One of the most dangerous phrases in the English language is, “There ought to be a law…”
People in general have a very unrealistic perception of the law, law enforcement and fighting crime. It has become an almost Pavlovian response to things we don’t like to call for a law restricting or regulating it. People seem to have the misconception that laws can prevent crime, when in fact they simply create criminals.
The foundation of our legal system is the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” Guilt must be proven through the due process of law. Yet we insist on trying to pass laws to preemptively address potential threats. Basically we have become a nation that judges everyone guilty until proven innocent.
The gun debate is a prime example.
It is a commonly held position that “felons” should not be allowed to own guns. That is one of the driving factors behind support for background checks as well, which are widely supported even by gun owners. The question is, does this prevent “felons” from getting guns? No, not at all. Granted, they can’t walk into a gun store and buy one off the shelf, but they can still get one WITHOUT a background check, documentation or any record of the sale. In fact, they can get it easier, quicker and cheaper than the “law abiding citizen” walking into the gun store.
What is a “felon”? Most people would equate that term with rapists, murderers or other violent criminals. However, many felonies are non-violent in nature. A felony is perceived as the most serious of crimes, punishable by death or by more than one year in prison.
The “one year in prison” is key, because the federal definition of “prohibited possessors” uses that phrase, NOT the term felon or felony. So, even non-felony, misdemeanors, can result in the loss of your right to keep and bear arms. Unfortunately, that’s not all you lose.
How do laws create criminals?
First of all, the very existence of a law means that anyone who violates that law is a criminal. That’s just step one though. Having been deemed a criminal (caught, convicted, time served), no matter what your sentence, you are considered a criminal, “felon”, for life. Part of the twisted perception of “once guilty, always guilty” that society tends to exhibit. The term “felon” carries that connotation, even though the correct term would be ex-felon.
A felon is someone convicted of a felony and serving time. An ex-felon has served their time and been released back into society. Here is where the second step of the law creating criminals occurs. Not only do they lose certain constitutionally protected rights, they lose a whole lot more.
Here is just a sample of Florida law affecting “felons” taken from the article, Should a Felon Be Allowed to Own Guns?
- Loss of the right to vote, hold office or run for office.
- Disqualified from jury duty for 7 years.
- Loss of the ability to have a firearm.
- Loss of professional licenses.
- Employment restrictions to include termination.
- Inability to serve in the U.S. military.
- Restrictions on family adoptions.
- Eviction by landlord, or from public housing.
- Loss of federal assistance for higher education.
- Loss of state benefits.
- And More…
Once Guilty, Always Guilty with little chance of ever being a “law abiding citizen” again. It doesn’t take much critical thinking skill to see the reason for criminal recidivism.
A relatively minor crime, or major crime, can cost you housing, employment, education, the right to effective self defense and participation in your own government. You become a literal outcast, a second class citizen, with little control over your life or the world around you. How do you reintegrate into a society while being essentially banned from all aspects of that society?
More laws aren’t the answer, more responsibility is the answer.
The insidious dark side of passing more laws is the dependence upon them and the abdication of personal responsibility. As long as people cling to the smoke and mirrors of the “crime prevention” capability of laws, they neglect their personal responsibility for their safety and security. The sheer volume of laws is another aspect of the dark side. As James Madison wrote:
It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow. – Federalist No.62
Not only have laws become so numerous and complex as to be unknowable, but they have given government power far beyond its constitutional limits. There is a reason that lawyers and judges have vast law libraries and a cadre of legal aids to do research. There is a reason why they say a good prosecutor could “indict a ham sandwich.”
We all know the BIG NO-NOS, like murder, rape and robbery, but there are literally millions of little no-nos that can cost you your rights and freedom as well. Depending on “the law” to protect you is like putting the fox in charge of hen house security. Laws should be limited and confined within constitutional limits. Rather than being dependent upon government to “fix” things, people need to be empowered and encouraged to exercise their own personal responsibility for their actions and the actions of those around them.
In a letter to Isaac Tiffany, 1819, Thomas Jefferson defined Liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will.” In essence, a free for all. However, he went on to define “Rightful Liberty” which should be the basis of our law.
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’; because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.