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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Hobbes’ social contract

Self-preservation is a natural instinct. In the face of danger, we follow our gut. Long before “duty to retreat” entered the legal lexicon, our natural instincts told us when it’s prudent to take a safe retreat and when to act in self-defense.

While characterizing man in the state of nature as chaotic and power-thirsty, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes equally believed that human affairs manifest mediation between power and fear.

“Although war may be necessary for self-preservation, reason dictates that the first of all natural laws must be that humans seek peace to fulfill their right and obligation to preserve their own lives,” Hobbes wrote in Leviathan. “Although by contract we may give up all sorts of rights we possess in the state of nature—such as renouncing the right to kill another in exchange for not being killed—we may never give up our natural right to self-preservation, which is the basis for any contract.”

In other words, there already exist natural laws and a social contract to guide human actions. Man-made laws, according to Hobbes, are “artificial crutches” designed to dispel fears that people don’t understand. And if Hobbes were a lawmaker today, he would likely argue against the necessity of a bill that espouses preemption of a perceived violence with actual violence.

Recently, Sen. S. Joe San Agustin introduced a bill expanding Guam's Castle Doctrine law to incorporate the “stand your ground" principle, similar to laws copied from other states. Bill 149 eliminates a citizen's duty to retreat before using deadly force in responding to an apparent threat. Under the current law, the Castle Doctrine applies to home, workplace or vehicle. The bill expands the jurisdiction to include any place an individual has the right to be.

As it is, the Castle Doctrine law itself already has dangerous consequences.

In the states, critics warn that “stand your ground” statutes make it easier for defendants to get away with murder and other violent crimes by invoking self-defense.

Guam’s Bill 149 is likely to face a legal challenge, given a Florida state court’s recent decision, which held that Florida’s updates to the "stand your ground" law are unconstitutional.

Self-defense is for the court to determine, according a Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch. Legislators, the judge said, overstepped when making it easier for defendants to argue self-defense to obtain immunity for violent acts. The process by which defendants can claim they were protecting themselves with an act of violence is a judicial task, the judge said.



State attorneys in Florida law have slammed the law in question for shifting the burden of proof onto the state. Under the law, state prosecutors must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that someone wasn't acting in self-defense.

During the discussion of the Castle Doctrine bill when it was introduced a couple of years ago, Senator Tom Ada presented a test scenario: “If a drunkard is bothering you while you are in your car, do you shoot him in the head right away?”

Hobbes said, “Only proper philosophy can successfully dispel fear by granting scientific truth to the philosophy of causes and by enacting a peaceful society.”

In the words of Kenny Rogers, “Walk away from trouble if you can…”

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