Hard Cases Do Make Bad Law
It was May 18, 1927. Thirty-eight children died in an elementary school mass murder in Bath Township, Mich. There was no Internet. The nuclear family was not yet broken. Mikhail Kalashnikov, the father of the practical assault rifle, was only 7 years old.
But there was depraved narcissism. It was the same evil found in Newtown, Conn., a week-and-a- half ago, and at both Virginia Tech and Columbine before that. For almost a century, politicians have failed to find a solution.
When evil strikes, many of us default to the government. In fact, when any issue comes before the public, we all ask our president, our members of Congress and our local politicos, "What are you going to do about it?"
Our plight is similar to that of a parent taking his child to the doctor for what the doctor truly believes to be a mild viral infection.
"My child is sick. I need some medicine to make him better," the parent laments to an overworked physician.
So the doctor prescribes an antibiotic. The pill will not make the child better, because the antibiotic will not work against a virus. Indeed, the antibiotic may be harmful because the child may develop antibiotic resistance. But it shuts up the parent, and the doctor can move on to the next patient. The medicine is prescribed.
In the midst of the virus that infected the mind of the Newtown shooter, we are that parent demanding President Obama's antibiotic. Indeed, he will prescribe it. But it will not have any more impact on the problem that created the Newtown tragedy than does an antibiotic chasing a virus.
Politicians always have an agenda mostly aimed at our freedom, our fears, and their re-election. And when we are most scared, we are most vulnerable to quick-fix schemes designed to capitalize on those fears.
After the Gulf of Tonkin "attack," a scared nation gave unlimited war powers to a president who proceeded to jump into a quagmire called Vietnam.
And, most recently, the tragedy of 911 goaded us into creating a security apparatus so invasive that it could not have been imagined by George Orwell.
Even today, the fear of falling over something Congress created called the "fiscal cliff" is giving the government an excuse to abandon what little fiscal discipline remains in our federal government in favor of a policy that raises taxes, fails to curtail spending, and prints devalued currency.
In fear over 911 terrorists, we gave up our cherished protections against unreasonable searches. Now we are asked to give up our right to keep and bear arms because a narcissist decided to become infamous.
Now, we cannot ignore the waste of innocent life in Newtown. But neither can we allow terrorists or sadistic mental defectives to define our freedoms.
"Hard cases make bad law." And responding to hard cases too quickly makes law even worse.
We cannot stop terrorism by treating law-abiding citizens as terrorists. Nor can we stop school shootings by disarming everyone in hopes that a murderer will be disarmed too. To allow a terrorist to determine how we organize air travel or to let a mass murderer determine how we conduct our schools is nothing less than surrendering our freedom to criminals.
The true job of government is to protect our liberties while neutralizing those, and only those, who abuse that liberty. And that will not be accomplished by an overnight flurry of legislation that could not have prevented tragedy anyway.
If Newtown has spurred us to any action, it should be a professional search for the root cause and cure for a worldwide public mental health problem where the strong use the weak as pawns to highlight their own narcissism.
It has been with us since 38 died at Bath, Mich., and since March 13, 1996, when 18 children were killed with 9 mm pistols in a school attack in the gun-controlled United Kingdom.
An assault weapons ban would not have helped the children then, and meaningless tokens of action will not help now.
If the lives of the children of Newtown are to have value beyond the sympathy of a nation, their experience must give us more than Orwellian laws that limit the liberty of law-abiding adults.
Robert M. Levy is chairman of the Moore County Republican Party. Contact him at Law52@prodigy.net.
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