I think we have all seen pictures of both natural disasters and riots where there are people looting. This begs the question, is it ever okay to loot or salvage?
Maybe it’s just me, but when someone says the word “looting”, I think of someone taking advantage of a situation, taking items they wouldn’t normally be able to purchase. The term “salvage”, in my opinion, means taking things that are not in another person’s possession that are needed to survive.
Now that I have defined what the terms mean to me, let me paint a picture for you.
We all prepare for inevitable events like bad weather or power outages and other type of events. We also prepare for the larger events that, while less likely, could still happen. What if there is an event that is truly so large that it effects your entire region or country? I’m thinking something worse than Katrina. In this event there is a high death toll, public services are barely functioning and aid is very slowly trickling in.
In this scenario, you and a couple neighbors have survived. No matter how well you’re prepared, your supplies are limited and will only last so long. Would it be okay to loot/salvage?
Law of Necessity
I did a bit of research for this article and found reference to something called the Law of Necessity. (-The Legal Dictionary, The Free Dictionary.com states that “The necessity defense has long been recognized as Common Law and has also been made part of most states’ statutory law.”
It goes on to explain:
“Almost all common-law and statutory definitions of the necessity defense include the following elements: (1) the defendant acted to avoid a significant risk of harm; (2) no adequate lawful means could have been used to escape the harm; and (3) the harm avoided was greater than that caused by breaking the law. Some jurisdictions require in addition that the harm must have been imminent and that the action taken must have been reasonably expected to avoid the imminent danger. All these elements mirror the principles on which the defense of necessity was founded: first, that the highest social value is not always achieved by blind adherence to the law; second, that it is unjust to punish those who technically violate the letter of the law when they are acting to promote or achieve a higher social value than would be served by strict adherence to the law; and third, that it is in society’s best interest to promote the greatest good and to encourage people to seek to achieve the greatest good, even if doing so necessitates a technical breach of the law.”
It appears that as long as you’re breaking the law for the greater good, you might have a legal leg to stand on. You could, however, still face civil charges. What about the morality of it? The eighth commandment says “Thou shalt not steal”. If my neighbors’ entire family was killed in this event, is taking their canned goods to feed my family or another family stealing? These are questions you should be considering now, and pray we never have to actually put to use.
Would I salvage? Yes. In an event the size that I mentioned I would salvage goods to help my family and community.