005) (early Americans’ views of ancient Israel as their role model).
53. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. at 551.
54. See Nicholas J. Johnson, Self-Defense?, 2 J. L. ECON. & POL’Y 187, 193-95 (2006).
55. E.g., Vera Bergelson, Rights, Wrongs, and Comparative Justifications, 28
CARDOZO L. REV. 2481, 2488 (2007).
All public officials—a policeman performing a valid arrest, a sheriff taking
possession of the debtor’s property pursuant to a court judgment, or an
executioner giving the prisoner a lethal injection in accordance with the execution
order—act under the right to act that way. In contrast, people acting in selfdefense,
or pursuant to necessity or parental authority act merely under a
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1012 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
Amendment into the bright uplands of the Second Amendment. It is now
beyond dispute in an American court that self-defense is an inherent right,
and that it is protected by the United States Constitution.
The constitutional history of the right of self-defense is similar to that
of the right of association. The right of association is not formally stated in
the Constitution. But it is easy to see how if the right did not exist, many of
the core purposes of the First Amendment might be defeated. For example,
if people could not voluntarily associate in groups such as the NAACP,
then their practical ability to petition the government for redress of
grievances, to assemble, and to speak out effectively on issues of public
importance would be greatly diminished. Thus, starting in 1958, the
Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right of association, finding it
rooted in the First and Fourteenth Amendments.56 Over the subsequent
half-century, the Court has fleshed out that right, and applied it in many
contexts far distant from the original cases involving Jim Crow state
governments attempting to suppress the NAACP.
In a series of cases in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
the Supreme Court strongly defended the right of self-defense—holding,
for example, that carrying a gun for lawful protection was not evidence of
murderous intent, and that a crime victim was not required to retreat or to
avoid any place where he had a right to be before he could exercise his
right to use deadly force in self-defense.57 Likewise, the defensive actions
of crime-victims should not be subjected to judicial second-guessing; as
Justice Holmes memorably put it: “Detached reflection cannot be
demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”58
These cases were decided as matters of federal common law, most of
them arising out of death sentences improperly imposed on people in the
Indian Territory of Oklahoma for use of a gun in self-defense.59 Now that
Heller has made it clear that self-defense is part of the Constitution, and not
just part of federal common law, there may be plausible arguments that the
rules of the Self-Defense Cases are likewise required as a matter of
constitutional law.
Should the Second Amendment be incorporated against the states, a
few jurisdictions might have to change hostile procedural rules against self-
56. NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 466 (1958).
57. See David B. Kopel, The Self-Defense Cases: How the United States Supreme
Court Confronted a Hanging Judge in the Nineteenth Century and Taught Some Lessons for
Jurisprudence in the Twenty-First, 27 AM. J. CRIM. L. 293, 322 (2000).
58. Brown v. United States, 256 U.S. 335, 343 (1921) (also declaring there is no duty
to retreat).
59. See Kopel, supra note 57, at 296.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1013
defense. For example, until recently, Arizona required that a defendant
asserting self-defense must carry the burden of proof.60 The few states
which require retreat by a crime victim in her own home might lose
constitutional challenges to those laws. If a judge prohibited a criminal
defense lawyer during voir dire from asking potential jurors about whether
they had moral objections to self-defense, a criminal conviction from such
a jury might be invalid.61
B. Implications for Foreign Law
Heller only applies as binding law within the jurisdiction of the
United States. However, American constitutional law has a long record of
infiltrating into other civilized nations. American protection for freedom of
speech and freedom of the press, as well as American anti-discrimination
laws, have had significant influence in our fellow democracies. Sometimes
that influence is direct, with foreign courts citing American precedents.
But more important, in the long run, is the effect that the American
example has on the rights-consciousness of the public in those nations.
The right to arms has already shown that it travels. In 2006, the
people of Brazil overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to ban gun
ownership, and proponents of the referendum noted with dismay the
success of anti-referendum advertising which urged Brazilians not to
surrender their rights.62
For the last decade, the United Nations has led a concerted global
campaign against citizen gun ownership. The global prohibitionists have,
to the extent they have acknowledged any American interest in protecting
American laws, claimed that the Second Amendment protects no individual
60. E.g., State v. Farley, 19 P.3d 1258, 1260-61 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2001) (upholding
statutory requirement that criminal defendant prove self-defense by preponderance of
61. E.g., Black v. State, 829 N.E.2d 607, 609, 611-12 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005) (based on
self-defense right in Indiana Constitution).
62. See David Morton, Gunning For the World, FOREIGN POL’Y, Jan/Feb 2006, at 58:
If you asked people in Bosnia, Botswana, or, for that matter, Brazil, what the
Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stands for, most of them would
probably have no idea. But the unexpected defeat of Brazil’s proposed gun
prohibition suggests that, when properly packaged, the “right to keep and bear
arms” message strikes a chord with people of very different backgrounds,
experiences, and cultures, even when that culture has historically been anti-gun.
In fact, the Second Amendment may be a more readily exportable commodity
than gun control advocates are willing to accept, especially in countries with fresh
memories of dictatorship. When it is coupled with a public’s fear of crime—a
pressing concern in most of the developing world—the message is tailored for
mass consumption.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1014 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
right of gun ownership, but is only a “collective” right which no individual
has a right to exercise. All nine Justices in Heller rejected that claim, and
affirmed that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right. As a
fallback position, some advocates have stated that the American Second
Amendment is unique, and that its very absence shows the permissibility of
gun prohibition in other nations.63
The latter argument was never really correct as a matter of
constitutional law. Three nations besides the United States have a
constitutional right to arms, and twenty nations have a formal constitutional
recognition of self-defense.64
Heller’s natural law explication of the inherent right of armed selfdefense
teaches another very relevant lesson. The right of self-defense is
not culturally contingent, and it does not depend on national law. The right
of self-defense is a universal, fundamental, natural and inherent human
Of course there will be many governments which have ignored that
right, and will continue to do so. For example, in the United Kingdom and
the Netherlands, the principle that there is a right even of unarmed selfdefense
has been in grave danger—at least among the judiciary and the rest
of the governing elites.65
Yet because Heller was not written solely in terms of positive
American law, but rather with explicit recognition of pre-existing natural
rights, the case may play a role in reminding the people of the world that
63. E.g., Thomas Gabor, Firearms and Self-Defence: A Comparison of Canada and the
United States 22-23 (Dept. of Just., Canada, Working Document No. WD1997-3e, 1997)
available at
64. Kopel et al., supra note 17, at 141-42. Self-defense is in the constitutions of
Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cyprus, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti,
Honduras, Jamaica, Malta, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Samoa, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia,
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Slovakia, and Zimbabwe. Id. at 138-41. The right to
arms is explicit in the Constitutions of Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, and the United States. Id.
at 141.
65. Following years of public pressure, the government of the U.K. in July 2008
amended the self-defense law to clarify and protect some self-defense rights for the victims
of home invasions. C.f. Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, 2008, ch. 4, § 76(7) (U.K.).
Reasonable use of the force is to be judged according to the circumstances as the defender
perceived them; and must consider:
(a) that a person acting for a legitimate purpose may not be able to weigh to a
nicety the exact measure of any necessary action; and (b) that evidence of a
person’s having only done what the person honestly and instinctively thought was
necessary for a legitimate purpose constitutes strong evidence that only reasonable
action was taken by that person for that purpose.
Id.; see also Richard Edwards & Chris Hope, You Have the Right to Shoot Dead a Burglar,
DAILY TELEGRAPH (London), July 16, 2008 at 1, available at 2008 WLNR 13269970.
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
2008] The Right of Self Defense 1015
they, too, have “the natural right of resistance and self-preservation,” a
right which is necessarily effectuated by “the right of having and using
arms for self-preservation and defence.”66
On one side of the debate are the Kenyans who say that the central
government, which is manifestly unable and unwilling to protect the
tribespeople, should rescind its prohibition on their possession of arms.67
On the other side is the United Nations, which claims that self-defense is
not a right, but is a violation of the right of the criminal attacker, which
seeks to outlaw all defensive ownership of firearms, and which has
declared that laws in the United States and other nations which allow use of
deadly force against rapists and other violent predators are a human rights
66. David B. Kopel, The Right to Bear Arms and “Sensible” Gun Laws,
laws/ (July 18, 2008, 09:03 EST). A right of self-defense without a right to at least
some defensive arms would be a right of little practical utility. It is arms—especially,
firearms—which allow a weaker person to defend herself against a stronger attacker or
group of attackers. It is the firearm which best makes a deterrent threat of self-defense,
while allowing the victim to remain beyond the grasping distance of the stronger
67. Paul Letiwa, Why Herders Won’t Surrender Their Firearms Just Yet, THE NATION
(Kenya), Apr. 30, 2008, available at
“How can the Government ask us to surrender our guns when we know very well
that there is no security for us? If we give out our firearms, say today, who will
protect us when the neighbouring tribes strike? How about our stolen livestock?
Who is going to return them to us?” Mr Lengilikwai talks with bitterness.
Id.; see also Ng’ang’a Mbugua, Law Should Be Changed to Free Guns, THE NATION
(Kenya), Apr. 25, 2008, available at (noting success of armed defense
program of the people of the Kerio Valley).
In the past, critics of liberalising access to firearms have argued that they would
put ordinary people’s lives in peril because even squabbles in the streets or the
bedroom would be resolved by bullets. Incidentally, such incidents are few and
far between in the Kerio Valley despite the easy accessibility of AK- 47s as well
as the relatively low levels or education and social sophistication. . . . If Kenya is
to achieve long-lasting stability, it ought to borrow a leaf from the US, whose
constitution gives the people the right to bear arms and form militias for their own
defence should the armed forces fail them, as happened in Kenya after the
December elections.
Id.; see David B. Kopel, Paul Gallant, & Joanne D. Eisen, Human Rights and Gun
Confiscation, 26 QUINNIPIAC L. REV. 385, 388-419 (2008) (describing gun policies in
Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa).
68. See generally U.N. Human Rights Council, Sub-Comm’n on the Promotion and
Prot. of Human Rights, Adoption of the Report on the Fifty-Eighth Session to the Human
Rights Council: Draft Report of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of
Human Rights, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/Sub.1/58/L.11/Add.1 (Aug. 24, 2006) (prepared by
Mohammed Habib Cherif), available at
KOPEL MACRO DRAFT 12/7/2008 12:52AM
1016 Syracuse Law Review [Vol. 59:XXX
Heller points to a resolution of the conflict. Long before there was a
United Nations, or a United States of America, there were inherent natural
rights. The recognition of those rights is as old as civilization itself.
Perhaps one of the greatest influences of Heller (and, I hope, its progeny)
will be in other nations, where the explicit affirmation of the natural right
of self-defense by the most influential court in the world will bolster our
global brothers and sisters in their efforts to preserve and strengthen their
own natural right of resistance and self-preservation.
The United Nations report on self-defense is analyzed in detail in Kopel et al., supra note
17, at 129-39, 148-55 (discussing U.N. Human Rights Council, Sub-Comm’n on the
Promotion and Prot. of Human Rights, Prevention of Human Rights Violations Committed
with Small Arms and Light Weapons, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/Sub.1/58/27 (July 27, 2006)
(prepared by Barbara Frey), available at