Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fast cars, bad laws

All too often on the internet I am called names for holding a particular position. I'm generally told that I hold my position on "X" because (1) I'm not smart enough to understand it (2) I haven't considered the matter critically or (3) I'm just parrotting my (parents, church, etc.). Amazing at how people can know so much about me from a single sentence.

It seems people think one's position on a topic always comes from preconceived prejudice. I wonder if the reason they think that is because that's the reason behind their own position...

Anyway, I thought I would do some posts on things I have given considerable thought to and subsequently changed my mind about. One of those is the law. I used to think it was acceptable, or even good, to make laws that were designed simply to have a desired effect. I know that sounds vague so let me give a hypothetical example, and then a real example.

Let's say we want to stop dangerous speeding. So let's make a law that you can't own a car that goes over 90 MPH. Seems reasonable. Nowhere in the US is there a legal speed limit over 90, so anyone who's doing that is clearly breaking a law somewhere. Nobody needs a car that goes more than 90 MPH. There's no doubt that this law will save lives! Trot out some studies of how excessive speed is a factor in one third of all fatal car crashes.

Of course we have to make an exception for the police, since they need to be able to catch people who go over 90, and since we have a lot of cars on the road that can go over 90, the owners are required to either buy new cars or have their cars fitted with speed limiters.

Would you be behind this law? There's a time when I would be, but not now. Laws exist to protect the natural rights of citizens. Whenever a law is proposed I consider several things:

  • What right does the law protect?
  • What right does it limit?
  • Is the thing being limited wrong itself?

One could argue that the law above protects the right to life and there is no right it limits (since driving is considered a privilege and not a right). However, the law does so only in an indirect, limited way.

We already have laws that make illegal to drive more than 90 MPH, so there is no additional protection of the right to life. And the right that is limited is the right to own property that has good uses as well as bad. The fact that my car can go over 90 does not mean I must drive it over 90. A car that can go over 90 has perfectly good uses, such as driving my kids to school and getting me to work. It may even be safer than a car that ca't reach 90, since it will have enough power to potentially get me out of a possible collision.

The problem is that we ave literally tens of thousands of laws like this on the books, and lawmakers propose hundreds more each year. Some examples? How about New York's 16 ounce drink limit?

I recently read about a new proposal to ban civilians from owning body armor. Supporters clam that nobody needs body armor unless they are police or first responders. But is that true? Aren't there honest citizens who live/work/travel through areas where they might fear for their lives? Shouldn't they be able to protect themselves? So let's look at my three questions.

What right does the law protect? I can't honestly think of any. You could say it protects the right to life of victims of mass shooters who wear body armor. But we already have laws against mass shootings, so there is no additional protection. What right does it limit? The right to life of citizens. Nobody can claim that a bulletproof vest is anything other than a defense. Is the thing being limited wrong itself? No!

So what about this law makes any sense? It seems to be proposed for the purpose of making it easier for the government to use deadly force on its citizens. And that is wrong.

[image of BMW from A Car Wallpaper, vest from Turtleskin Body Armor press release]


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