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We can't pick and choose which laws we should follow

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 12:01 am

And we can't allow selective enforcement of them, either.

Civilization is in a sorry state when a representative of the law promises lawlessness and is cheered for it.

Elkhart County Sheriff Bradley Rogers told about 200 people at a weekend gun rights rally that he pledges to oppose all future gun control legislation. Furthermore, “I will not allow gun confiscation in my county, and I will not enforce any additional anti-gun laws.”

Presumably that's what most in the crowd wanted to hear – at least they applauded the sheriff loudly. But such selectivity breeds contempt for the law. A bad law should be struck down through the legislative process. A law of dubious constitutionality should be challenged in court. But while a law is on the books, it must be enforced. That applies to all of the laws all of the time.

Someone whose sworn duty is to uphold the law cannot be allowed to pick and choose which laws to enforce. If a sheriff decides only some laws are worth enforcing, doesn't that give us tacit permission to do the same? How short a trip is it from that to anarchy?

Selective enforcement is a bad habit even President Obama needs to break himself of. Of course, the White House wouldn't ignore something hated by the right, such as gun control. But folks there are willing to look the other way when something is hated by the left.

The president signaled, with his “we have bigger fish to fry” remark, that state violations of federal anti-marijuana laws will mostly go unnoticed. The Justice Department refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, frankly saying the law did not deserve to be enforced. The laws against illegal immigration are routinely ignored.

Yes, there is such a thing as “prosecutorial discretion.” There are always limited amounts of time and money and personnel for the pursuit of justice, so not every law can be emphasized equally. Police are going to spend a lot more time investigating murder cases than citing jaywalkers and litterers; in fact, we must insist that they do.

But declining to enforce a law because of its ideological underpinnings is a whole different level of discretion, because it is designed not to promote efficiency and the proper allocation of resources but to please interest groups. And we cannot tolerate a law enforcement attitude that caters to interest groups instead of citizens.

By all means, get rid of bad regulations, and it would even help to thin them out a little so they're more understandable. But we are either a nation of laws or we are not. There is no “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” in between.