Justice and Due Process

So You Say There Ought to Be a Law

What are you willing to kill someone for?

My father asked me that when I told him 15 years ago that I wanted to apply for my concealed carry permit. He nodded and agreed that as a young woman working in a rougher part of town, this was probably a good idea, but he had a question for me. What was I willing to kill someone for?

Being cautious and even brandishing a weapon will only get you so far. Not every miscreant will be deterred by the knowledge that you’re armed. Smart self-defense isn’t simply about being able to do violence to someone else. It’s about knowing ahead of time what you would be willing to do violence — deadly violence — in response to and being responsible and judicious in its application.

This is, I think, a good exercise for anyone who chooses to arm themselves for self-defense. But it’s also a good exercise for everyone else, too.

The United States — Utah included — has an expanding body of legislation, regulations, mandates, orders, and other rules that carry the weight of law. Laws are not inherently bad things, but they do come with consequences.

What many people often forget — or never learned in the first place — is that every law is enforced through the threat of deadly violence. Prohibitions on actions from murder to selling loose cigarettes, requirements for actions from having car insurance to paying taxes — all of it ultimately comes down to potentially violent enforcement.

Not every, or even most, violation of law ends with the offender dead in the street, and that’s a good thing. But every violation of law has that potential. We all know, intuitively, that if we resist long enough, state agents are empowered to use violence against us, even deadly violence.

Every law, no matter how just or how much you agree with it, carries a possible death sentence for violating it.

So when someone says that there ought to be a law or an order or a mandate or what have you, what they’re really saying is that they’re okay with the state forcing a behavioral change through violence on their behalf.

Whether or not state violence is warranted is a different conversation for a different day — and one that’s certainly worth having. But first, we must admit that asking for a new legal restriction or requirement on behavior means asking for more violence.

For example, when President Biden says there will be a vaccine mandate for private businesses with 100 or more employees, with no exception for those with antibodies from Covid recovery or those with medical risk for vaccination, that means the state is prepared to do violence to those who do not comply.

Given how many people are killed by police — both justified and not — it bears considering whether or not we want to give law enforcement yet another reason to interact with the public in a potentially violent way.

Enforcement does not, and cannot, care about the intent of law. If it did, we wouldn’t see violent enforcement of orders meant to protect health. Good intent is nice, but ultimately, it’s the outcomes of that intent that truly matter.

With that in mind, I will ask again: What are you willing to kill someone for?