To (legally) take a life: the true north of the morality compass It’s a terrifying consideration, but it’s one that countless of us have detailed in our imaginations, especially with the constant barrage of violence in the news: if someone was attacking you, your family, or your property, what would you do? Do you have what it takes to take a life? If that train of thought has never crossed your mind, take a second to think it over. It’s dark and you hear the indisputable noises of an intruder. If you have a gun, do you take it out, take off the safety, and prepare to fire? If you don’t have a gun, do you grab a blunt object? Do you hide? Do you grab your phone? Or do you hit your knees and pray to whatever you believe in that you and your family will live to see the sun again? Maybe it’s some combination of all of the above. Colorado law, originally enacted in 1985 and commonly known as the “make my day” law, allows for homeowners to use deadly force, reasonably, against intruders that pose an imminent danger to the life and wellbeing of the individual. Recently, an extension of this law to businesses — dubbed “make my day better” — was turned down in Colorado state legislature because the impetus for the bill is property rather than life.
The most intriguing aspect of this entire scenario is what happens if — and sadly, in some cases, when — you’re forced to take the life of another, even if the state law supports these actions.
Of course, there are always stipulations and questions of reasonability within the courts since the “reasonable” being is highly debated and never quite defined in law.
A&E debuted a new series last November, Panic 9-1-1, taking the terrifying situations of self-defense into a new reality by airing the phone calls people make to 9-1-1 with the caller narrating the situation. The commoditization of fear and violence in our culture only further complicates rationality and reasonability in how we address these situations first-hand or through observation.
The morality compass of our collective culture dictates that to take another human life is wrong. The splitting of hairs and polarization comes into play with definitions and circumstances, but let’s put that aside for a moment and explore the implications and ensuing moral and ethical conflicts.
Ethics and morals — yet another finicky definition with much dispute — are typically used interchangeably but are actually quite different. Morals, from the Latin mos — meaning norms or rules — speak more to individual choices, oftentimes formed out of deep-rooted philosophical beliefs and stem from choices of how to address a concern and the consistency of its application, whereas ethics derive from the Greek ethos — a term loosely defined as “character” or “credibility” — and serve to explore the rationale or reasonability of a situation.
So the decision to take a human life becomes incredibly muddled because on the broad surface, morality would dictate that in all circumstances murder is wrong, but moral philosophers would investigate and scrutinize the individual situations and the lack of consistency in adjudication for what is sweepingly defined as “wrong.” Ethics then come into play and rationalize situations, eliminating the formulaic tendencies of moral law.
This may or may not serve as some sort of solace, because when it comes down to it, everything we do is a choice, even if it is a choice to protect ourselves at the expense of others.
To cope with the choice to sacrifice the life of someone to save yourself is hard to stomach. Psychologists research the effects of war and other traumatic events on the human psyche, pointing to the coping mechanisms to understand and accept that killing another human may very well be a byproduct of duty.
The tremendous difficulties soldiers face upon their return home can only be comparable on the small scale of killing born from obligation.
But what these studies have in common is the guilt of survival. Survivor’s guilt is a concept noted in survivor’s of the Holocaust — as represented in the film Sophie’s Choice — and is transferred to many situations where a person feels unworthy or undeserving of a situation, oftentimes resenting others for their place in life.
In many situations where an individual is confronted with the choice to kill or be killed, and they choose the former, guilt for living through the situation develops as well as a resentment for the deceased whose actions caused them to make that choice.
It’s all too easy to imagine and suppose the outcome of a potential situation, but to carry out those actions and then cope with it, with the conflicting morals and ethics, the disturbances to daily routines, and the minute adjustments to life that ripple outward forever is what is, perhaps, the most disturbing piece to this entire discussion of gun control and munitions regulations.
It’s the human aspect that’s all too often left out of the debate.