On January 3rd, 2013, on a reserve in Manitoba, Cody Schmidt, armed with a rifle, came to the rescue of his brother, Zach Mosseau, who was being subjected to a brutal baseball bat oriented gang beating. His brother's assailants fled in a vehicle and were fired upon. One of them, Dean Alan Frank Unrau, died as a result. Another, Michael Unrau, was severely injured. While vigilante justice is widely condemned in our society who but the victim of a crime or their kin is in a better position to both identify the perpetrator and mete out their deserved retribution? Who else has as much a stake in seeing justice carried out as the individual who was hurt or those who are close to them? Or an agent they have contracted with.
Which isn't to say, necessarily, that Schmidt is in the clear. The facts of the case are still murky and a good deal of the commentary must be speculative at best. We don't know what slight or offence prompted the gang beating. Perhaps the initial violent assault was provoked by some other incident; perhaps it was a petty dispute over drugs, money or housing. This we do not know. All we can offer is conjecture. But the point of analyzing this case is not to arbitrate the events of that night, finally and forever, but rather to consider the broader moral issues which it brings in to question. But just because an assault on his brother occurred doesn't mean necessarily that Schmidt is justified in using lethal force. A key component of a libertarian legal system is proportionality. A group of men beating someone with a bat could very well end in a fatality but it didn't. The exact line of how much force can be used in retribution for an aggravated assault is an interesting question and in this case the answer is unclear but certainly an attack does create the right of the victim or someone else on his behalf to strike back, not only in self defense but also as punishment for the crime.
The point of a legal system is to protect person and property. Unfortunately our collective conception of jurisprudence has devolved over the years. There is a great body of law which not only fails to protect property rights but actually infringes upon them. It is as Bastiat said, in 'La Loi' La loi pervertie! La loi — et à sa suite toutes les forces collectives de la nation, — la Loi, dis-je, non seulement détournée de son but, mais appliquée à poursuivre un but directement contraire! Law has become perverted, from a tool for preserving the right to property into an instrument of plunder. Our entire system is corrupt. The law today is less about what is right and more about how can someone profit at another's expense.
In 1765 English jurist Sir William Blackstone enunciated one of the tenets of the modern legal system, saying Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer. Critics of vigilantism claim that mob justice will lead to innocents suffering and in defense rof the legal status quo today it's true that someone who has not committed a malum prohibitum offencee is unlikely to be convicted, because of the legal protections afforded to them it's also true that many people who have done nothing which is malum in se suffer needlessly. But isn't Blackstone's dictum true on both ends? Shouldn't it be wrong to let 11 guilty people escape rather than one innocent suffer? Or at least there should be some point where you accept that you will occasionally get it wrong so that the rest of the time you can get it right. And it is from this perspective that vigilantism excels, in ensuring that criminals are in fact brought to justice. Unfortunately our society coddles those who commit acts of aggression against others (even elects them to it's highest offices). There is not enough emphasis on the victim and far too much compassion for those who harm others.