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The Human Right of Self-Defense
BYU Journal of Public Law (2008)
  • David B Kopel
  • Paul Gallant, Independence Institute
  • Joanne D Eisen, Independence Institute

The United Nations Human Rights Council has declared that there is no human right to self-defense. Moreover, the Council has ordered all governments to enact very restrictive gun laws (more severe than those of Washington, D.C., or New York City, for example), and has declared that failure to enact such laws constitutes a human rights violation. Further, the HRC states that it is a human rights violation for a government to allow person to use a firearm in self-defense against a rapist or other criminal who is not attempting homicide.

This Article critically examines the HRC's claims by analyzing the full range of the sources of international human rights law: the texts of Founding scholars of international law; the historical practices of the major legal systems which formed the basis of international law (including Roman, Islamic, Spanish, and Anglo-American law); and contemporary treaties, constitutions, United Nations resolutions, and other international law sources. The Article covers a vast range of international law and practice, in polities from ancient Athens to modern Zimbabwe.

The article demonstrates that self-defense is and always has been a widely-recognized human right. Moreover, personal self-defense is an essential philosphical foundation of international law, particularly in regard to restrictions on the initiation and conduct of warfare.

  • United Nations Human Rights Commission,
  • gun control,
  • right toarms,
  • gun rights,
  • firearms
Publication Date
Citation Information
David B. Kopel, Paul Gallant & Joanne D. Eisen. The Human Right of Self-Defense, 22 BYU Journal of Public Law 43 (2008). Available at: