Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why Even Have Laws Then?

While we were away at EAA, a legislative committee held a public hearing on a bill that would stiffen the penalties for drunk driving in Wisconsin.  One measure would make first offense drunk driving a misdemeanor crime--like it is in nearly every other state.  Another measure would make third offense OWI a felony--instead of the current threshold of four.

The bill is getting the expected opposition from the Wisconsin Tavern League--which apparently believes that without customers who abuse alcohol, every bar in the state will go broke--and from the bleeding hearts who believe that society can't expect people to control their behavior and that no one should go to jail or prison for breaking the laws.  But a member of the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office also showed up to voice opposition, because too many people will have to be prosecuted.

Now one would expect that somebody charged with ensuring the safety of the public would applaud efforts to take dangerous criminals off the street--and to send the message that life-threatening actions will be taken seriously.  Instead, that prosecutor (and his boss I'm sure) think that is just too much work.  It raises the question: if enough people choose to ignore a law--or willingly violate it--should it be a law any more?

We can look to the Federal Government as a case study on this.  For decades, it chose not to enforce the immigration laws of this country.  How did that work out?  Now for the second time in the past 35-years we are looking at granting amnesty to the lawbreakers--and promising to "get tough on the issue from here on out!"  Yeah, right.

Conversely, drug laws have been enforced rather rigidly--and the result has been an explosion in the prison population.  Some claim that entire generations of African-Americans have been "lost" by mandatory minimum sentences for possession or distribution.  This has also led to efforts to legalize marijuana use in several states--for "medicinal" purposes and even for just "gettin' high" as well.

While I may harp on too much government spending on a fairly regular basis, I do believe that there are two areas where we almost can't spend enough: Making sure that we maintain a defense against all (external) enemies seeking to take away our freedoms, and keeping people who do bad things away from those who abide by the rules.  To me, the excuse of "too many people will be arrested" doesn't fly.  How many thefts are "too many" before we get rid of shoplifting laws?  How many child molesters are "too many"? Or tax evaders? Or gang bangers shooting at other people?

And maybe that Milwaukee County prosecutor should ask the family members of the next person killed by a repeat drunk driver in his jurisdiction if they think the laws are "too harsh" to be enforced.

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