Property Rights

Planning Commissions: Proper Role of Local Government?

A recent article tells of a Woods Cross man who was seeking permission to enter into peaceful commercial transactions.  He intended to sell firearms out of his home—an intent to which many of his neighbors strongly objected.  This legal activity apparently must have the blessing of the local planning commission according to local ordinance, and a permit must be issued.

Libertas Institute is currently soliciting submissions for our second annual essay competition.  The theme of this year’s contest:  “The Proper Role of Local Government.”  Do the activities of a local planning commission fall within the scope of the proper role of local government?

The above-cited article describes the man’s neighborhood as one “where streets are lined with single-family homes, bicycles litter lawns, and kids spend summer days beating the heat in their swimsuits..”  The article mentions that some of the residents of the neighborhood are upset that their neighbor wants to sell firearms from his home.  One such neighbor, Ria Vanlet, is quoted as saying, “If you’d sell vitamins, maybe. But firearms, it’s a different story.”  Among her reasons for opposing the man’s right to sell firearms from his home was that she is concerned about safety.

The article also mentions that at least three other Woods Cross residents have the same permit and that apparently there haven’t been any complaints in those cases.

We would argue that the opinions of the neighbors, and even the recognition that other similar cases have not resulted in any problems, are essentially irrelevant.  No individual or group of individuals has the right to restrict the otherwise peaceful activities of another. All have the right to defend themselves with the use of force when their inherent rights are violated.  There is no such justification for the use of force to restrict the activities of individuals when those individuals are not infringing on the rights of others.

The French economist Frédéric Bastiat, in his 1850 publication The Law, stated the following:

Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.

We have noted the importance of private property rights in a previous post, and Bastiat’s inclusion of property rights as one that is God-given further highlights its importance.

We also have noted that neither the City of Highland nor its citizens had the rightful authority to restrict businesses from operating on Sundays.  For essentially the same reasons, the City of Woods Cross has no rightful authority to prohibit this man from selling firearms from his home.  We encourage residents of Woods Cross, members of the planning commission, and all Utahns to support the basic principles of individual liberty and private property rights—to recognize the natural rights of all free individuals to engage in peaceful exchange as they see fit and to use their private property as they see fit.

Thankfully, in this case the Woods Cross planning commission voted unanimously to issue the sought after permit.  We applaud them for their vote, and we look forward to a day when the ordinances which require individuals to seek permission slips from government to simply exercise their natural rights are completely repealed.