Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Where There's Smoke, There's Laws

By Cap'n O

MARCH 16, 1998:  The little girl screamed. She was traumatized by her injury. So was I. The hurt and pain she suffered could have been prevented. And it should have been. That girl would not have been wailing if we had a law requiring children to wear knee pads and thick leather gloves when they play on sidewalks in front of their houses. With laws, we can prevent childhood knee and hand scrapes.

Stubbed toes can be eliminated with a law ordering people to always wear shoes and to never go barefoot. Millions of people would be spared painful episodes of swollen gums if we outlawed popcorn.

These are as ridiculous as last week's suggestions, when I recommended that we ban milk, shoe laces, belts and water because those things can hurt people and possibly kill them. But we have to talk about this again because the city council is about to pass a law ordering landlords to put smoke detectors in their rental units. The proposed edict would also apply to people who rent out their houses.

This latest attempt to use laws to protect us against anything and everything is an overreaction to a tragic death. A few weeks ago, 18-year-old University of New Mexico freshman Allan Peifer died after he went back into a burning house to try to save three pets.

Allan's family was renting the house. After Allan's death, his family shouted for legislation to require smoke detectors in all rental units in Albuquerque. City Councilor Sam Bregman was quick to comply with the request and introduced a smoke detector bill. The council's Finance Committee passed the proposal on a 4-0 vote. It's now waiting for approval from the full council.

Let's hope that the five other councilors have a greater sense of governmental restraint than Bregman does. What Peifer's death has to do with smoke detectors and why it cries for more government regulation is baffling.

Peifer and the others who were in the burning house got out of it alive. Peifer died, not because the house was without a smoke detector, but because he went back in to try to rescue pets. His actions, considered noble by some, were careless. You leave the rushing into burning buildings to firefighters who are wearing oxygen masks and fire-proof coats. The only reason to go into a burning building yourself is to try to save a human being when firefighters aren't on the scene. It wasn't the lack of a smoke detector that killed Peifer, it was his own bad decision.

But we are in an era when every time somebody makes a stupid decision and gets themselves hurt or killed, a new law is demanded to restrict, outlaw or regulate human behavior. Today's nanny politicians cynically play to people who are too lazy or too stupid to do the work necessary to protect and take care of themselves. And because there are those who insist on being protected from their own laziness and incompetence, the rest of us lose bits of our freedom. Government nags think they must protect citizens from making their own autonomous decisions, especially ones that could have unintended and tragic results. That amounts to every decision ever made.

Right now, millions tempt their fate through heedless and unregulated consumption of butter and other dairy products. Red meat ingestion proceeds at a shocking pace. It's possible that children can poke their eyes out with carrots. Stuff enough dry oatmeal down someone's throat, and they'll choke to death. Surely government can decree these things harmful and ban them.

If Peifer hadn't tried to save the pets he'd still be alive. He went to rescue them because they couldn't get out of the burning house by themselves. They didn't know how to get out. We could say that it was his pets' ignorance that killed Peifer. Since one death is too many, let's enact a law mandating that pet owners take their dogs, cats, guppies and snakes to training classes on how to get out of burning buildings. We can require pet owners to conduct monthly fire drills for their animals.

If you do believe that a smoke detector would have made a difference in Peifer's case, consider this: Smoke detectors are simple, portable, easy-to-use devices that cost about $10. If Peifer's family thought it was so important to have one, why didn't they buy one themselves?


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