Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Respect For The Law?

By Dave Dargo

I previously wrote about political expediency and a growing disrespect for the law engendered by over-reach by the government generally and by the national government specifically.

Recently there has been much written regarding the "creation" of a huge stockpile of ammunition by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Much of what was written contains conspiracy theories that are a bit removed from reality and richly fueled by any number of internet postings.

The reality is that the Department of Homeland Security put together a very large purchasing vehicle in order to get as large a discount as possible that will be available to all levels of law-enforcement including your local sheriff's office.

What these articles did help publicize, though, is the existence of a number of national government agency SWAT teams where one would not expect the need for a military-style police force.  The question I posed while discussing this issue was, "Why does the Social Security Administration need a swat team?"

It's not that I don't expect the Social Security Administration to never run up against a militant grandmother requiring advanced tactics during a take-down but I wanted to know why they couldn't use a SWAT team from the FBI or any other national law-enforcement agency.

Today I became aware of a blog called Executive Branch Project that has an interesting entry regarding antics by the national government that further erode respect for the law or, as the author puts it, our criminal justice system.

The author, John Malcolm, points to an article in National Review Online that highlights some of these cases including the Food and Drug Administration using a swat team to raid an Amish-run dairy in Pennsylvania because the farmer had shipped unpasteurized milk across state lines.  There are many other examples listed in that article and it's worth a read.

The CATO Institute has an interesting white paper, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" that claims up to 40,000 such SWAT raids occur per year.

This blog entry isn't meant as an indictment of the police officers who put their lives on the line keeping us safe and demonstrating heroic professionalism during critical events.  It is, however, meant as a warning to we the people when we decide to vest so much power in a national government that we take as routine the use of paramilitary SWAT teams to enforce milk and copyright laws.  We need to be careful that we don't desensitize ourselves to the massive power we have vested to the national government and take as routine our neighbor's houses being invaded by paramilitary forces because a suburban housewife is suspected of student financial-aid fraud.

I remember when the disgraced former governor of New York, Eliott Spitzer was forced out of office.  Before becoming New York State's chief executive he was a federal prosecutor known for aggressively going after Wall Street ne'er-do-wells.  Many on Wall Street felt that he was overreaching with his indictments in order to look good.  Some have claimed that in the year before he won election as governor he indicted a large number of people in order to build credibility knowing that the cases would get tossed out after the election.  Others simply claimed that Spitzer brought false charges, again to build his reputation as a tough, no-nonsense prosecutor who would go after those evil "white collar" criminals.

After Sptizer was ousted from office he became host of a show on CNN.  I was watching one evening and he stated that to stop an action he didn't approve he would indict the people for some crime.  He said that the people wouldn't have to be guilty of the crime, the mere action of being indicted would force the people to the bargaining table and the prosecutors could negotiate away the legal behavior they didn't like in exchange for dropping the false indictment.

Have we really lost our intellectual courage as a people that we're unwilling to rein in an overreaching government that is starting to encroach ever more into our daily lives?  At the moment, in the name of "doing something" poorly written gun-control legislation is wending its way through the U.S. Senate.  This legislation will simply give more power to the Spitzer's of the world to go after law-abiding citizens who can't keep up with the arcane regulations propagated on a daily basis by a national government that has swelled well beyond it's design limitations.  Worse, because the legislation is like Swiss cheese it will be impossible for people who want to follow the law to do so.  It will, in essence, make criminals out of the very people who wake up each day attempting to "color inside the lines" of the law.

Making it more difficult for the law-abiding to abide by the very law they respect simply builds more disrespect for the law.  Ultimately, we will create a population that simply doesn't care if they violate the law and that does no one any good.

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