Laws Don’t Stop Crime; People Do

Every time there’s a shooting, our nation enters an increasingly polarizing conversation about what we can do about “gun violence.”  The Right says the Left has no right to take away one’s right to self-defense, and the Left says the Right has no right to endanger the public.  But as usual, both are having the wrong conversation (I feel like that’s a theme on my blog…).

Full disclosure, I’m a big proponent of the 2nd Amendment.  I believe that people have the right to self-defense and that the 2nd Amendment may be the most important amendment in the Bill of Rights.  It provides us with the ability to personally defend the other rights given to us by Nature, or God (whichever you prefer).

But that isn’t what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about the logic of law.  I want to drill down to why we have laws in the first place.

You might remember my cavemen I used in a previous post, to illustrate economic freedom and the purpose of government.  Well, let’s resurrect those guys for a moment to illustrate the purpose of laws (which is very much like the purpose of government).  A very long time ago before institutionalized government, there was a caveman named Ugga.  While Ugga was away hunting, a big man came along with a club and stole Ugga’s food.  When Ugga returned, the cave men convened in a council and decided to prevent this from happening again by having Grunt, another big man, stand guard over their caves with his club.  Ugga and his friends paid Grunt in meat, since he couldn’t hunt while he was guarding the caves.  Grunt was the very first Government.  Grunt is there to allow Ugga and company the freedom to go hunt.  If not for Grunt, the cave people would not be as free.  This is the core purpose of government.

What gives Grunt the authority to stop people from looting the caves?  Well, there is an unwritten *law* here–the law says that you cannot take what doesn’t belong to you.  But what, exactly, does the law do?  Does the law prevent people from coming in and stealing the meat?

NO!

The law does not prevent any such thing.  Because if another caveman–let’s call him Chum–who isn’t very good at hunting, comes along to Ugga’s cave and attempts to steal his food, and he happens to get past Ugga’s wife and Grunt and get away with the food, what has the law done?

Nothing!

Why, then, are the cavemen safer with Grunt there, if the law doesn’t prevent anyone from stealing?  There are only 2 things that can prevent Chum from stealing what doesn’t belong to him.  The first is obvious–Grunt!  Grunt is there for that very reason!  And the second is not so obvious, but is far more critical to think about.  Chum.  Chum can prevent himself from stealing by choosing not to steal.  Theft is not inevitable.  Chum may not have been born a very talented hunter, but nothing is making him steal Ugga’s food.

And this brings me to the most critical observation of the article: Criminals choose to commit crimes.

It seems kind of obvious, right?  But apparently, our thoughts have moved away from this most obvious of conclusions as we become obsessed with what the government or armed citizens can do to prevent crimes.  We have completely negated the conversation of what responsibility the criminals have of ending crime.

Granted, there is a certain point at which the train has left the station, and you must take action to physically stop the person from committing the crime because nothing you do right now is going to change the criminal’s mind.  And that’s the point at which you need an armed individual to take him out before he can harm people around him.  Logically, the best way to defend the public is to have as many armed guards as possible.  We can’t afford the tax dollars it would cost to hire a personal armed guard for every citizen (despite Washington politicians having their own armed guards as they talk about taking away our right to defend ourselves).

guns-make-us-less-safe

That’s why I’m for the Second Amendment.  An estimated 400,000 lives are saved every year because someone who wasn’t law enforcement was armed and ready to defend those around him.

So why do we even have the law if it doesn’t stop crime?  If all that can stop a criminal in his tracks is a well-armed citizens (uniformed or not)?  The reason we have laws is not to stop the crime from occurring, but rather to give the State authority to take the criminal out of the picture, thereby preventing him from committing the crime again.  This is what keeps people safe.  If we suddenly got rid of the law against murder, murder rates would probably increase.  But not because more people would choose to commit murder!  Making murder legal wouldn’t entice normal citizens to go kill someone!  The murder rates would increase if murder was legal because the police can’t remove criminals who were going to murder regardless of the legality of the action.  The criminals will keep murdering again and again without ramifications.  Criminals who have made that choice to murder are going to do so regardless of whether there is a law or not.

And that brings us back to the main point of the article: Why do people choose to commit crimes?  There are a variety of reasons, some of them heartbreaking and others infuriating.  But for the most part, criminals choose to commit crimes because they simply don’t care about the value of the other person.  The target is not as important as the $8 in his wallet.  The criminal’s gang warfare might be the motive–he hates that person’s gang more than he values that person’s life.  Perhaps the criminal hates the victim because of the color of his skin, or his gender, or the uniform he wears.   Maybe the criminal is a rapist and values his own self-gratification more than his victim’s right to liberty and pursuit of happiness.  Whatever the reason, life has no value to that criminal.  He doesn’t value the right to personal property or self-determination.  Choice has no meaning to him.  Is it any wonder that criminals often see themselves as the victims and the world as the criminal, “forcing” them into a life of crime?

How does someone get started on this track of complete lack of appreciation for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, or in general, choice?  I maintain that it starts in the home.  Correlation is not causation, but there is something alarming about correlations that are even more pronounced than that of lung cancer and cigarette smoking.  Here are some of them:

  • US Census Bureau (2011): Children who grow up without a father are four times as likely to be poor as children who grow up with both parents. 
  • Princeton University (2004): Fatherless children are twice as likely to enter a life of crime.
  • National Institute of Justice (1998): 63% of youth suicides, 85% of children with behavioral disorders , and 71% of high school dropouts all come from fatherless homes.
  • McGill University study (2013): Growing up fatherless can have a permanent, detrimental effect on brain development, and lead to increased aggression, likelihood to have mental illness, and poor intellectual abilities.

Fatherlessness is strongly correlated with mental illness, aggression, poor intellectual abilities, behavioral disorders, poverty, and of course, crime.  I am not suggesting that a strong, morally-grounded mother is incapable of raising children to become upstanding citizens.  But I am suggesting, as are these statistics, that it is significantly harder for her to do so.  Where do kids traditionally learn the value of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?  More specifically, where do they learn choice?  From their parents.  They learn by being punished for wrongdoing.  They learn by watching their upstanding parents make good decisions.  They learn by loving reprimands and careful instruction in the home.  That’s hard to do if you’re a single mom holding down 3 jobs and barely paying the rent.

What will stop crime?  Strong families.  It isn’t the answer people want to hear because it’s hard to “implement”.  But this doesn’t require “implementation” on a national scale.  Indeed, any attempt to do so would most certainly fail.  This requires “implementation” on a personal scale.  An individual must choose to remain with his family.  We can and should support individuals in that decision.  We can make national policies that reward families that stay together.  We can individually volunteer our time to educate teenage boys about the importance of waiting until they’re married to have children.  We can volunteer as mentors for at-risk youth, to show them a good example of people who make good decisions.  We can teach our own kids the importance of choice.  We can teach them to respect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We can tell them to stop making excuses and to own their mistakes.  But above all, we can love them.

The results of a Harvard Grant study that began in 1930 were published in 2012 (the linked content is a talk in which these results were referenced, and which is correlated to my main point).  The study followed individuals throughout their life and found that, despite the popular (and dangerous) “privilege” arguments being perpetuated today, no predictor was greater for success than love.  It transcended socioeconomic status, race, and all other excuses many individuals use to convince society that some are “privileged” and others are not.  “Many measures of success throughout life are predicted less reliably by early financial and social advantage than by a loved and loving childhood,” the study concluded.  “What goes right in childhood predicts the future far better than what goes wrong.”

So let’s compare the response time of those who stop crime:

  • Police: About 10-15 minutes until they arrive on scene.
  • Armed citizen: Probably seconds–taking the time to draw his gun, point it, and shoot.
  • Criminal: Instantaneous.  That person isn’t even a “criminal” since he decided that committing the crime is immoral.
  • Parents: Negative 18 years.  Through careful, painstaking instruction, sacrifice, and most of all, love, they can avert the criminal’s life of crime in most cases.

So it’s clear.  Laws don’t stop crime.  People do.  And the person most effective at stopping the crime?  The criminal and his parents.  Let’s empower would-be criminals to end violence by empowering would-be absentee fathers to stay with their kids and teach them about choice.  Most of all, let’s shift our conversation away from laws and guns and toward love, because love really does conquer all.

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