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“Laws Don’t Stop People From Doing Bad Things,” Says a Local Law Enforcement Officer

gun violence
Comic by Mike Luckovich

The title of this post is a verbatim statement made by a gun-loving, middle-aged white Republican who likely voted for Donald Trump. This man, a member of local law enforcement, recently attended a meeting that I happened to attend as well. Prior to the start of the meeting, several government officials were discussing gun laws and firearm restrictions. One avid Trump supporter happily lent his support to the President Trump’s lie that cities with stringent gun laws — Chicago, in particular — have higher crime rates and firearm-related violence. (Please see Gun Laws, Death and CrimeIs Chicago Proof That Gun Laws Don’t Work? Chicago Toughest on Gun Control? A Claim Shot Full of HolesLaw Center to Prevent Gun Violence.) The member of law enforcement chimed in with several anecdotal stories about gun violence and firearms laws, and then, uttering the most absurd thing I have ever heard come out of a policeman’s mouth. The man said, “Laws don’t stop people from doing bad things.”

Having business before this government body, I thought it unwise to interject my pinko-commie-socialist-liberal thoughts into the discussion. I thought to myself, just another day in the right-wing nirvana of rural Northwest Ohio. Nothing I could say would change hearts and minds, and saying the wrong thing could have a negative outcome for me business-wise. Later that night, as I sat in my recliner thinking about the day’s events, I found myself becoming angry over what the police officer said. How dare a man who swore an oath to uphold federal, state, and local law, and to serve and protect local citizens say that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things. If this is truly the case, why not repeal all laws and let the man with the fastest draw and the straightest shot determine social order and freedom. Is this police officer so blinded by his support of the gun lobbies’ misinterpretation of the Second Amendment that he cannot see the importance of having laws? Surely, he thinks we should have laws prohibiting murder, rape, robbery, and sexual abuse. I highly doubt this officer is a libertine. Born and raised in this area, this officer has been deeply influenced by the political, religious, and social mores of rural Ohio. Why, then, would he emphatically state that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things?

If asked, I am sure that the officer would limit his statement to the efficacy of gun laws. Why, I ask, limit making laws to firearm regulations? Laws don’t stop some people from murdering, raping, or molesting children. Is this reason, then, to do away with laws that make such behaviors illegal? Of course not. So it is with gun laws. It is certainly true that gun laws don’t keep motivated criminals from securing firearms. That said, limiting access to certain firearms, accessories, and ammunition, would make it harder for criminals to use them, and in doing so, would save lives. Outlawing semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity clips, along with having universal background checks and severely restricting handgun ownership would go a long way in putting an end to mass shootings, and would also, in time, reduce criminal gun violence. One front on the battle against drug addiction and opioid-related deaths is regulating/controlling legal drug supplies, and aggressively going after those manufacturing, distributing, and selling drugs illegally. We know that this is the only way to put an end to the opioid crisis, so why, then, do we not use the same approach to gun violence? That current gun laws are often ineffective is agreed by one and all. But the answer is not to say, fuck it, and give up on attempts to craft effective laws that respect gun owner rights while at the same time putting an end to gun violence. If progressive countries such as England, Australia, Spain, and Japan can drastically reduce gun violence through legislative means, surely the United States can do the same. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Japan has a per-hundred-thousand homicide rate of .31, Spain .66, Britain .92, Australia .98, and the United States 4.88. I ask you, in that set of numbers, which one stands out to you?

Laws may not stop people intent on harming others from committing crimes, but imagine, for a moment, a society without laws and enforcers of law. Imagine a world where all disputes are settled by violence, and the people with the most powerful means of violence win. Why, we would be living in a world much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or The Walking Dead and Mad Max. It is our laws and their enforcement that give structure and order to our society. Baptists should have the freedom to worship as they wish and not fear being murdered while they pray. Country concert goers should have the freedom to drink beer and sing tunes about women, beer and trucks and not fear being gunned down. All of us should have the freedom to go about our daily lives and not fear being murdered in our homes or at the grocery. The only way to protect our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is to have laws that are enforced for the common good. Until our political leaders stand up to the gun lobby and pass legislation restricting gun purchase, ownership, and use, we should expect continued mass shootings and gun-related crime and violence.

We, the people, have the power to stem the flow of blood in our streets. It remains to be seen if we will do so. Surely, twenty-six dead Baptists is enough to force the issue, right?  Surely, the mass shootings and gun violence of the twenty-first century, when taken collectively, will lead to systemic, nationwide change, right? Surely, now is the time to tell the NRA to go fuck itself, right? How many more people must die before we demand Congress and state legislatures send the gun lobby packing and begin to enact comprehensive gun regulation?

Hey, did you see what Trump tweeted?


  1. Avatar
    Grammar Gramma

    We are utterly shameless as a nation. If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough to bring quick action toward gun control, then nothing ever will be. Then we had (after several other smaller ones) Las Vegas. And now, Sutherland Springs. And still no action. I despair that there will ever be the least movement on the issue of gun control. Our legislators are too firmly in the pay of the NRA. :-p

  2. Avatar

    I don’t know if the person you mentioned meant it the way *I* think of it, but I have said that phrase before, too.

    I think of it this way. There are already scores of laws (gun laws, property laws, sexual crime laws, laws against pedophilia etc etc). And none of those laws stop the shitty people who commit the crimes.

    There is nothing to stop a person from doing a bad thing if that person wishes to do it. No law or moral code strong enough. Because with the laws we have in place already, there should be one hell of a lot less crime.

    So maybe that’s what he meant?

    Not that it matters. Our politicians have been bought and paid for by many different groups/entities/more assholes. None of them give a shit for you or for me.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Sure, no law will stop someone from doing something bad. That said, laws (and their enforcement) can and do limit behavior. Speed laws are a good example. In states where speed laws are enforced, drivers are more likely to obey the law. In states where speed laws are not enforced, drivers know they can drive as fast as they want, putting the lives of others at risk. Ohio is a good example of the former, Michigan the latter.

      True libertarianism leads to anarchy. All of us want sensible laws by which to govern our society. Imagine if there were no laws and making profits were all that mattered — a return to the days spoken of in Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring.

      I am not suggesting that our laws can’t be improved. They can, and frivolous laws should be stricken from the books. In the case of the officer in this post, I wonder if he’d say the same thing if we took his statement to its logical conclusion — no gun restrictions or laws. Would he be comfortable with someone cruising town with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back of their truck? I doubt it. When humans gather into societies, laws are crucial for maintaining order and peace.

  3. Avatar
    That Other Jean

    No, laws don’t prevent people from breaking them. They do provide guidelines for acceptable behavior, though, with penalties attached for defying them. That, and a desire to live in a civilized society, prevents most people from breaking them. Did the law enforcement officer ever stop to think that if laws–gun laws, traffic laws, property laws, etc.–actually prevented people from breaking them, he’d be out of a job?

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