At one point in my political life I seriously advocated that the County Commission, of which I was a member, reserve every 3rd or 4th year to consider eliminating some of the laws on our books. My remark always earned a laugh, but I was in dead earnest. Unfortunately, when someone gets elected to public office, he or she feels the need to create a record of accomplishment and that usually means adding a basket of new laws to those that already exist, most of which no one remembers. Unfortunately, running for reelection on a record of having rescinded laws doesn’t garner much excitement from voters and may encourage the opposition to charge the incumbent with being ineffective. But I still think I’m right about too there being too much legislation and cite a statistic that may surprise more than a few. So many edicts exist at all levels of government, it’s probable that “more than 70 percent of American adults have committed a crime that could lead to imprisonment.” (“Talking Points: Are there too man laws to enforce?” The Week, 12/19/2014 pg. 18.)
A plethora of laws leads to uneven enforcement which, in itself, can encourage a disregard for laws in general. On the other hand, a policy of zero tolerance for law breakers can lead to absurd or tragic consequences. Take, for example, the chokehold death of Eric Garner. His crime? Selling “loosies” — individual cigarettes — on the street for 75-cents apiece. He could have given them away and been guilty of no offense, but some officious legislator felt compelled to make a distinction.
Eric Garner wasn’t a criminal in any serious sense. His was a minor infraction that didn’t deserve the death penalty. His misfortune was to encounter a police office who exercised zero tolerance and the scuffle that followed ended in tragedy. On the other hand, every year cruise ships dump more than 1 billion gallons of sewage into the ocean, “enough sewage to fill 10 backyard swimming pools a week” per cruise ship. (“News,” The Week, 12/19/14, pg. 18) The offense persists but I can’t recall the last time when the CEO of Carnival Cruises was ever caught in a chokehold.
My point? The country has too many laws and fails to enforce the ones that count. If I were ever in government again, I’d remember the words of Robert Frost. Before I wrote a law I’d ask to know whom I was walling in and walling out.