Someone Else’s Property Rights

Assume there’s some dude out there who enjoys target shooting. Let’s further assume that one fine afternoon, he decides to shoot targets in his back yard, and he happens to live in the suburbs. Alarmed neighbors ask him to stop. He responds that he has the right to do whatever he wants in his own backyard. He continues firing, and at some point in the afternoon injures one of the neighborhood children, who happens to be cowering in his bedroom. I would presume that at that point, if not before, the police show up, and if they didn’t the neighbors would have had the right to take steps, even violent steps on the man’s own property, to make him stop. This would be especially true if the guy decided to start again the next day.

I was thinking about that when I read this post by Steve Benen. The post discusses the fact that the EPA is currently considering relaxing clear air standards. And I was wondering… what is the difference between, say, the crazy man target practicing, and a factory owner spewing toxins into the air or water?

Well, I see a lot of similarities. In both cases, you have a private property issue… presumably, people can do whatever they want on their property. Of course, they don’t have the right to do what they want on someone else’s property, and neither a bullet nor airborne lead particulates seem to respect property lines. In neither case is there necessarilly any intent to harm third parties, but in both cases, there is actual harm. The main difference, from what I can tell (and I am no attorney), is that if someone aims a rifle in the direction of a four year old, you are legally allowed to shoot him before he pulls the trigger. But when someone releases toxins that will harm a schoolyard full of children, and they do it day after day after day, well, that’s free enterprise. (And the EPA is considering making that an even better thing.) Am I missing something?