Olson: Minneapolis won’t let riot‐battered stores install security shutters

By Walter Olson |

In the destructive riots that hit Minneapolis this summer — riots I’ve argued libertarians should be in the forefront of condemning — nearly 1,500 businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed.

For many of these businesses, the Minneapolis city government adds a special insult: it won’t let shop owners install exterior shutters to protect against break‐ins, a common practice in other cities. The Star‐Tribune reported on the resulting frustration:

In a report justifying the rule change, Minneapolis officials argued that external shutters “cause visual blight” and create the impression that an area is “unsafe” and “troublesome.”

After looters crashed through his floor‐ to‐ ceiling windows and stole $1 million worth of booze in May, Chicago‐ Lake Liquors owner John Wolf wanted to protect himself from a repeat occurrence. … The [forbidden] investment [in security shutters] would not only prevent rioters from entering his store, it would protect his windows — which cost $50,000 to replace.

It reminds me of the controversy I wrote about in 2017, in which the Philadelphia city council moved to ban the see‐ through partitions that many corner stores install in order to deter robberies, especially of the strong‐ arm variety.

The councilwoman who sponsored that bill said that transparent partitions caused “indignity,” only happened in some neighborhoods, and “conditioned” children’s thinking in bad ways.

Notice, as with the Minneapolis worries about security shutters and property values, that the objection is not to a neighborhood’s being physically dangerous, as to the display of visible cues that might alert people to that fact. Make the visible cues go away!

Both cities’ measures show a contempt for the natural human right of self‐ defense. Some expect us to pool this right with our neighbors collectively and vest it in the authorities — even though these same authorities in practice take no legal responsibility for defending us.

Compare: gun control advocates often argue that law‐abiding individuals must not be left with the means of self‐defense because when guns are widely distributed, there will inevitably be some instances of misuse or accident that harm innocents.

However strong or weak you see that argument as being, it’s absent here. Metal shutters on store fronts don’t misfire and hurt anyone by accident. Acrylic partitions in sandwich shops aren’t something criminals might steal and use in later crimes.

Bans like the ones in Minneapolis and Philadelphia make the logic starker and clearer than usual: we, the authorities, hold your interest in self‐ defense, no matter how peaceful and passive the means, to be of so little worth that we will let even street aesthetics and concerns about neighborhood image override it.
The primary task of government is that of protecting individual rights. Cities like these are failing at that task.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies and is known for his writing on the American legal system.

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