Saturday, April 02, 2005
An Anatomy of Bad Lawmaking

From a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled "Chain reaction", we have this illuminating look at poor lawmaking:
  • Concerned citizen John Q. Everyman gets an idea.

      That's what Connie Davie of Creve Coeur thought when she saw dogs tied outside, all alone, day and night, in every kind of weather. In fact, she thought, as images of the lonely, pathetic-looking canines kept creeping into her mind, surely there is a law against such obvious abuse.

      Curious, Davie called her local police department to find out just what the law said.

      It said nothing. There was no law. As long as a dog has access to food, water and shelter, the law was happy.

    Note the shading of story; a dog chained in a yard is subject to obvious abuse; the community must sanction the owner. Also, let's understand the nature of this John Q., shall we?

      Or volunteering for Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Or walking Eddie and Sherry, the dogs she fostered for Stray Rescue and ended up keeping.

      But, she said, "I saw a need in my area for a law that addressed this issue of tethering." Animals were suffering.

      And when animals are suffering, Davie acts.
    This particular citizen is an active volunteer for an animal advocacy group. One doubts that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would wine-and-dine a Missouri Synod employee advocating schools to allow Lutheran youth groups meet on campus after school, but an animal group volunteer who agitates is just a plucky normal person.

  • The council drafts an ordinance to apply to everyone.

      "I worked with Beth for three to four months drafting an ordinance that we thought would be enforceable. I also worked with our police chief, Don Kayser, since he would be the one who'd have to enforce whatever we came up with," she said.

      "When I first met with the police chief, I told him I didn't expect the police to be cruising around looking for chained dogs. And I told the city council that I didn't expect the police to be the dog gestapo. But if someone calls to report that a dog is being mistreated, the police need to have the leverage to act on it."

    You see, the law is not designed for an instant enforcement; tether a dog, go to jail. Instead, it's designed as a means by which to punish those select people about whom the neighbors complain, or whom the police want to punish. If cops see a tethered dog, they're not always going to make an arrest. A good discretionary law, subject to arbitrary enforcement.

  • The legislators pay attention to detail to craft exactly the ordinance they intend.

      Davie smiled when she recalled that the final draft of the ordinance had a mistake in it. "It said that a dog could not be tied out continuously for more than six hours. It was supposed to say eight hours, because we wanted to take people who work into consideration. When one of the council members pointed out the typo, another council member said they'd be happy if it said we couldn't chain a dog outside at all," she said.
    I cannot bold this paragraph enough. They made an error in the final legislation they passed, but that's okay, because one legislator would prefer to take all tethering rights from dog owners altogether.

  • Satisfied that she has altered her local community's laws, John Q. Public returns to normal life.

      Davie still is amazed at the relative ease with which the ordinance passed. So much so that she has decided to broaden the battlefield.

      She wants to get a similar measure enacted in St. Louis County.

    So she wants me, and all St. Louis County residents, to adhere to her personal aesthetic standards of animal ownership. But wait, it's not just me:
      Davie is hoping that others will join her crusade, not just in St. Louis County but in other municipalities.

      "What we did in Creve Coeur has been done in at least 59 other communities across the country," she said. "It's becoming kind of a movement, I think."

    John Q. wants the entire world to adhere to her standards.
There you have it. An animal rights advocate uses anecdotal evidence and emotionalism to hand law enforcement a law it can enforce at its whim. Whom will it impact the most? Law abiding citizens who own dogs but cannot afford thousand dollar fences but don't want to leave their dogs in their homes while they're at work. While they might have provided their tethered dogs with water, food, shelter, and amusement for the periods when they're at work, they'll have to give up their dogs or violate the law (I bet they just violate the law).

The more laws you make, the more lawbreakers, particularly when the laws target trivial misdeeds that many people do without mens rea or particular ill effect. I wonder what our society will be like in twenty years or thirty years when everyone knows that they're already breaking laws....what could one more crime mean?

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."