Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why Bother with Those Pesky Laws?

Do you mind if I philosophize for a moment?

Of course you don't. Of course, it's my blog, so I'll do it anyway, but I thought I'd be polite and ask.

I've been amazed at the ongoing circus over trying to come up with some common-sense ways to limit gun violence in our weapon-worshiping society. Many of the arguments made by both sides of the argument, but especially by gun advocates, are becoming increasingly shrill and wildly divergent from reality, to the point where it's all but impossible to have a rational discussion of a critical issue.

Here's one of the most ridiculous arguments I've heard from the NRA and other strident defenders of gun rights: "there's no point in enacting laws which restrict gun ownership, because the bad guys won't obey them and they'll only penalize law-abiding citizens."*

Well, duh.

If that's the case, what is the point of having any law about anything?

By definition, a lawbreaker is someone who ... breaks the law. The purpose of law is to protect the many from the depredations of the few. If we were all upright citizens who respected each other's rights and property, we'd have no need of laws. Sadly, that's not the case.

Laws aren't necessarily passed with the idea that they will proactively prevent people from being bad things, although that's certainly a part of it ... I'm sure there are some people who are dissuaded from committing crimes because of the possibility of experiencing the joys of prison life. But the law also provides a basis for punishing those who would willingly break the rules we as a society have enacted for our common protection.

My father always used to say that if you locked your doors and windows, it would keep out all the honest people, and that's true. It's also true that because we have laws, some dishonest people will be deterred from trying to break down those doors and windows ... and those that aren't know that they run the risk of arrest and prosecution.

The fifth commandment says "Thou shalt not kill," and all civilized societies have laws which apply criminal sanctions to a religious law. Do some people kill anyhow? Of course they do. But the existence of laws will deter some and ensure others that they can be punished. The eighth commandment tells us not to steal. Will some people steal, regardless? Of course they will. But we have laws against theft which allow such people to be punished.

Here's my point: the argument that laws restricting guns are useless because bad guys won't obey them is utterly stupid and unworthy of rational consideration. Of course bad guys won't obey the law ... but the law tells all of us what things we have agreed are worthy of punishment, and protects all of us by providing a basis for punishing those who transgress the limits we have agreed to place on dangerous activities.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think, but don't waste my time by saying laws are useless ... because the law is what sets us apart from the animals, who often behave better than many people.

Have a good day. Obey the law - it's there for your protection.

More thoughts coming.


* The bumper-sticker version is "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Laws codify what norms of conduct we expect of each other, and provide a framework for penalizing those who transgress. It allows society to function in the role of enforcer, instead of depending on the chaos that result from individuals acting on their own. Vendetta or vigilantism inevitably make things worse.

Most people accept those types of laws, whether due to their legal or religious or philosophical basis. Laws of those type serve to protect the inoffensive mass, although imperfectly.

You made a very convincing case, Bilbo!

John A Hill said...

I find it ironic that many of the people that believe laws about guns will have no effect on those that want to break the laws are also the ones that want laws prohibiting abortion and think that those laws will have an impact.


Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

There seems to be an impulse to cherry pick which laws people feel they should abide by, and those they wish would go away. Laws provide a collective philosophical basis of what a society aspires its members to act.

allenwoodhaven said...

I agree with you Bilbo. It's a ridiculous argument but unfortunately some will fall for it.

If only there could be a law against stupid. Congress would never pass it because then they'd all be in jail!

Unknown said...

Thank you.

Mike said...

I've been driving the speed limit for two days now. It's driving me crazy.

Mark Spearman said...

You completely miss the point of the argument.

The guns are just a tool. They are used to do good and bad. Restricting their purchase makes it difficult for law-abiding people to buy a tool for their defense, while those who don't care about the restrictions will still have them. This helps the bad guy and hinders the good guy and that's not the goal of gun control advocates or is it?

I've heard this compared to cars being registered. It would be a fair comparison, but vehicle laws are actually enforced when they're not obeyed.

You can't really make a comparison when you're referring to laws that aren't enforced to laws that are.

Not long from now, you will be able to use a 3D printer to produce highly sophisticated automatic weapons in the privacy of your own home at your leisure. I won't do it because I'm a law abiding citizen, but the bad guys will because they don't care. That flame thrower idea you have in another post might be a good idea at that point.

Bilbo said...

Mark - I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one, because I think that you have missed my point. If you've read any of my previous posts on the topic of guns and gun violence, you'd know that I support our rights under the Second Amendment just like I support all of our other rights under the Constitution ... I just think that we need to apply a little common sense. To address your specific points:
1 - Yes, I agree, guns are just a tool which can be used for good or bad. So are knives, flamethrowers, howitzers, and baseball bats. The real issue is that some types of all those things are made for a specific purpose, whether it's killing people on the battlefield, carving a turkey, or winning the World Series. Some types of guns there just isn't a purpose for other than to kill people in large numbers, quickly.
2 - It's ludicrous and insulting to imply that the goal of gun control advocates is to "help the bad guy and hinder the good guy." The goal of gun control advocates is to reduce the senseless violence that is enabled by guns. The approach of gun enthusiasts to achieving this goal is to get more guns in the hands of more people; the approach of those on the other side is the opposite. Where's the middle ground?
3 - "You can't really make a comparison when you're referring to laws that aren't enforced to laws that are." True, there are already laws on the books which regulate some aspects of gun sales and ownership (you can't own a fully-automatic machine gun, for example). However, you would have to agree that the NRA and the larger gun lobby has worked very hard to limit the authority of the government to enforce those laws ... why else has the BATF gone for so long with no director and severe limitations on its authority?

I could go on, but I don't know that there's much point. I support everyone's right to own as many guns as they want, but I expect them to apply common sense and good judgment rather than fear and paranoia. I don't believe their right to own a huge arsenal is more important than my right to be safe from gun violence.