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Dangerous Laws

May 14, 2001

Tags Big GovernmentCorporate WelfareThe Police State

Are we losing our freedom? Are we, as a society, losing our ability to distinguish between what we don't like and what ought to be criminal? Every day, we see some glorious scheme being proposed to make us all safer, healthier, or wealthier, or to give us whiter teeth. To evaluate whether violating that law ought to be a crime, we need to ask: "Are you really willing to shoot someone over that?"

Before you say, "We're not going to be shooting anyone for smoking in public/not wearing a seatbelt/not wearing a helmet/not hiring the proper demographic in his office; we're only talking about a $50/$100/$250 fine!" think: "What if they won't pay their fine?" The response, "Then they'll have to appear in court, and the court will make them pay." The reply, "But what if they still refuse to comply with the court order?" "Then they'll be thrown in jail."

Even further, what if they refuse to allow the police in their home, or refuse to pull over their car when the officers try to arrest them? What if they are so tired of being nitpicked to death by nanny-statism that they just snap and  refuse to be taken alive? Oops. At some point, somewhere along the way, if something is made a crime, someone may have to shoot somebody to enforce the law.

Of course, most people dismiss this argument as unrealistic and far-fetched. But a couple of weeks ago, this premise was proved right (again).

You probably heard about the man who was shot in Cincinnati in April by the police. This incident spawned several days of racial unrest and rioting. Do you know what the underlying reason for the death of this young man was? He wasn't wearing his seat belt.

Of course, it wasn't quite that simple. He had received several seat-belt violations and hadn't paid any of his tickets. He had refused to respond to court orders. So, when they pulled him over on that fateful day, all the police knew about him was that there was a warrant for his arrest. They didn't know at the time that it was for seat-belt violations.

As for the man, we don't know what he was thinking, exactly, but he clearly didn't want to be arrested by the police. He took off in his car and led the police on a high-speed chase, which ended in his own death when the police thought he reached for a gun and shot him. He died over the seat-belt law.

This is not to blame the police. They didn't know why he had a warrant out for his arrest. They also say they believed their lives were in danger at the conclusion of the chase.

This also isn't designed to make a hero out of the young man. I sincerely doubt that he was a conscientious objector to the nanny state. More likely, he just didn't like seat belts and couldn't afford to pay the tickets. When his unpaid tickets rose to warrant status and the police spotted him, he panicked. In the end, however, he died because someone thought it was a good idea to force people to wear seat belts. Was it worth it?

No matter how innocuous or well-intentioned a law, it has to be enforced with the full force of the police powers. If it isn't, then the law is useless. When rules aren't enforced, that breeds contempt for the law itself.

According to George Washington, "Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." No matter how high-minded a law sounds, its only power comes from the business end of a gun.

The next time something annoys you and you want it stopped, or you come up with a good idea to improve everybody's life and you want to make sure everybody has to do it, you need to stop yourself and ask this question: "Am I really willing to shoot someone for this?"

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Ray Haynes represents the 36th Senate District in California. senator.haynes@sen.ca.gov. This piece was originally published in the Orange County Register.

"The state, the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion, is by necessity a hegemonic bond. If government were in a position to expand its power ad libitum, it could abolish the market economy and substitute for it all-round totalitarian socialism. In order to prevent this, it is necessary to curb the power of government. This is the task of all constitutions, bills of rights, and laws. This is the meaning of all struggles which men have fought for liberty." Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


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