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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pro-Gun Vigilantism Run Amok

I'm really in shock after reading David Kopel's post at the VC where he advocates the following:

However, the looting of concern in New Orleans isn't Jean Valjean taking bread for his children; the looting involves attacks on hospitals to steal their narcotics, and attacks on stores or homes which have nothing to do with acquiring necessities for short-term survival. Given the absence of a sufficient police presence in order to stop the looters, I strongly agree with Glenn Reynolds that such looters should be shot on sight by armed citizens. A citizen's arrest and detention isn't possible as a practical matter. Shooting the New Orleans looters is, under present circumstances, an appropriate response to the collapse of civic order, and a first step towards the restoration of that order.

I rarely react so strongly to what I read on blogs, but I find Kopel's comments disgusting and irresponsible.   Thankfully, Orin Kerr balances out the extremism at the VC and argues that shooting looters is a very bad idea: "Such an approach would only help undermine the social order by turning New Orleans from a looting zone into a shooting zone."

One of the big problems hindering rescue efforts is the fact that so many people are running around with guns and shooting.  Perhaps the problem is caused by the fact that guns are so readily available.  But instead of considering any of the problems with the pro-gun position, Kopel chooses to glorify gun violence and vigilantism by arguing that people should shoot others who steal a TV or VCR in order to protect the inventories of corporate store owners like K-Mart and CVS.  Is protecting these relatively low-value goods worth condoning violence and even murder?  That's exactly what Kopel seems to be arguing, and I find it outrageous.  It represents the worst elements in libertarian and pro-gun thinking: protect-property-above-all-else and encourage-the-vigilantes-to-take-back-the-streets-with-their-guns.  I sure hope that this isn't what Kopel means.       

Posted by Daniel Solove on September 1, 2005 at 05:41 PM in Current Affairs, Daniel Solove | Permalink


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» Shoot on Sight from Letters of Marque
There's some hullabaloo about whether looters should be shot on sight. I would like to come out firmly in favor of shooting all looters on sight. An initial caveat: I don't think people who are taking food needed for survival... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 2, 2005 8:22:32 AM


Has anyone suggested "creating" entire "gangs" of vigilantes to roam around shooting people? If so, I've missed it. I thought we were talking about what individuals who were already armed should do when their business or home is being threatened by drug addicts/rapists/robbers. In normal circumstances, I'd say, "No vigilantes, please; just call the police." But in these circumstances, that means letting anarchy reign, letting the strong prey on the weak. As for the objection that shooting thugs would be a break-down in "order" -- come on. Order has already broken down. That's the whole problem.

Posted by: Niels Jackson | Sep 2, 2005 8:34:29 AM


The only way anyone can support this vigilantism is if they conflate "fighting back" with "creating roving armed gangs."

Nobody: NOBODY opposes "fighting back," in the sense of meeting force directed at oneself or others with force. If you see a rape, by all means, shoot the rapist.

But it's a very long leap from that to (a) shooting people who steal nonviolently, and/or (b) creating (SOMEHOW?!) armed vigilante gangs to roam through the streets searching for looters when we have armed military units to do just that with stuff like "uniforms" and "training" and a "chain of command" and "walkie talkies." If the national guard can't do the job, what makes you think a bunch of people with grandpa's shotgun can, or that the latter will do anything other than add to the chaos?

What a stupid idea! Can we call it that? Forget about the immorality of shooting people for stealing, B&E. Who is going to organize and equip these street justice squads of yours, and why aren't they spending their time more efficiently, organizing and equipping real troops, or, heaven forbid, contributing to the rescue effort?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 2, 2005 12:47:39 AM

Look, we're not talking about people getting necessary food and water. We're talking about the thugs who shot at a National Guard helicopter. We're talking about the thugs in this story: Managers at a nursing home were prepared to cope with the power outages and had enough food for days, but then the looting began. The home’s bus driver was forced to surrender the vehicle to carjackers.

Bands of people drove by the nursing home, shouting to residents, “Get out!” Eighty residents, most of them in wheelchairs, were being evacuated to other nursing homes in the state.

“We had enough food for 10 days,” said Peggy Hoffman, the home’s executive director. “Now we’ll have to equip our department heads with guns and teach them how to shoot.”
And we're talking about the people in this NY Times story:Chaos and gunfire hampered efforts to evacuate the Superdome, and, the New Orleans police superintendent said, armed thugs have taken control of the secondary makeshift shelter at the convention center. The thugs repelled eight squads of 11 officers each that he sent to secure the place, the superintendent, P. Edwin Compass III, said, adding that rapes and assaults were occurring unimpeded in the neighboring streets as criminals "preyed upon" passers-by, including stranded tourists.
Now: It feels nice to engage in pious moralizing about how everyone should just be peaceful. But everyone isn't peaceful, and the police aren't very effective right now. In fact, it's approaching a Hobbesian state of nature. In the absence of a functioning state government that can arrest and prosecute the criminals, the people themselves have the right and the duty to protect public order by fighting back -- yes, by shooting these sorts of thugs, if need be.

If you say that good and decent people can't protect themselves against marauding thugs, you're in the category described by Jeff Goldstein:That many progressives I’ve been reading are so willing to advocate for an anarchic condition wherein stronger, better armed, and more ruthless civilians are able to lord it over the weaker victims of Katrina—all for the sake of maintaining their critique of materialism—is, frankly, astounding.

Posted by: Niels Jackson | Sep 2, 2005 12:23:52 AM

For that matter, how about the politicians who gutted FEMA and who let the levy go to pot even though they knew a hurricane was going to hit sooner or later? When do they get brought to vigilante justice? Oh, wait, they don't. Because they're white.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 1, 2005 10:59:56 PM

Don't we have SOLDIERS to do the shooting if people are violently laying seige to hospitals, etc? Who is this David Kopel guy anyway, and is he a complete blithering moron? What possible good would more civilians with guns do on the streets of New Orleans?

And why isn't ANYONE holding the politicians who failed to do a damn thing to evacuate those who couldn't get out on their own before the fucking hurricaine hit accountable?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 1, 2005 10:54:00 PM

Is looting a forcible felony like burglary? If it is, it justifies the use of force likely to produce death or great bodily harm. But here is the real question: How do you know if he is breaking into your hospital, home or place of business because he is thirsty and hungry or because he is taking advantage of the breakdown of law and order to indulge his animal instincts? Who said: "Kill them all, God will know his own"?

Posted by: nk | Sep 1, 2005 10:38:12 PM

Here's a prosecutor who thinks that looters should be shot. Link:

Incidentally, the prosecutor wears his religion on his sleeve, and his tagine suggests that he should "love mercy." Ah well, Christian textualism is so overrated!

Posted by: George of the (Legal) Jungle | Sep 1, 2005 9:04:32 PM

Larry, are you surprised that the police are looting? You shouldn't be. Police officers are pretty lawless, regularly using excessive force on people. (Here's a nice, and typical, video.) And perjury is so common it has a name - testilying. Prosecutors don't care about perjury. The looting just brings to light what police officers do every day - break the law. (Of course, this lawlesness doesn't matter since police only hurt people who make less money than you, me, and everyone who reads and contributes to PrawfsBlawg).

Posted by: Mike | Sep 1, 2005 9:01:11 PM

Kopel's shoot-to-kill edict is borderline pathological. But check out this morsel of brilliance, from the same post:
My view on the looting is that it is reasonable, under the legal excuse of Necessity, for a person to take food from a store, if no other food is available in the disaster zone. Such a person would be obligated to remember the value of the food, and to make payment for what he took as soon as practically possible.
Whhaaa????? (insert Jon Stewart inflection)
There is something seriously wrong with this guy's moral compass, methinks.

Posted by: Yuval Rubinstein | Sep 1, 2005 8:38:14 PM

My first thought of what could be done was to pass legislation requiring gun stores to keep their ammo and guns locked up, so that it could not be looted. Do we have to guess what Kopel thinks of that? Whether it will pass in the same political climate that is carving out liability exemptions for gun dealers?

Posted by: gr | Sep 1, 2005 7:09:03 PM

What I wonder is since there are photos of the police looting, too, if he is advocating shooting them ? This is a pretty damning thing for a "law and order" type like him to imply, and the reason that I think he is a nut.


Posted by: Larry | Sep 1, 2005 6:36:08 PM

I don't think, if even a fraction of the reports coming out of the city are correct, that it will take a whole lot of encouragement. In fact, if you leave it alone and don't run the military into the city, it will devolve into a host of gun battles. Depend upon it.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun | Sep 1, 2005 6:03:53 PM

He's not advocating protecting cheap electronic gewgaws but rather a broader notion of order. That said, encouraging private citizens to shoot, at their own discretion, at looters is probably not a recipe for order!

Posted by: Ben | Sep 1, 2005 5:58:38 PM

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