Two very different news stories stood out for me recently. The first was the story of the killing of 26 innocent women and children at the school in Connecticut. The other was a story out of Iowa where a panel of judges said that a dentist could fire his assistant for being too attractive.
At first blush the two stories couldn't be more different. On the one hand you have a story of depraved indifference to human life, a real world example of pure evil. On the other you have a story of a dentist who’s not disciplined enough to guarantee he won’t hit on one of his employees. By any measure they are as different as night and day… except when they’re not.
Immediately after the Connecticut shooting the anti-gun cries began. Anybody with a brain and a heart had to feel for the families of those 20 small children and the 6 teachers who tried to save them. The natural inclination is what can we do?
Similarly, when the story of the all male panel’s decision in Iowa became public, many people looked at that and said, that’s wrong, that’s discrimination, how can we fix that?
These very different stories share one thing, they engender calls for someone to “do something”, or more accurately, for the government to “do something”. Those calls dovetails with the very modern American notion that there must be a cure for all evils. The unfortunate thing about that is, that while it’s always possible for the government to do something, it’s rare that the government doing something actually solves the underlying problem.
Take the calls for more gun laws. While looking at pictures of the little children in Connecticut juxtaposed with images of the hardware the shooter used, one would have to have a stone heart not to want to do something about those guns. But the reality is that the state already had some of the strictest gun laws in the country and it didn’t stop the carnage. In addition, history is replete with examples of mass murders via weapons other than guns. From fertilizer to planes to knives to Tylenol, it’s clear that if someone seeks to do harm, weapons are available. Indeed, between 1994 & 2004 there was an assault weapons ban in the United States but somehow Columbine occurred right in the middle of it.
The reality of life is that bad things happen to good people, and when government seeks to “do something” to solve problems, it invariably makes matters worse. Including with gun control. Look at Washington, DC, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, and Oakland. These cities have some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country yet few people feel safe walking their streets. Government action has essentially eliminated an honest citizen’s ability to protect themselves and their families.
What’s worse, government “doing something” about guns flies in the face of the Constitution. Contrary to popular belief, the 2nd Amendment was not written to protect a hunter’s ability to shoot Bambi or Daffy Duck. In 1789 the memory of a tyrannical British government was fresh in the minds of George Mason, Patrick Henry and other anti-federalists. The 2nd Amendment was intended specifically as a counterweight to an overarching centralized government. It was intended to allow an armed population to deter a government from usurping the liberty of the people. Indeed, even James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, understood the challenge the 2nd Amendment sought to eliminate: "Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace." The problem of an unarmed population was clear in the 18th century, just as it is today. In the not so distant 20th century tens of millions of people were disarmed and brutally murdered in places like Russia, China, Cuba and Cambodia amongst others.
In the way that minimum wage increases and other government regulations intended to “help” the poor result in higher unemployment amongst those least equipped to compete for jobs, or just as government banking regulations intended to “help” minorities buy homes resulted in wiping out a quarter century of minority wealth creation, government restrictions on law abiding citizens owning or carrying weapons will result in far more crime and deaths at the hands of criminals for whom gun laws are of little concern.
And the problem is not reserved for just guns. Government does very little well, and most things badly. As such, the default sentiment that the government must “do something” each time something goes wrong somewhere is a recipe for disaster.
Imagine the Iowa legislature were to pass a law saying “It is unlawful to fire an employee because the boss finds them too attractive.” What would be the outcome? Would it be beautiful women wearing short skirts and revealing tops because they know they can’t be fired for attracting the attention of their boss? Maybe, but the more likely outcome would be less jobs available for women who might be considered attractive. Why? Because bosses would not want to open themselves up to litigation if they hired and attractive employee but she turned out to be incompetent. While they might win the suit eventually, it would likely not be worth the trouble or the cost. The logical solution would be only hiring employees that are… less than attractive.
That scenario is obviously ludicrous. But the same thing plays itself out every time government rolls out new regulations, whether they have to do with hiring minorities, education standards, prohibition, securities manipulation or virtually every other aspect of normal human life. Failure and negative unintended consequences are hallmarks of government regulation.
In a country of 310 million unique, flawed, and sometimes spectacular human beings, the trials and tragedies of life are difficult enough without having to deal with government bureaucrats seeking to control every aspect of life. Whether George Orwell’s fictional 1984, the very real disasters of Greece and California, or the soon to be real catastrophe of Obamacare, the results of government overreach are always bad for virtually everyone involved other than the bureaucrats.
While events like Newtown are tragic and doctors like James Knight are regrettable, neither should be used as the fulcrum upon which Congressional levers can foist more regulations on the American people. Life is full of tragedies, but it is also full of triumphs. 19th century Theologian William Shedd may have put it best: "A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for". Ships are for sailing and life is for living. As bureaucrats seek to obviate all risks from life, be they related to guns, employment law, bicycle helmets, trans fats or carbonated beverages, they slowly eviscerate the freedoms that make life worth living in the first place. Tyranny rarely comes to power marching under the banner of tyranny, but rather under the banner of seeking to “do something” to improve the lot of the people. History is full of people discovering too late that government “doing something” for us is really just another way of saying government “doing something” to us instead. One has to wonder if Americans will learn that lesson before it’s too late.