What the Law Can’t Do

The purpose of the law is not to make people good, but to define what is wrong. Without law, nothing is “wrong” no matter how much it offends your sensibilities or deprives you of life or property.

Law does not make bad people good. Law does not change who people are, nor does it, by itself, change behavior. Law is not the solution — it merely defines the problem.

When Adam Lanza mowed down a couple dozen children and teachers in an elementary school, he was violating dozens of laws. If there had been ten more laws related to the type or source of the weapons and ammunition he used, or if the person from whom he stole the weapons had been forced to go through a more thorough background check, the same children would still be dead.

The existing laws didn’t heal Adam Lanza’s sickness, nor will more laws heal other people like him. The existing laws didn’t stop him from doing what he did. Laws don’t make people into better people.

Laws come into play after the fact. Laws don’t stop crazy people from doing crazy things. Laws don’t stop bullets in flight. Laws don’t cauterize wounds. Laws just tell us what happened after it is over. After the bodies are counted, laws tell us that what happened was illegal. If the perpetrators are still standing, we can punish them according to our laws. If not, then, well, we can’t.

We don’t need more law in the wake of Sandy Hook. We already have laws that define everything Adam Lanza did as wrong. We need to move on to defining the actual cause of this event, and recognizing that we may not be able to avoid such events in the future even if we accurately determine what caused them. We certainly can’t fix them with more law. And since Lanza and people like him plan to kill themselves in the process, we can’t fix them with more punishment. They call it “tragic” for a reason. We can’t bring back the dead, nor can we prevent it from happening again. We certainly can’t fix it by applying more of what we already have — laws.

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