“Public Safety” Vs. Liberty

By Bradley Harrington

Brad Harrington

“It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.” –H.L. Mencken, “Baltimore Evening Sun,” 1923 —

When I quoted C.S. Lewis last week as saying that “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive” (“Liquor Licensing Labyrinth,” WTE, July 2), I had no idea just how quickly an affirmation of that statement would arrive.

The ink was hardly dry on my rant when I received this text message from Laramie County Commissioner Linda Heath:

“The hours of operation were set from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. in order to prevent bar hopping between the city and county during a time period when law enforcement is typically scaled back … Both the CPD and the Sheriff estimate they would have to hire an additional squad each to handle that shift if bars were allowed 24-hour operations. I don’t have the cost in dollars but it wouldn’t be cheap … Public safety has to be considered as well, not just the rights of business owners.”

Let’s examine these arguments closely, as they contain profound implications.

To begin with, observe that Commissioner Heath makes no attempt to challenge my thesis that such regulations constitute abrogations of liberty. Rather, she contends that such freedoms of action and commerce should be subordinated to costs and “public safety” instead.

Which means: Our individual rights to peaceful actions take a back seat when questions of social utility arise, yes? Apparently, if it can be demonstrated that such rights might sometimes have a negative impact due to the actions of people who don’t understand what the word “peaceful” means, that’s enough to outlaw such behaviors for everyone else. Right?

And, if so, let’s take a look at some other areas of our culture where such a principle begs for application:

■ Since, “In 2015, 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (29 percent) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Impaired Driving: Get the Facts,” www.cdc.gov, 2017), doesn’t it just make sense to reinstitute Prohibition completely to eliminate this scourge from society? Why piddle around with four hours out of the day when we can save lives on a 24-hour basis?

■ And, since “Drivers who miss between one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly double their risk for a crash” (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Missing 1-2 Hours of Sleep Doubles Crash Risk,” www.aaa.com, 2016), it certainly seems logical to legislate a good night’s sleep for everyone as well, does it not?

■ Or, if the hours of 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. pose issues regarding costs and “public safety,” why not just ban driving completely at that time? Let’s save even more lives and money. After all, your rights don’t mean anything any longer, they’ve already been hijacked to the back of the bus. Where could you possibly want to go at those hours, anyway? Shouldn’t you be at home, getting your seven hours of sleep like a good citizen?

But seriously, where does it end? The only place it CAN end: With your rights tossed into the bit bucket forever while the social nannies legislate and regulate every single aspect of your existence … For your own good … Because you’re just too stupid, uncaring and insensitive to the needs of others to be trusted with anything as politically explosive as individual liberty.

And, if such examples as listed above are determined to be ridiculous — and all of them are — then where do we draw the line? Political expediency? Or simply what the plundering politicians think they can get away with? And, if there aren’t any objective principles, standards or absolutes any longer — which certainly appears to be the case — then WHAT, exactly, serves as the limitation on state power? Or are we to now just forget about such limitations?

If so, that’s an extremely dangerous slope to be sliding down … For the “safety of the public,” after all, was the reason given by Chairman Mao for his establishment of communism in Red China (“the most complete, progressive, revolutionary and rational system in human history,” (“On New Democracy,” 1940) — while he exterminated 55-70 million individual human beings in order to bring his “utopia” about.

And no, Dear Readers, I am NOT saying that Commissioner Heath is a communist or a mass murderer. Rather, my point is that when the “safety of the public” becomes the justification for the curtailment of our liberties, what’s left, philosophically or politically, to prevent the Maos from rising to power?

Maybe, just maybe, as we recklessly mouth such phrases as the “public safety,” we should take a good, long look at who it is we find ourselves sitting next to when we do so.

Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: bradhgt1776@gmail.com.

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