Outlawing Tornados — And Other Governmental Folly

May 7, 2007

Indiana Writers Group column for May 9 and thereafter
686 words

By Andy Horning

Tornadoes kill about 50 people nationwide every year, around 40 percent of them in mobile homes. So legislation known as “CJ’s Law” and other “making a statement” laws are passed with noble intent. But let’s think beyond good intentions for a moment.

The law doesn’t offer assistance of any kind. It simply makes it illegal to live in a new or relocated trailer that’s not equipped with an NOAA weather-alert radio. The law doesn’t hold trailer builders or park owners liable for anything. The law targets only trailer dwellers; a demographic already burdened by food and medical bills. And since inexpensive “weather-alert” radios do not distinguish between storm warnings and Amber Alerts or other, even nationwide alarms, most people shut these radios off as useless annoyances.

Nor did lawmakers fund existing technology that could selectively ring telephones or sirens in the path of a tornado. No, tax money goes to professional sports, illegal immigrant benefits and foreign corporations; not to people living in trailers. And since the law doesn’t apply to the hundreds of thousands living in older trailers, and since it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever hear about this law, there’s little instructive or moral value.

So under just a bit of scrutiny, CJ’s Law seems like yet another example of the literally thousands of laws that cannot be sanely enforced and will do no good at all. Our politicians may as well have outlawed tornadoes for all the good this will do.

But let’s think even further: Is it harmless when political actions do no good? Isn’t it fundamentally wrong to criminalize those who won’t buy an annoying radio? Couldn’t CJ’s Law be used to harass people, as is often alleged of seat belt and zoning laws? Couldn’t insurance companies use this as a basis to deny claims?

Or, could this be symptomatic of a problem much bigger than all the above?

In the 1950 case, American Communications Association vs. Douds, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded, “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”

The study, “Politics and Indianapolis’s War on Crime” in this quarter’s Indiana Policy Review focuses on crime but suggests that our biggest threats are not from criminals, tornadoes or even terrorists. Our government has fallen into error; and in the words of Voltaire, “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”

Have we not noticed the increasingly brazen corruption in our government? Has it slipped our mind that our  numerous and flak-jacketed police forces now have military equipment like Boone County’s armored amphibious personnel carrier? Are we certain that our government’s sins (like medical experimentation on citizens and the debacles of Waco and Ruby Ridge) are all safely behind us? Or do we forgive all of this because we perceive some benefits to political shenanigans that outweigh the risk of theft, oppression, slavery, murder, genocide and war?  

What are these benefits?

The United States of America, the most powerful nation of all time, has proven defenseless against a mere handful of zealots armed with only box cutters. A whole college campus was defenseless against a single man already diagnosed as mentally disturbed. More Americans are killed each year by illegal immigrants than the total number of Americans killed in the war in Iraq so far. Per capita crime rates are many times higher now than in 1950; and those crime rates were many times higher than in 1900, when citizens were free to own cannons, water-cooled machine guns, hand grenades and belt-buckle Derringers.

Now, Indianapolis Mayor Peterson wants to nearly double Marion County income taxes to do more of what politicians always do in their war on . . . (fill in the blank).

The 1964 “War on Poverty” has increased the gap between rich and poor. The ongoing “War on Crime” has increased crime. And how have the “War on Drugs” and “War to End All Wars” worked out?

Isn’t it time we govern our government? It already kills far more citizens than tornadoes do.

Andrew Horning is an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact him at ahorningl@inpolicy.org.



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