Obviously laws will always be broken, but we still consider them worthwhile- no one is proposing decriminalizing murder for example. But in plenty of topics like the war on drugs or gun control (or back in the day, Prohibition) there is controversy over whether the laws are so easily and routinely broken or so unenforceable that the law is futile at best and counter-productive at worst. What do you think is the tipping point where a law should be repealed?
For starters, this logic should only be applied where the law does not directly target wrongdoing. For example, arson is inherently bad, so even if we had a very low success rate in catching arsonists, we’d still want to keep the law on the books so we have something to charge those few with. Possessing a 15-round magazine isn’t inherently bad. A law against owning such magazines would only exist to try to create a chilling effect that stops people breaking a different law - namely, murder. This means that a rarely exercised law against high capacity magazines would be entirely redundant - since it isn’t used enough to be a deterrent and in the cases that matter you’ve got something bigger to throw at them - while a rarely exercised law against arson is not redundant - because even if their only crime is arson, that is enough reason to render them incapable of reoffending.
“Wrongdoing” is a matter of opinion and mostly a social construct. If you’re not hurting anyone, I contend your behavior is not wrong and should not be illegal. This applies to drug use and DWI - arrest people who cause accidents while intoxicated. Otherwise you have the world’s most subjective crime that hardly ever has any evidence other than a police officers claim of “glassy eyes, nervous, and smell of alcohol.” In a true justice system that would never be enough to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt, not even close. But I digress…
These days, there’s a large group of people who simply do not care if a law is futile, unenforceable and ridiculously expensive and damaging to attempt to enforce. As long as the law remains on the books, this group of people (whom I refer to as psychological pedophiles) will be content that it is “sending a message” (or “not sending the wrong message”) to ‘the children.’ These are the people who think and talk about nothing but children all day long. Their only arguments involve the world “children”. Your rights don’t matter. The debt and cost of trying to enforce the law doesn’t matter. Justice doesn’t matter. Having the largest prison population on the entire planet doesn’t matter. But mention repealing the law and they’ll flip out and start ranting about ‘the children’ this and ‘the children’ that.
If it were up to me, these people would all be classified as sex offenders and required to have GPS monitors on them. You know - for the children.
Motives which should be factored in include
Is the law enforceable w/o creating a draconian, totalitarian, brutal police force? The war on drugs (or voluntary sex workers) depends on trickery and an invasive law enforcement agency. This is different from crimes like murder or theft which involve willing and voluntary witnesses and victims who want the police involved. If the police can’t uphold the law w/o trickery or intimidation (because there are no willing witnesses or victims) then who are they serving?
Is the law unethical (mostly meaning is it in violation of egalitarian principles and support for minority rights, or is it designed to support the agenda of a very small, usually wealthy group at the expense of everyone else). Is a law supporting the oppression of gays, or laws making hemp illegal because it was competing with other industrial fibers ethical? No, not really.
Is the law unpopular so that large percentages of the population oppose it, or large percentages break it to the point where virtually everyone is a criminal with something to hide from the police?
Is activity X the government’s business? Adultery used to be illegal, so was premarital cohabitation and sodomy. Being a member of the wrong religion has been and is illegal all over the world. Is any of that the government or public’s business?
Those factors seem to be important in this debate from my perspective. It can get complex. Jury nullification for whites who lynched blacks was a common problem in the south, so a law being unpopular doesn’t mean the law should be abolished. Virtually everyone breaks traffic laws too, but if you look at nations w/o traffic laws or with weakly enforced ones I wouldn’t want to drive in any of them.
Laws that are widely unenforced don’t need to be repealed, because they have no negative consequences on society. Laws that have negative consequences that overwhelmingly exceed positive consequences as a result of enforcement should be repealed.
So there’s nothing wrong with going around shooting at people until you happen to hit one of them?
I disagree. If they are enforceable (i.e. it is reasonably possible to catch someone in the act if you really want to) but widely unenforced (nobody including the police give a damn) then they become tools for the police to nail someone with when they want something to nail someone that just happens to rub them the wrong way.
Which can be a good or a bad thing, in direct proportion to the fairness, wisdom, and competence of the police.
I disagree, and as stated above in agreement, they are ways to stop and penalize innocent people in doing nothing wrong except being human. Our various motor vehicle laws includes many such opportunities to harass innocent travelers and also shake them down for money.
DWI criminalizes the last deliberate decision. You can’t decide to drive drunk but not hit anyone the way you can decide to buy a high-capacity magazine but not shoot anyone.
Are you seriously suggesting it should be legal to drive while intoxicated?
You’re not considering whole categories of laws – laws for public safety and general welfare of society. Things like mandating car makers include seat belts in cars, and laws that mandate people use them. Laws regulating workplaces like minimum wages and the 40 hour work week.
How do these fit into your scheme?
I dunno; what scheme? As far as your examples, it depends. How much harm do the laws prevent? How easy is it to get away with breaking the law? What downsides are there to the laws or their enforcement?
I use the Cheech and Chong standard. When an entire culture and civilization except for a few stuck up pigs (lookin’ at you Bill Bennett) can quote every line of “Dave’s Not Here” and “Up In Smoke” and its identical sequels hit big at the box office and an four-fifths of a generation mocks the law openly in daily speech, its not just futile, it undermines authority in general. So that even guys like me who never smoked anything (yeah, I admit it) make a general habit of thinking the government is full of shit, then, and only then, is your law futile.
You might want to read Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.