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The law west of Canal Street

Posted by Richard on September 1, 2005

Whenever there is a disaster — whether man-made (9/11) or natural (Katrina) — we’re reminded of some inescapable facts about our fellow human beings:

John Carolan was sitting on his porch in the thick, humid darkness just before midnight Tuesday when three or four young men, one with a knife and another with a machete, stopped in front of his fence and pointed to the generator humming in the front yard, he said.

One said, "We want that generator," he recalled.

"I fired a couple of rounds over their heads with a .357 Magnum," Mr. Carolan recounted Wednesday. "They scattered."

He smiled and added, "You’ve heard of law west of the Pecos. This is law west of Canal Street."

I have no problem at all with people obtaining the means for their survival in any non-violent way the can under these conditions. Decent people will do what they have to (but will feel bad about it). My sympathies and best wishes go to people such as this:

One woman outside a Sav-a-Center on Tchoupitoulas Street was loading food, soda, water, bread, peanut butter and canned food into the trunk of a gray Oldsmobile.

"Yes, in a sense it’s wrong, but survival is the name of the game," said the woman, who would not identify herself. "I’ve got six grandchildren. We didn’t know this was going to happen. The water is off. We’re trying to get supplies we need."

But the gangbangers trying to break into a children’s hospital to steal drugs? The people carting off jewelry, DVDs, HDTVs, and iPods? They need to be stopped — fast and hard. Ted Frank at PointofLaw.com explains it well (HT: Instapundit; emphasis added):

I fully acknowledge that shooting looters is an inappropriately disproportionate response if one views looting as mere larceny. But one doesn’t shoot looters to protect property, one does so to protect order. Somebody is going to suffer unjustly when society breaks down. I don’t understand why Muller thinks it preferable for the law-abiding citizens to be the cost-bearers.

And Frank points out a cogent remark 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.

So why haven’t the looters been stopped? Frank notes the "almost third-world levels of corruption" in the New Orleans police department. Goldstein thinks the feds are reluctant:

…  to risk sending armed troops in to quell rioting, only to find that video of looters being shot dead is being played over and over again on the nightly news … while some talking head drones on about how the PATRIOT Act and global warming lead inexorably to this “sorry spectacle for Amerikkka.”

John Longenecker thinks a big part of the problem is that so many of the decent, honest citizens have been disarmed by the flooding — their guns are in their homes, under water (emphasis in original):

New Orleans is not a matter of looting – it is in a condition of complete anarchy. But it is much more of an example than that: the murder, mayhem, bedlam and rampant crime is an example of citizen disarmament. Only this time, the guns of defense have been submerged, floated away or otherwise irretrievable.

The power of the people to participate in their own defense has been drowned.

There are reports of individuals protecting their homes with shotguns and handguns where the property was not entirely inundated, and the people can even remain at home and even have something left to defend. Non-evacuation is the key. But for the countless lawful guns that are beyond the reach of their owners because of inundation and because owners are not permitted to return home, the city is basically defensless.

I wonder how many of the honest, decent residents had firearms — and how many of those had been persuaded to keep their weapons unloaded, locked up, and inaccessible.

One of the grave weaknesses of our culture is that most people have come to believe that it’s not merely acceptable, but necessary and proper for them to completely surrender responsibility for their own safety and well-being to others. In the best of times, I believe this is foolish — do you know what the average police response time is for a 911 call in your community? Assuming you can and do make that call when the need arises…

In the worst of times — and this is the worst of times in New Orleans — such helplessness and dependency can be deadly. It’s not just that having a gun helps the honest, decent people stave off the predators. There’s a more subtle psychological factor: Someone who owns a gun (I’m talking about the honest, decent people, not the sociopaths) accepts responsibility for her own safety and for her own responsible behavior; gun ownership both empowers and disciplines you.

Someone who doesn’t — who’s adopted the mindset regarding self-defense that "there’s nothing I can or should do, I have to depend on the police" — that person will carry that same mindset of helplessness and passivity to all aspects of his life. Those are the people who, after a rescue boat drops them off where I-10 emerges from the water, stand around looking dazed and tell the reporters they’re waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

Glenn Reynolds wrote a sentence this morning that’s my nominee for Quote of the Year (lots of emphasis added):

If you’ve got a week’s supplies, and a gun, you’ll usually do okay after a disaster.

No disrespect of Glenn intended, but I wonder if he realized just how right he was. I suspect he was thinking about the physical comfort and safety afforded by the supplies and the gun. But by procuring a week’s supplies and a gun, you’re preparing psychologically to cope with a disaster. You’re accepting responsibility for yourself (and your family). In many cases, that will be even more important.

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4 Responses to “The law west of Canal Street”

  1. TF Stern said

    “One of the grave weaknesses of our culture is that most people have come to believe that it’s not merely acceptable, but necessary and proper for them to completely surrender responsibility for their own safety and well-being to others. In the best of times, I believe this is foolish…”

    That about sums up my feelings, all in one sentence. I’m a retired cop and you are correct. The job of the police is not to defend you from the bad guys; it’s to take a report after the crime has been committed. The odds of being at the scene at the same time to catch a bad guy from hurting a citizen is slim. Our Nanny State attitude will be the ruin of our society and the end of civilization because what is required is that the good citizens keep and bear arms to defend their rights, not turn over those responsibilies to anyone, especially government agencies.

  2. Anonymous said

    Thanks, TF! But you’re selling your pre-retirement self and other LEOs short. The job isn’t taking reports (although I’m sure sometimes it feels like it), it’s ”’catching”’ the perps! Punishment is important, and you can’t punish them until you catch them.

    But you’re right — it’s pure dumb luck if you catch someone in the act. You’re almost always called upon after the crime has been committed. It’s so much more efficient to have the intended victim do the catching — and maybe the punishing. 😉

  3. left brain female said

    Right on, Bro! Great post – I’ve been ranting this morning too. Watching the spin is just making me sick!

  4. VRB said

    It is amazing how you know the circumstances, psychology and motives of all the people caught in this catastrophe and now their lives have become about you.

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