Wear a mask, but do not enforce it with guns

It astonishes me that at a time where we are discussing over-policing and even allocating resources away from police to other anti-crime initiatives we are actually directing the police to enforce a public mask mandate and threatening six months in jail for not wearing a mask in public.

Two weeks ago, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb proposed a statewide mandate that people wear masks in public places. Holcomb’s original proposal was to make not wearing a mask a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Holcomb tried to ease worries about the excessive punishment by saying “mask police will not be patrolling Hoosier streets,” but any time you implement a draconian penalty like that there is a likelihood that it will be used. Surely Holcomb knows this.

Holcomb backed off after a number of sheriff’s departments and city police departments openly refused to enforce the mask mandate, and after he got push back from other elected Republicans. What is worrisome is that Holcomb thought he had the authority to create a brand new criminal offense by himself without input from the state legislature, and that he thought doing so was good politics or good policy.

Closer to home, the Monroe County Commissioners have demanded the sheriff enforce a countywide mask mandate. But by involving the police in this matter is a terrible idea. When you call armed agents of the state on someone, remember: This could escalate quickly and lethal force could be used. If you think I am being overly dramatic, remember that Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes and Elizabeth Daly was suspected of buying alcohol while underage. (She was actually buying bottled water!)

Look, wearing a mask is a good idea and will help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is not a massive infringement on your liberty for government to mandate wearing a mask indoors in public places. If you are claiming that an order to wear a mask is “unconstitutional” you should cite the part of the Constitution such an order violates. The Constitution strictly limits the authority of the national government, but states are not nearly as limited. States have wide latitude to implement policy to protect public health.

But we can have good public policy without going completely overboard and using guns to make sure people are wearing a mask. Can we please have a sense of proportion here?