Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Zero Tolerance for Looters

By Dom Armentano

The recent riots in Ferguson and in Baltimore featured, among other things, multiple examples of the looting (or burning) of private property. Rioters were observed (and filmed) smashing automobiles or emptying stores and carrying away other people’s goods which they had clearly stolen. And in almost no cases was there any serious attempt by property owners or by the police to stop the crimes or apprehend the criminals. Absolutely shameful.

It can be argued that it is both moral and efficient for property owners or the police to stop the burning and looting by any practical means possible including, as a last resort, the firing of shots at those who choose to burn or steal other people’s property.

A civil society is founded on a simple but profound principle: No one has the right to hurt anyone else or to take their stuff. Aggression against person or property violates individual rights and is wrong or criminal under the law. Finally, individuals have a natural right of self-defense to protect all of their property rights.

In situations of open violence like Baltimore, it would be appropriate for business owners to take specific steps to protect their property. Boarding up windows and doors to prevent unwanted access would be a reasonable first step. In addition, business owners could go further and decide to post a warning indicating that “looters will be shot” if they chose to engage in criminal trespass and theft. And if looters fail to heed that “fair warning” and still persist in acts of arson or theft, they could, as a last resort, be lawfully shot at by property owners, by private security or by the police. A best-case scenario is that all of this is captured on video.

There will be those who assert that shooting at individuals who are burning cars or stealing property may be out of proportion to the crime. Oh really? Why should we accept the notion that intentionally burning down someone’s business is, somehow, less provocative or coercive than, say, the firing of shots in order to stop that criminality? Certainly injuring looters is not the intent--stopping the looting or the burning of cars and buildings is the intent--but those who choose to engage in such blatant and obvious crimes always assume the risk of serious injury or even death. Does anyone still have to be reminded that violence often has unfortunate consequences?

What is clear about torching cars or looting drugstores (unlike many other illegitimate activities) is that it is prima facie criminal; it is difficult to discover any “presumption of innocence” associated with these physical activities. A person engaged in a direct act of arson or theft has, by his explicit behavior, forfeited rights to liberty (just as a rapist engaged in a personal assault has forfeited rights to liberty); a warning to stop the activity and then the firing of shots, if necessary, is an entirely legitimate response in either case.

Will property owners or the police follow this advise? Probably not. Property owners are more likely to decide that any attempt to stop looters is too dangerous or that business insurance will reimburse theft losses. In addition, the integrity of any legitimate police response has been seriously compromised by their own highly publicized acts of criminality against innocents and a consequent prevailing atmosphere of political correctness.

All of this bodes ill for business and property owners who live and work in cities where blatant acts of criminality by both cops and looters will be increasingly overlooked or rationalized by both conservatives (the cops) and liberals (the looters).

Dom Armentano is the author of ANTITRUST & MONOPOLY and has written many hundreds of public policy opinion articles for newspapers and websites.

The below is a revised version of an earlier  essay.


  1. Anyone who has not acquired and learned to use a firearm is a willing sacrificial lamb waiting to be culled. These are not the times for the faint of heart. The nice thing about a firearm is most the time you just have to wave it.
    So, all the more reason for a big, scary "assault rifle" lookin' thing. Hey, if it scares Dianne Feinstein, that's the test!

  2. Korean shopkeepers defended their properties during the 1992 riots in L.A.

  3. I would like to reiterate in no uncertain terms that this author is a pussy masquarading as Dirty Harry.

    1. Donxon,

      I seem to remember last time something of this nature was posted(I can't remember when, but I believe it was Armentano commenting on Baltimore), you argued that if the author couldn't defend himself from government in the same manner as looters that he was a "pussy".

      Do I have that right or am I misinterpreting your argument?

    2. Donxon, When you make a claim without making any attempt to back it up, don't be surprised when you are dismissed.

    3. I submitted a longer post, but Mr. Wenzel opted not to publish it.
      I am not contesting the moral justification of using physical force to defend one’s life and property. I am suggesting that this author is advocating for, at best, its arbitrary application, or more likely, its most cowardly application.
      The police are out and about looting peaceful people every day. They break windows every day. They destroy the private property of peaceful people every day. They murder peaceful people defending their private property every day.
      As far as I know this author has never made an attempt to interfere with the looters blue or the auction of a house seized by the IRS or any of the other acts of blatant looting perpetrated by the state, yet he insists on referring to his desire to shoot the poor dude stealing diapers from wal-mart as “zero tolerance for looters.”
      AT BEST, the author wants to choose arbitrarily which looters are to be shot. Perhaps it is mere coincidence that he only seems interested in shooting those who are unlikely to have any effective recourse against him. I suspect it is his fear of the consequences of confronting the prolific and effective looters in blue that relegates this tough-guy to shooting the guys stealing diapers.

    4. "I am not contesting the moral justification of using physical force to defend one’s life and property. I am suggesting that this author is advocating for, at best, its arbitrary application, or more likely, its most cowardly application."


      It would appear I understand your argument then.

      I think you should consider that just because you may not be able to defend yourself against a well armed looter(like government), doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to defend yourself against other looters against whom you have a chance.

      To your specific example of someone shooting a looter stealing diapers(who it's from shouldn't matter if the goods were gained legally by the owner):

      RW did post a similar scenario under which the issue of "proportionality of justice" came up(a farmer shooting a child over a stolen apple if I recall) and was touched on in the comment section of said write up.

      The issue of proportionality of justice is one that speaks to me personally, and I think is backed up by "natural law". The concept addresses your specific concern.

      That being said, it's certainly a difficult topic but probably not advanced in a helpful way when you call the writer a "pussy", as I'm sure you can understand. It's probably best that we treat fellow libertarians as Catholics treat the Pope, as explained to me the other day by "Perry Mason"(lol) in regard to the Pope's latest encyclical:

      "Catholics should pay attention and interpret words charitably, but they should not shirk the truth either. "

      I appreciate that you took the time to explain your viewpoint. I hope I've been a positive influence to your thoughts in some way.

      Regards- Nick