Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why Bother Having Laws?

Whenever there's an incident of gun violence that prompts talk of increased gun control, one of the immediate go-to's of those in opposition to gun control is "More gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy."  Whether its the tragedy of a single child killed in the crossfire of a drive by shooting or a larger group of people shot by a mass murderer, without fail that response gets trotted out: "More gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy." 

And you know what? They may have a point. I mean, we have laws against theft. But people steal things every day.

We have laws against speeding and people exceed the speed limit all the time.

We have laws against drunk driving yet lives are lost to those driving while under the influence of alcohol.  

We have laws against committing murder but people still die at the hands of others, whether by gun, knife or any other way to take a human life. 

So why bother having laws at all? 

Of course that's stupid, you might argue. Without laws, there would be rampant theft, speeding, drunk driving and murder. Without laws, we would have no way to punish those who do commit these acts.  

The point is that as a society, we accept laws as a part of living in a safe and civilized environment. But laws do not guarantee a safe and civilized environment, they only make it more likely that we can live in a safe and civilized environment. And the stronger those laws are and the stronger the enforcement of those laws, the more likely we can continue to live in a safe and civilized environment.  

But even with an increased level of protection, laws cannot provide absolute protection. There will always be those who think they can circumvent the law or that the law doesn't apply to them. 

Sometimes the law is not even a consideration. In the middle of a heat confrontation and someone is in a murderous rage directed towards another person, one is not thinking, "I'm so pissed off at you and you should die, but darn it! Those laws against murder..." No, that person only wants to see the other person hurt or dead.  

Laws against murder don't mean you will never ever get murdered. But hopefully it's less likely it will happen and if it does, the law gives society options to bring your killer to justice. 

Yet when gun violence happens? "More gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy." 

Now I realize this is a bit of a straw man argument. I'm comparing the existence of laws against certain acts to the increase of laws regarding certain acts. After all, the position is not "gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy" but "more gun laws". 

But think about this. One of the examples of other laws I gave above involved drunk driving. I don't know how long since the invention of the automobile that its been against the law to not drive while drunk but over the 50+ years of my life, if a cop pulled you over and you were drunk behind the wheel, you would be arrested. There have always been, to my experience, laws against drunk driving.  

Yet people were still dying due to recklessness of intoxicated drivers. Why? Because there were holes that had to be plugged in these laws. Two big ones were: 
  • The level of blood alcohol content to determine someone was too drunk to drive wasn't low enough. People who were still impaired were not meeting the legal standards for being drunk.
  • Punishments were not consequential. Drunk drivers were on the road for multiple infractions yet still legally allowed to drive. 

Over time, existing laws were strengthened or new laws were created and the net result is a continual decline in traffic fatalities connected to drunk driving. 

But deaths on the road connected to drunk driving have not disappeared completely. Sadly there are still people who have had their lives cut short by the irresponsibility of an impaired driver. Yes, sadly, improving and adding to drunk driving laws do not prevent any particular tragedy from happening. No, we cannot save all lives. But we have the power to save the lives of as many people as we can. 

So the next time there is a horrible incident of gun violence (and tragically, you know another one is just around the corner) and some short sighted promoter of their own selfish interests says, "More gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy", don't fall for that swill. No law can prevent each and every tragedy. But each tragedy should spurn us to work harder to prevent as best we can the next tragedy, not to just bury our heads in the sand and say there was nothing we could've done. 

No, we can't save all victims but maybe we can save more of them.

No, we can't save the victims of yesterday or today but maybe we can save someone tomorrow.

Everyone, be good to one another. 

I'll be back with another post tomorrow.

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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