Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, September 02, 2005

When Smart People Attack

I have so little to add to all the talk of New Orleans; I'm appalled. It's all I can do not to weep here at my desk. How embarrassed should we be as Americans that this is the best we can do, four years after events impelled us to improve our disaster response protocals in urban areas? If I were a terrorist mastermind right now, I'd be salivating to realize that, in a pinch, we can no more tell our asses from our elbows domestically than we can in Baghdad.

Maybe this time we can fire some people? Alas, I'm sure the answer is no. No one makes any mistakes in this administration, right?

A propos the title of this post, another Volokh Conspirator has gone of the deep end, calling for putative law abiding citizens of New Orleans to shoot looters on sight.

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.

Mind you, this is at a time that the Mayor of New Orleans himself has effectively urged refugees (and the sooner we start calling them that, the sooner we can honestly assess the situation) to do what they have to do to find food and water wherever they can. Apparently, Kopel is confident that gun-toting terrified citizens of New Orleans can be trusted to distinguish, in all cases, those who are looting for necessities and those who are looting for fun and profit. Which -- forgive me -- makes him a f$%king moron.

Thankfully, one of his co-conspirators provides an able response that avoids the eff-bomb.

Among the problems is that looters can get guns, too, and presumably will try to shoot on sight the "armed citizens" that are trying to shoot them on sight. For that matter, armed looters will presumably say that they are "armed citizens" looking for looters, and will just shoot "citizens" and claim that be believed that they were looters. Who will be able to tell, given that the other side will by then be dead? The looter/armed citizen line is nice and clear in theory, but things get fuzzy and hard to reconstruct in practice. I would rather not encourage the latter to kill the former as a way of restoring social order.

I'm with Kerr, that shooting under the circumstances the law recognizes -- i.e., when one feels that he is in imminent peril of greivous injury or death -- in self-defense is not only something we need to accept, but something that will be happening in NOLA for days if not weeks to come. There are widespread reports of rape and robbery and so on; one must be able to protect himself and his family if need be. But as Kerr ably notes, Kopel's position is untenable under the circumstances. If even the trained military isn't granted permission to shoot on sight, why should a bunch of gun-toting yahoos be afforded a license to kill?

By the bye, pilots trying to drop supplies, pick up and transport the critically ill, and evacuate the stranded, can't tell who is shooting -- they just know people are shooting. And when people are shooting, they understandably leave the area. So in arguing for abject anarchy (and that's what Kopel is doing, evidently), Kopel's solution is nothing of the sort: more death, more shooting, less clarity as to who the good guys are, and people who are dying of starvation and dehydration scared to go out and get what they need -- which, did I mention? -- the feds still aren't providing.

By the way, following on my call for commandeering helicopters yesterday, here's another question. If the waters of Lake Pontchartrain have equalized with those in the city, and if we know that pumps can't even begin to empty the city for at least another week or two, why are some of our most effective cargo carrying helicopters working on the levees now, which can do no conceivable good until at least a week hence, instead of flying around the south buying up every drop of bottled water to be found and ferrying it to the convention center?


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