Using lethal force to get what you want

I posted the following on Twitter a while back: “Every single time you pass a law, you need to answer this question: Am I willing to have lethal force used to enforce it?” That got more attention than I anticipated, so it is appropriate to expand it into a longer post.

First let me be very clear: This is absolutely not an argument for anarchy. The civil magistrate is a gift given to us by God for our benefit, to restrain evil and protect the good. Because we live in a fallen world, that gift (much like the gift of sex) has been distorted and perverted to the point where it has in many cases become a curse. But if you look where government has broken down and anarchy reigns, it is worse to live under anarchy than to live under even an evil government because the unrestrained strongman has all the power.

But that does not mean that government should have unlimited power. Government is necessary to restrain and punish evil, but the men who rule over us also have a sin nature and are prone to the worst sort of wickedness. Even Christians can be prone to acts of evil, as we saw when King David of Israel abused his power as king to commit adultery with another man’s wife and then murder her husband in cold blood (even showing a willingness to inflict collateral damage) in order to cover it up. Government that is limited has less opportunity to abuse power and commit evil.

With that established, back to the original premise. Every single time you pass a law, you need to answer this question: Am I willing to have lethal force used to enforce it?

Obviously, there are cases where the answer is a clear and easy “yes.” Murder, rape and kidnapping come to mind. But what about collecting taxes on cigarettes? As we saw with the case of Eric Garner, a dispute over even such a trivial law can lead to tragedy. Garner was not collecting taxes on cigarettes, which is why police confronted him. The rest is history, but the reality remains: If there was no tax on cigarettes then Garner would still be alive today.

This does not mean that all laws against things like selling untaxed cigarettes are bad. But the point remains: Legislators should realize that any time you have law enforcement interact with citizens to enforce something, things have the potential to get out of control. Even some regulatory agencies have SWAT teams!

For example, speeding laws are obviously necessary for public safety. But we have seen traffic stops over things like speeding escalate rapidly with tragic results. Many times, the person killed by law enforcement brought about his own demise with aggressive, threatening or violent behavior. But the fact remains that it was the enforcement of a relatively “minor” law that ends in death.

This is not meant to necessarily argue against any particular law, but to point out the state is by its very nature a blunt instrument with enormous power. This is why we must be very judicious with the use of government power, always placing individual liberty over state power, even when that liberty is used in ways we do not personally like.

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