US Supreme Court made numerous rulings that police does not have a duty to protect individuals. This effectively leaves nobody US residents to rely on for protection except themselves.

However, these rulings made a few exceptions; in particular, state is still liable for putting residents in worse position than before the police involvement. The cases where police was deemed liable included a cop confiscating a woman's car in the middle of high crime neighbourhood where she got raped, a cop who prevented a person from retrieving his closes from the car causing him to freeze to death on the walk home, a cop who notified an unstable teen of a complain by the neighbour that led the teen to slaughter the neighbours family, things like that.

Even though the State would not liable if a cop was passively watching somebody being assaulted right in front of him, in a case where a cop would place the victim against his will in the position to be assaulted that would make the State liable.

This leads to a question: is State liable for the victims who were unable to protect themselves because State actively prevented them from the opportunity to do so? For example, if a particular state has strict gun control laws that prevent individuals from carrying weapons for self-defence, and an individual gets assaulted because of that, would that State be liable for the offence because the gun control law by said legislature put the individual in worse position regarding self-defence than he was before the law was enacted?

2 Answers 2


No, the State would not be responsible. As you state yourself, all of the rulings mentioned pertain to situations where the police are involved. The gun-control issue has nothing to do with the police, thereby voiding any precedent you tried to establish before posing the question.

It would be hard to prove that the individual getting assaulted in the example would not have gotten assaulted anyway if gun control legislature had not been passed. In fact, the opposite is just as likely to be true: that individual may have gotten assaulted exactly because the assaulter had easier access to a gun thanks to gun control legislation not getting passed. It would be hard to imagine someone arguing that the State was responsible for the assault because the gun-control legislation was not passed.

It is even possible that the person assaulted would've gotten assaulted on multiple occasions instead of just once if previous gun-control legislation had not been passed.


Quick question: Does the SCOTUS hold that the state isn't liable here just because the officers have a duty to intervene as far as the state is concerned? (i.e. there are standing orders like, "if you see an assault, stop it") If so, then it seems reasonable to hold the state blameless, and instead shift blame to the individual officer who is disobeying orders in this case. If the state says the officer should intervene and he doesn't, then it isn't the state who should be blamed.

I don't know the answer to the question, but it seems relevant to the issue.

  • SCOTUS does not hold that the officers have the duty to intervene. In fact, all those cases stipulate that officers are not obligated to help anybody. This is in stark contrast to medical professionals who often are obligated to help. The only reason officers and state were liable in a handful of those cases was because the officers actively made things worse to the victims. More often than not officers would not intervene and nobody would be liable for that. My point was that state legislatures actively made things worse to assault victims by disarming them.
    – Michael
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 23:22

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