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"Do something" should not be the default

By Scott Tibbs, November 22, 2010

Last week, I argued in a guest editorial that sobriety checkpoints should be banned. In the comments, the user "tinyishbubbles" wrote that people who are quick to oppose government restrictions on liberty "lack any real suggestions for how we directly confront issues that plague society in a larger sense."

And this is the problem with the way many people view problems in society, that we have to "do something" about it. According to this mindset, what we actually do is secondary to the fact that we do something.

I reject the premise.

"Do something" should not be the default position. A huge percentage of healthcare dollars are spent at the end of someone's life. Should we then just murder all terminally ill and elderly people so we are not spending so much money treating them? While this is an absurd example, the point I am making here is that the "solution" can be worse than the problem. I reject the premise that I have to surrender my civil liberties to "do something" about drunk drivers.

What can we do about drunk driving? Harsher punishments for drunk drivers would be a good start. Someone who drives between .08 and .14 blood alcohol content "commits a Class C misdemeanor" while someone who drives with over .15 BAC "commits a Class A misdemeanor." This means no more than a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Given the reckless disregard for life that such impaired driving presents and the harm it causes, driving with .15 or higher BAC should be at least a Class C felony - and perhaps a Class B felony. Remember that Indianapolis police officer David Bisard had a BAC of .19 when he slaughtered a motorcyclist in August. Driving with over .08 BAC should be a Class A misdemeanor. (See relevant sections of the Indiana Code: IC 9-30-5-1, IC 35-50-3-2 and IC 35-50-2-1.)

What I reject is that law-abiding citizens should be expected to "show their papers" to law enforcement in a fishing expedition. Absent evidence that I am doing something wrong, police should not be permitted to detain me and demand my "papers" before allowing me to travel freely. That is an overbearing and anti-American solution.

It is true that driving is a privilege, not a right. This is why we require automobile insurance, and that drivers have a license from the state. You can lose that privilege if you break the rules. But while driving may be a privilege, the right to be secure in my person, house, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures is not a privilege. It is my fundamental right as an American.

Sobriety checkpoints themselves represent one more in a long line of abuses against civil liberties. As I said last week, without decades of abuses by government in the "war on crime" and public support of those abuses, government would have found it much more difficult to implement the abuses of the "war on terror." We are building a cage for ourselves one bar at a time, and we need to start tearing those bars down before the door slams shut and it is too late.