My contribution to the debate surrounding the Zimmerman verdict will be short and (one hopes) sweet. It isn’t grounded in any particular expertise in case law. It’s just meant to be a pessimstic observation about the loss of (a) common sense.

Political philosophers after Hobbes draw a distinction between an enemy and a criminal. An enemy is someone defined by sovereign power. One state declares war on another, and when this happens, their citizens become enemies. A criminal in contrast is someone who represents an affront to the law, and who in a sense lives outside the law; the threat that he represents is private. One’s Second Amendment right to bear arms is in this context clearly a duty and obligation, an imperative to face down and defeat the enemy or enemies of one’s country. It’s not the same as a universal “right” to define and fight criminals. Of all people, John Locke understood the dangers inherent in this point of distinction: he argued that in a so-called state of nature without public authority, every individual could engage in self-defense. However, the egregious excesses of that condition – men using lethal force to avenge petty insults or crimes against property for example – was according to Locke what led human beings to leave that condition and enter into the social contract.

We no longer live in Locke’s state of nature – in truth we never did – and yet laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” assume that we do. Such laws diminsh the Second Amendment by turning common defense into a hunt for “bad guys.” What once conveyed a vision of virtuous citizen-soldiers now evokes a world full of private contractors, a tremulous and bellicose mass of individuals, each with his particular grievances and shadowy comprehensions of threat, fully empowered to use lethal force. It's a tragic distortion.

Commentators on the Zimmerman case are already discussing it in terms of a conflict between what the law mandates versus the pursuit of justice. In my eyes, the terms are much clearer: it represents nothing more than the forward march of the privatization of everything.

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.

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