OPINION – Imagine going to bed a law abiding citizen and waking up the next day a criminal.
This isn’t just an academic exercise; it’s become a reality for gun owners in states like California, New York, Colorado, and now Connecticut. Individuals who have followed the rules, worked hard, and been productive citizens their entire lives have become potential felons overnight.
It’s not because of anything they did. It’s not because of something they’ve threatened to do. The only thing that changed was the passage of an administrative law forbidding possession of standard capacity magazines for their firearms. If convicted of illegally possessing a banned magazine, they face jail time and the permanent loss of most of their civic rights.
In this case, the law isn’t stopping criminals from doing harm; it is creating new criminals where there were none before.
We are drifting further from the principle that a free society requires only enough laws to provide protection against individuals who had actually injured others. Now we see laws being passed for the purpose of increasing the state’s power over us even when our actions are peaceable.
We’re fast approaching the point when everything that is not forbidden will be compulsory.
When complicated and innumerable regulations are imposed by centralized power instead of being distributed widely, our laws become arbitrary and tyranny takes root. Consider how “zero tolerance” policies are administered and you’ll begin to understand the extremes to which this worldview leads.
A childhood drawing of a soldier with a gun is treated as a terrorist threat. Nail clippers or an aspirin at school bring suspension for violation of weapons or drug policies. Under this inflexible thinking, average people can be punished over laws that they had no idea they were breaking. Individuals are sent to prison over paperwork errors or charged with conspiracy over things they never intended to do.
Even if we spend every spare moment researching laws, edicts, administrative rulings and regulations, we will miss some. All it takes to become a criminal is for a bureaucrat at any level to take an unhealthy interest in someone. Then it’s simply a matter of finding the appropriate loophole to snare them.
Any of us could be guilty of something. We have no intent to commit a crime and yet we can’t be sure that we haven’t somehow broken some law somewhere.
This can be illustrated with a quote from Ayn Rand’s masterpiece “Atlas Shrugged” where a bureaucrat admits, “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt.”
Pointing out the increasingly belligerent nature of our legal code is not a call for anarchy. But many of our laws appear to support the belief that somehow human nature has changed to the point that we cannot be trusted to do the right thing without being pre-emptively micromanaged.
Obviously, there is value in those laws that provide society with justice, protection, and order. We should have a sense of civic pride when we are living as productive, upstanding, law-abiding citizens.
But clearly, some laws promote and protect our freedom while others try to prevent it. The bigger question is, how many of us recognize when we’re being backed into a corner?
Free people are willing to read the fine print, examine the technicalities and take action to either prevent or to correct bad laws. Those who do not wish to be free either shrug and change the channel or roll over and go back to sleep.
Most of us instinctively sense that the endless encroachment of the state does not bode well for the future of freedom. Writer Boston T. Party has pointed out that if a people get the government they deserve, then it stands to reason that government gets the people it deserves.
Creating a nation of potential criminals may turn out to be a very bad idea. To paraphrase mild-mannered comic book hero Bruce Banner, “Don’t treat me like a criminal. You won’t like me when I’m a criminal.”
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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