The past week has left me in a somber mood. I was trying to write a column about how the law impacts us in our businesses and our lives, and all I could come up with is how flimsy our legal words are in the real world.
In my legal practice over the past 20-plus years, I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "but it is illegal." You have to instruct the woman with the protective order that, just because she has a piece of paper with a judge's signature, it is very ineffective against a fist or a bullet.
Our laws are only as good as our citizens. The bombing in Boston brought this to the foreground. Just off the top of my head, the bombing would violate much of the criminal statutes relating to murder, mayhem and assault, numerous dangerous material regulations, RICO and hate-crime statutes and probably many more I haven't even thought of yet.
All of those statutes, laws, threats of punishment and efforts to proactively stop a law violation were for naught, and people were killed and injured.
This isn't to say that our laws aren't valuable. Everyone's concern now is for finding the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime and, through the criminal process, reinstate our societal sense of justice and to remove from our midst those who simply won't conform to what we know in our hearts is correct behavior. The law gives us a cushion and a sense of protection from the violent world outside.
The explosion of a fertilizer plant in Texas just days after the Boston bombing resulted in even more loss of life than the terrorist bombings. My mind immediately began to wonder what safety regulations and laws may have been violated to result in such a catastrophic industrial accident. Again, in times of crisis, the instinct is to reach to our laws to try to prevent the preventable.
The fact is, laws work to prevent tragedy.
Not always, but often.
The best and most telling example that impacts everyone reading this column is how our laws relating to traffic and our regulations on vehicle manufacture have reduced traffic fatalities.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that, from 1994 to 2010, the number of fatalities per 100,000 registered motor vehicles has dropped a little over 40 percent. This means our traffic laws and regulations that have changed over the past 16 years saved more than 20,000 lives in 2010 alone.
Remember that the next time you are stuck in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Our laws can work to save lives, but only if we make a concerted effort to tailor the laws and legislation to meet the needs of our people.
The gun debate fiasco frustrates me because the question never seems to be about what makes us safer as a citizenry. Can we keep bad guys away from guns? Of course not, but we can make it harder for them. Both citizens and the Second Amendment should be able to remain safe.
The law will never prevent tragedy or violence. The world is a dangerous and violent place. Instead, the law can help us strive toward limiting life's inevitable tragedies.
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at email@example.com or 801-392-8200.