Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Applying Principles

Judging from the comments on my last post, Sheltered from Reality, I decided to write a follow up to illustrate how the example of disallowing weapons in the Superdome illustrates one-sided thinking and, as I stated in my conclusion, does not address total costs. Sadly, many of the comments I read did not address the costs either. Many overlooked the principles surrounding this example.

Nowhere in my post did I address whether the officials had a right to restrict people from bringing weapons into the Superdome. I did not claim that those who decided to seek shelter in the Superdome had the right to bring whatever they wanted. Everyone who has said that no one was forced to seek shelter in the Superdome is correct; the people did so with full knowledge of the terms of their acceptance: to stay in the Superdome, they had to leave their weapons at home. Obviously those people felt that it was in their self-interest to abide by the restriction in order to have shelter.
(Note: the Superdome restrictions were imposed by city officials and not by private individuals; the case could be made that because it was public, officials did not have the right to restrict the type of possessions, only volume and usage, as one commenter suggested.)

However, I still hold that deciding to disallow weapons in the Superdome is based on irrational fear rather than an assessment of the full costs and benefits. Do you believe that officials considered the negative consequences of their decision? Did they for one second consider that the weapons left unattended in people's homes might be subject to looting and end up in the hands of criminals? Did they consider that there was a higher likelihood of the looter using the unattended weapon to harm someone than the likelihood of someone in the Superdome using his weapon to harm someone?

A proper framework for making a decision examines both costs and benefits. But we also have to look at who bears the costs. Did the officials bear any costs for their "no weapons" policy? Other than the inconvenience of searching everyone, probably not. This cost was borne by those who might have had items stolen from them, who lost their weapons to Hurricane Katrina or to looters, and those who will be harmed by criminals who obtained the unattended weapons by theft. The news was already reporting looting while people were standing in line outside the Superdome, so we already knew that unattended weapons would end up in the hands of looters. Whose hands would you rather see them in: the hands of the rightful and lawful owners, or the hands of criminals who have no moral objection to stealing from someone else's home? Which people are more likely to use the weapons properly? If the goal of the "no weapons" policy was to make people safer overall, it failed. The issue here is not whether officials had the right to disallow weapons, but whether it was the right decision. These are two distinct and separate issues.

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