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Unfranked #40 Shooting Looters?

  • September 2nd, 2005

Have you been struck by the apparent helplessness of the authorities in Louisiana in the face of looters? Is it possible that looters could really have forced the abandonment of rescue efforts, including a fully operational hospital. The tragedy is made so much worse by such depravity.

I can’t imagine anything more shameful for the home of the brave and the land of the free.

What has happened to the descendants of the people De Tocquville considered uniquely equipped by community spirit to govern themselves without arming their rulers with martial powers? Why was lawlessness not nipped in the bud, given that police are armed? Is some legal deficiency causing paralysis?

It set me wondering. What would we do if New Zealanders went feral after a major natural disaster? As a proud Wellingtonian I do not want to face shame as well as grief if we get the big one in my lifetime. We must know that decency will not be sacrificed in an overwhelming emergency. Such times can strengthen a community, but only when they call out the best of behaviour, not the worst.

Scum will surface here too in a crisis. Already the price for crime is not enough to deter them. Our crime figures tell us there are more identified thugs among us than in previous generations of New Zealanders. It is irrelevant whether the proportions of naturally selfish have actually changed. They are obviously more ready to break the law. We have higher burglary and assault rates than the US. They will prey on neighbours disabled by tragedy unless they know that the law will prevail.

They must know that they will not get away with crime, no matter how busy the police are saving victims. If there is no practical way to arrest them, looters should know that they will be shot on sight. Lawlessness must be stopped while it is minor, before it converts to robbery and rape.

Could our authorities do that?

The Crimes Act does not authorise shooting to stop looting. Even the Police are only permitted to use lethal force to protect themselves or others, not property. I have been trying to reinstate a general right to use proportionate force to stop crime.

What about if a state of emergency is declared? It seems there is no adequate power. Many powers are conferred on emergency managers, but they all assume that people are obeying the law. Naivety gutted our rights of self-defence 25 years ago, when provocation was removed as a defence to assault.

The same naivety and politically correctness prevailed in 1987 when the time-honoured Riot Act was repealed. From what I can work out from materials I can access on the road, section 88 was removed from the Crimes Act with no thought that our forebears might have known more about human nature than us.

I’ve been interested in the Riot Act since being told in school in Taihape that an early mayor used it to stop a violent Saturday night riot. Railway construction and timber mills gave Taihape a ten to one male to female ratio. The Act’s principle was similar to that wonderful Quaker warning to burglars “Friend, I would not hurt thee for all the world, but thou art standing where I am about to shoot”.

I think I can remember Sir Geoffrey Palmer pontificating about antiquated law, and opining that modern authorities would never again need such draconian powers. Sounds like the Prime Minister’s just before 9/11, opining that we live in an incredibly benign world.

When the new Parliament is reconvened an early priority should be a thorough review of emergency management powers. It raises the same issues of principle as my campaign to restore self-defence rights (see ).

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