Laws across America

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws. -Plato

More than anything else, a nation’s laws reflect what we value, fear and aspire to. What do our laws allow, restrict or prohibit? What do we want the texture of our cities and neighbors to be and feel like?

Many books have been written about laws that are petty, ridiculous or contradictory. From a law prohibiting street front displays from hypnotizing passersby (passed in Everett, Washington in 2010) to laws against buying a mattress on Sundays (a Washington State law, passed in 1909), you have to wonder what lawmakers were intending or had in mind.

The basic principle of any law should be to preserve and protect the most fundamental human rights and activities. Laws, in other words, should, above all, be fair and consistent – and, one would think – proportional to the seriousness of the acts they impact.

You’d think that laws regarding human safety would take the most thought and preparation.

Equality before the law in a true democracy is a matter of right. It cannot be a matter of charity or of favor or of grace or of discretion. -Wiley Blount Rutledge

So far in 2023, we in the USA have had more mass shootings (with four or more victims) than days of the year. Various states and law enforcement agencies have varying explanations, justifications and proposed solutions to these levels of violence.

Early in the year, the Republican-led legislature in Missouri approved the right of children, without adult supervision, to open-carry any weapons. “While it may be intuitive that a 14-year-old has no legitimate purpose, it doesn’t actually mean that they’re going to harm someone. We don’t know that yet,” said Republican Rep. Tony Lovasco, a supporter of the legislation.

Whether marketing influences legislation or legislation influences marketing is, perhaps, the ultimate chicken and egg question, but one gun manufacturer offers a “training” AR-15 that “looks, feels, and operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun”. (

One has to ask the obvious question about gun ownership with no age restrictions; what could go wrong? As one opponent of the law put it, “Now they have been emboldened, and they are walking around with them. Until they actually brandish them and brandish them with intent, our police officers’ hands are handcuffed.” No pun intended, I presume.

The word “brandish” refers to the intent to “intimidate, coerce, or threaten” someone. Is there any other reason to publicly display a weapon?

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny. -Edmund Burke

Asian exclusion. Again.

Apparently in tribute to Chinese Exclusion laws and other deliberately race-based rules and laws from a century (or more) ago, the states of Texas, Florida, Arkansas and more are proposing laws against Asian Americans becoming property owners.

In 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a state law forbidding citizens or the governments of North Korea, Russia, Iran and China from having ownership or contracts connected to critical infrastructure. A different recently proposed Texas property ownership law would have barred property purchases by people from those four countries, including Green Card and visa holders, and asylum seekers. The law was passed by the Texas Senate, but did not pass the Texas House of Representatives.

In total, eleven states are considering versions of the same measure, and Iowa already has a ban in place.

I had always thought that the heart of capitalism was selling to the highest bidder and making the “highest and best use” of any opportunity.

Laws like these tend to hurt the communities that pass them.

And I know that many businesses locally have been actively courting foreign investors, and many municipalities have been offering everything from tax abatements to H-1B visas (that allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers based on the amount invested).

For the record, the federal government already requires foreign buyers to report when they buy agricultural land. As of 2020, about 3% of the nation’s total farm, ranch and forest land was owned by foreign investors, according to the federal government. Of that 3%, Chinese-backed owners represented less than 1% of the total of foreign-owned land, according to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, or about 550 square miles. For comparison, Rhode Island is about 1,000 square miles.

Why would foreign investors buy US land?

It’s fair to say that foreigners would want to buy U.S. land and property for the same reason the rest of us do: land and property are typically solid, safe investments – especially in contrast to the instability, if not outright corruption that any investment at home might be susceptible to.

Food production laws and guidelines in many cases are very different here than in other countries. When I lived in China, for example, food grown or produced in North America was considered far better quality and sold at a premium.

Some detractors argue that investors from North Korea, China and Russia should not be allowed to own property here because few Americans could invest in property there. That is, in most cases, factually true. But we promote ourselves as a free and open economy, with as few impediments to individual enterprise and entrepreneurship as possible. Our economy (most of the time) flourishes from such a philosophy.

Those state-run economies tend to stagnate even under the best of conditions.

Any “brain drain” or flow of investments tend to work for our benefit – not theirs.

Besides that, stigmatizing and racial profiling is, to put it mildly, not reflective of our best and highest impulses. Using racial stereotyping and profiling as the basis of our laws and policies is, in practice and principle, not worthy of us.

We have, from the very beginning, identified our nation as a land of opportunity. We literally pledge “liberty and justice for all”, but for some reason we decide, through our laws and policies, to keep those opportunities and rights from some.

There was a time when we in America stood proudly for higher, more generous ideals than other nations.

Basing policies and laws on what oppressive or corrupt governments do is not the sign of a healthy nation.

What is the purpose of laws? What is accomplished?

Laws in these cases, and many others, are the institutionalized (and usually enforced) legal encoding of behaviors we wish to control or promote. How effective they are in accomplishing those goals is, in most cases, an all too different consideration.

Do speed limits for example, encourage drivers to drive more carefully? Do drug laws keep people from using drugs? Or do they just encourage a “forbidden fruit” culture of disrespect for the law?

Don’t we all (with a few exceptions) know that driving safely is in our own best self-interest?

Laws, at best, are a blunt force instrument with a multitude of unintended, unforeseeable consequences and impacts.

One of the many ironies is that it is often the states that speak most of “freedom” (but often with a history of slavery and onerous laws) that pass or propose laws that inhibit their own growth and improvement.

Certain other societies may respect the rule of force—we respect the rule of law. -John F. Kennedy