The Value of Human Life

Is all human life equally invaluable? Recently on the Gun Dudes podcast, James, a guest from the UK, stated (I’m paraphrasing) that shooting someone who was attacking your family was still wrong because all life is equally precious. Is it?

I firmly believe that all innocent life is equally priceless. However, a criminal who decides to attack someone else has knowingly decided to gamble with his own life. The criminal placed a bet, using his own life as the currency, that you will not be able to defend your family from his violent assault. If he loses that bet, he already knows his life is forfeit.

By placing this bet, the criminal has willingly placed a value upon the worth of his own life, a value far less than that of the priceless innocent life. By the criminal’s foolish gamble, he has demonstrated his life is worth a mere fraction of the law abiding citizen.

There is no moral higher ground associated with submitting to violence, and allowing criminals to harm you or your family. But to assert that all human life is equally valuable is a fallacy. By the criminal’s very act of gambling his life, he has assigned a very low value to his own existence.

The value of a criminal’s life is far less than that of my wife, children, and neighbors. I’m sure the equation works out the same at your home too.  Please sound off below – you don’t have to agree with me, and I’m sure some people will not.  Let us know what you think about this idea.

(Ed. note: The Gun Dudes are strongly in favor of using any reasonable force, including firearms, to defend the innocent from the criminals.  And switching their shoes in the aftermath.)

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About Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing in Combat Handguns, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement, on The Firearm Blog and at BlueSheepdog.


  1. Aussie bloke! says:

    G’day Richard,..

    I totaly agree with you here exept to point out that any criminal in the commision of a crime has reliquished any and all rights on his part.

    Though in an ideal situation you could defend and detain the criminal with minimal harm, we do not live in such a world as we all know.

    Remember that concept of personal responcability,..?
    Ever notice how criminal never want to accept that unless its conveniant?

    Save yourself and family first!
    Then worry about tomorrow when you have made sure you and yours have a tomorrow!


  2. Mikewood says:

    The criminals life is sacred. It’s a Human life afterall and you need to give him all the respect ANC consideration you can. I have stopped bad situations just with a few words spoken with respect. A dark alley does not have to turn into a drawn gun or a gunfight. It’s knowing how to stop a fight without drawing the gun that is most important.

    But if you must shoot only shoot to stop and not to kill and why we stop shooting when the “threat” goes away. We don’t take “anchor shots” or shoot when am “enemy” is helpless.

    But it goes a bit further than that. Once you have a man down you need to render first aid. Patch him up and call 911 to get him to the hospital.

    This is not a gamble or a bet where lives are at stake.
    You are not playing his game. Keep in mind You will be judged on your actions.

    • Mike,

      I disagree with the idea that a criminal’s life is sacred or deserving of anyone’s respect and consideration. Someone who has decided to do harm to innocents deserves neither respect nor consideration. In fact, such a person should be held in the utmost contempt.

      Nothing in my post indicates that people should try to kill someone who is not a threat, so I am unsure why you went down that road with your comments.

      Lives are at stake in a violent encounter, and a gamble has been made by the criminal that he will be able to do what he wants without consequence. Hence, he has devalued his worth to something substantially less than an innocent person. When an armed citizen resists a violent attack, that citizen is not playing the criminal’s game. Rather he is taking an active role in his own survival.

      Been there and done that.


  3. Mikewood says:

    Sorry, not trying to go down the wrong path or get you side tracked. I just wanted to point out the danger of failing to show respect for the lives of criminals.
    if you should have to use deadly force and go before a grand jury they will ask you all sorts of odd questions. I would hate for anyone to get into trouble over a comment like “I hold criminals in contempt” or “I was feeling contempt for him when I shot him”. A grand jury could se this as a red flag.

  4. Mike,

    I appreciate you checking in and sharing your views. With few exceptions, I don’t censor anyone’s thoughts or posts here.

    While I understand that anything you ever say or write may be used against you at some point, there is a big difference between despising violent criminals and advocating the unlawful use of force. When testifying in any court proceeding, you better be able to do what Massad Ayoob calls CYA: Can You Articulate? In other words, can you explain the objective facts surrounding your use of force so that a person would believe your use of force was reasonable in those circumstances.

    For the record, I do not respect a variety of people including corrupt politicians, thieves, liars, and anyone who would take advantage of someone weaker than themselves. I look upon these folks with a great deal of disdain. That doesn’t mean that I advocate violence toward any of them.

    Keep in mind that my premise is all innocent lives are priceless, and those people who would do violence toward the innocent are the ones who have devalued their own life. This is a philosophical position. State laws vary on how/when you may use force to defend yourself or a third party from such violence. Keep your use of force within those confines. That is the practical reality.


  5. Well said and articulated Richard! Your word pictures are crystal clear – when someone decides to prey on the weak and innocent they enter themselves into the laws of the animal kingdom. And the laws of the animal kingdom are simply this – “survival of the fittest!” And let’s all hope and prey that the innocent people in these cases end up being the fittest.

    I think we all understand from your post that simply being a criminal does not place an execution order on your head. A thief who steals a candy bar should not be gunned down for their petty crime. Instead, when the criminal chooses violence as his means of success, that criminal has forfeited their claim to decency, leniency, and perhaps to life itself – by their OWN CHOOSING! A “wolf” who uses violence to accomplish their unlawful desires should be met with the strongest defense, which is often the business end of a choice firearm. If that thief decides that he wants that candy bar so bad that when confronted by the store owner he pulls a knife or gun to accomplish his theft, then, as Richard has stated, he has gambled with his life, placing the value of his own life on the level of that candy bar. The innocent store owner is not at all at fault for then defending his own life by using deadly force against the “wolf”.

    I still believe that in this country most citizens still appreciate the right of the innocent to defend themselves from violence, even if that defense becomes deadly force in the appropriate circumstances. I think the fact that nearly 40 states now have Right to Carry laws that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons is a sign on that belief. And almost as many states now have Castle Doctrine laws that allow citizens to consider any invasion of their home, and in some cases their vehicles, to be considered a threat to their life and justification for deadly force.

    I think that Mike means well, but when the determined violent criminal decides to hurt you or your family, your kind words of suggestion are NOT going to stop him. The well placed bullet from a high caliber weapon should go a long way in changing that criminal’s channels. And Mike you are wrong – we DO shoot to kill, because shooting for arms or legs is fancy stuff for the movies and only creates a higher liklihood that an innocent bystander could be struck from your misguided aiming point. And even if you do wound the attacker, a determined aggressor is going to continue to attack, not beg for mercy and surrender like the movies and TV shows. No respectable firearms instructor is going to instruct someone to shoot to wound. Once the shooting begins, the decision for deadly force has been made. The act of shooting IS deadly force, whether you hit the perpetrator in the leg or square between his beady little eyes!

  6. JeffStevens says:

    Mikewood has the right of it. All human life is sacred simply by virtue of its inherent dignity. We do not SEEK to kill when we arm ourselves, we do not find it acceptable to kill when it is not absolutely necessary; these come from our respect for life.

    However, that respect for life itself is what demands that, sometimes, we take it. I respect my own life, that of my family, those I am sworn to protect, and in respecting and valuing that life, I must defend it, sometimes with lethal force.

    But just as a police officer is only justified in using deadly force against those who are an IMMINENT threat to life or serious injury, as soon as that threat is no longer imminent, they are no longer justified.

    The problem with holding “criminals”‘s lives in contempt is that it is another step toward disrespecting life in others. At that point, you’ve set yourself up as judge of whose life is valuable and whose is not. Sorry, you’re not qualified to do that. And beyond that, you do NOT know all the circumstances involved in why that person did what they did. You have to do what you HAVE TO DO in a situation, but beyond that, you have an obligation to respect the life of others. As soon as they are no longer a threat (and yes, that means if they stop being a threat and you notice they’re not dead, you don’t keep shooting; obviously this does not extend to the time when you’re removing the threat), their life must be respected again.

  7. Jeff,

    Stop projecting. Nothing in my comments suggest that I or any other gun owner either seeks to kill, or shoot someone that is not a threat. So drop that from your arguments.

    The whole point to my commentary is this foolish notion that criminals who attack innocent people deserve the same respect as their innocent victims. They do not.

    Am I judging them? Yes, I am. And, quite frankly, I am qualified to do so. I don’t care about the criminal’s circumstances, if they were abused as a child, if they wet the bed as an adult, if they have lost a job, or if they are a boy named Sue.

    I judge them on their actions: they are violently attacking an innocent person. (Don’t confuse eternal judgment by the Creator with what I am talking about.)

    If you are unable to tell the difference between a violent criminal attacking your loved ones and an innocent family member, then I agree, you are not qualified to judge. Affording equal respect for the criminal (trying to rob, rape or kill) and your spouse or child being victimized is incomprehensible to me.

    You state that in your respect for life, you must sometimes kill to protect your own life, or others. This describes exactly what I am talking about: you have less respect for the life of the criminal and more for the lives of innocents! You have just made a judgment, and found the lives of the innocents more valuable than that of the criminal.

    Let me be clear: I hold criminals who prey on the innocent in the utmost contempt. If you think that means that criminals should be shot after they are no longer a threat, then you need to pull out a dictionary and educate yourself.

    contempt: lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike

    I do not respect criminals. I intensely dislike them. Notice the definition does not include anything about killing them.

  8. Note, I’m not the James from the UK who was on the GunDudes’ show. US citizen born and raised.

    I completely agree with you Richard, though I think I understand the sentiments of those saying that ALL life is sacred. It is. And that is why when someone’s life and wellbeing are in grave danger due to criminal actions, it is appropriate to defend that life with deadly force. And that is also why in a legal situation, certain crimes DEMAND the death penalty: the only humanly-way to deliver justice upon someone who has taken an innocent life or has done great and irreparable harm to them (such as child rape) is for that perpetrator’s life to be taken. His life is indeed sacred, and it is the only thing valuable enough that the taking thereof will deliver appropriate justice for the harm done.

    That is my mindset as a biblically Christian man. I honestly cannot think that those who claim to be my co-religionists are being at all consistent by expressing pacifist tendencies or utter cowardice in the face of criminal violence. If it is a sin to murder, then is it not ALSO wrong for a person who is in a position to intervene and STOP the murder to cowardly refuse to do so with reasonable force? By refusing to do so, he is placing the criminal’s life ABOVE the lives of those he is duty-bound to protect (his family, for example, as that is the duty of every man). This goes beyond firearms per-se, and into the realm of defense period. It also goes into one being willing to lay down his own life in order to stop or to prevent the killing or raping.

    To the legal argument: a criminal (though his own life is sacred) gives UP his legal rights when he acts up on the criminal intent in his mind. The moment he breaks into that house to steal, with the intent to maim or kill whoever gets in his way (or worse, breaks in in order to rape/murder primarily), forfeits his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, primarily his right to life.

  9. Well said James!

    And YES all life is sacred! But if one person, through their own choosing, decides to prey on another to the point of causing death or serious physical harm, than they have gambled with their life and their life is subject to forfeiture.

    Nothing in my posts or Richard’s posts is meant to justify the killing of non-violent criminals, or the execution of a criminal that has been shot, wounded, and is NO LONGER a threat.

    Some wise person said – “every nation gets the justice it demands and the criminals it deserves”.

    Forget to hold the violent criminal in contempt, and be prepared to meet his threat with superior violence, then accept the fact that you are sheep and subject to the criminal’s wishes.

    I choose to stand in the criminal’s way, and if he chooses violence, to meet him with superior violence! The choice of violence and death rest solely upon the intent and actions of the criminal.

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