Our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, with all of his faults and success, had a famous, often used quip that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Unfortunately, we were reminded once again how dangerous those words might be this last Tuesday as a gunman took twenty-one innocent lives at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was revealed on Thursday that the individual was able to rain Hell down on those poor souls for over an hour before police attempted to confront him. Videos show parents outside the school begging police officers to enter the school and engage the individual while the officers merely set up a perimeter around the school as they allegedly waited for an elite border patrol tactical unit to arrive on the scene. Parents offered to enter without any weapons at all if only they would be allowed to do something to save their children.
This is eerily similar to the Stoneman Douglas High school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018, which gave us David Hogg’s toothpick arms. At Stoneman Douglas, the School Resource Officer (SRO), Deputy Scot Peterson, remained hidden for over forty-five minutes as the individual assaulted the students remaining in the school. This failure to engage the attacker resulted in Peterson’s firing and the eventual removal of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel by the Florida state senate. Peterson has since been sued by the families of victims under the guise of harm by failure to act.
Outrage naturally followed. How can police stand-by and do nothing while the people they are sworn to protect and serve are being harmed or seriously threatened, and at the same time demanding an absolute monopoly on violence? Despite the Preamble to the Constitution calling for its establishment to “promote the general welfare” and “insure domestic tranquility,” the courts of this nation have held numerous times that it is the duty of the government to protect only the general public, not each individual person. In a 1919 case, Turner v. United States, 248 U.S. 354, the Supreme Court held that the Creek Nation’s inability to prevent its citizens from wreaking havoc on the building of a pasture fence did not open the Nation up to civil liability because “claimant’s contention that the defendant owed to the claimant, as its own grantee, a greater duty than it owed to other persons in the territory, to protect him against mob violence finds no support in reason or authority.” Ibid. at 358.
A more meaningful case to our discussion is the graphic facts of Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. 1981). One night, Warren, Douglas, and Taliaferro were sleeping in their shared home when two men broke in and began raping Douglas in her separate bedroom on the second floor. The other two women called the police and reported it as a burglary, and three officers came to the home. One officer simply drove by the home but never stopped to investigate any further and another officer went to the front door to knock on the front door but left after receiving no answer. The two women called again several minutes later, but no more police were ever dispatched to the home. The two women then called down to Douglas, telling her that police were on the way. This only revealed their presence, and the two men then forced all three women to do as they said, at knifepoint, for the next fourteen hours.
The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia affirmed the dismissal of the case by the District Court, not even offering its own words, but simply using those of trial court. In doing so, the court held that “the duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists.” Ibid. at 3.
For Douglas and her roommates, there existed no special duty even though police had been called to their home. It is rather profound that the government, which is created to take on the greatest burdens of society, including policing, would then be free from suit for failure to carry that burden without even an effort. This is not a controversial legal position, however. Turner essentially put the question to bed, and subsequent decisions turned the night light off, whether that be in Idaho (see Udy v. Custer County, 136 Idaho 386 (2001)) or Kentucky (see McCuiston v. Butler, 509 S.W.3d 76 (2017)) with no jurisdiction disagreeing with this contention (as far as I can find), but rather modifying the rules for when ‘special relationship’ exists. Deputy Peterson from Stoneman Douglas is being sued on the theory that he had a special relationship with the school and the students inside as SRO that he violated when he did not engage the shooter.
This is all a bleak reminder that the government does not have to come to save you; even if they do, there is no requirement they even give a good faith effort. Possibly even worse, once the agents within the government determine that you voted for Trump, or never got vaccinated, or disparaged Fauci, or railed against paying taxes just for the government to waste it, they will call off the help and let the people coming for you, whether it be a mob or individual, do exactly that unimpeded. Do not rely on the government for your protection. Rely on yourself, your family, your friends, and your trusted neighbors because the government will be there, but one day it will not be to help.
Get strapped, or get clapped.
May the Gadsden Fly Forever.