Editorial: ‘You can’t legislate morality’

Editorial: ‘You can’t legislate morality’
ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance offers some thoughts on the reaction of elected officials and others to recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance shares some thoughts about the reaction of politicians and others to the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

It won’t surprise most of you to hear me say that I support the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. I do not own a gun, in fact, in my lifetime, the only gun I’ve ever owned was a BB gun my parents gave me as a present when I was about 12 years old.

I grew up in a household of hunters, so we always had hunting rifles in our home. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I took a gun safety course and passed the test required to get my hunting license. I went hunting with my dad and one of my brothers one time and knew quickly it wasn’t something I was interested in. But, to this day, I’m still surrounded by hunters and I support their decision to participate in that activity.

Thankfully, in my opinion, Clark County is a relatively safe place to live. It is only on a rare occasion when I don’t feel safe. At those times, I wouldn’t mind having a weapon, but I just don’t feel safe operating a weapon. I don’t have enough experience and I don’t have the desire to gain that experience. I think my biggest issue is that I’m not even sure I could force myself to use a gun if I was in a position where it was warranted, so it’s best that I just don’t own one.

Not that the conversation about gun control had been relegated to the backburner prior to the mass shootings that took place last weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, but the issue has obviously been reignited in the days that have followed those unfortunate and senseless incidents.

Let me state this for the record. Some of my conservative brethren obviously won’t agree with me, but I have no problem with mandatory background checks for all gun purchases or mandatory licenses for all gun purchasers. I also have to ask myself why do we need assault weapons? What necessary purpose do they serve?

That said, opportunistic elected officials who are using the recent mass shootings, and those before, to further their attack on the Second Amendment are disgraceful.  And, they’re also incredibly foolish if they think that any laws they may be successful in getting passed would eliminate incidents like those this past weekend. I know I’m not the first to say this, but criminals break laws, they don’t obey them. The laws will only restrict those who will obey them.

If you don’t believe that, just look back at our nation’s history. We have never been able to legislate against criminal behavior. We had prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s. Did that keep those who really wanted to drink alcohol from imbibing? Absolutely not. Until just recently, marijuana was against the law. But, I’m confident if I had wanted to, I could have purchased marijuana and used it anytime I wanted, in spite of the laws against it. I know many people who did just that, in spite of it being illegal activity.

Guns are certainly a different conversation than alcohol or marijuana, but I believe the concept is still valid. You just can’t legislate morality. You can’t pass laws that will force individuals to acquire character and integrity.

Unfortunately, I’m at just as much of a loss when it comes to an answer as the rest of you. But, I have confidence in humanity as a whole. I believe in my soul that answers are out there, but I’m discouraged that we’re not even asking the right questions. Instead of discussing how we can keep guns out of the hands of criminals, which history has proved we can’t, we should be asking how can we keep our society from developing humans who lack the mental health, morality, character and integrity to function successfully?

I’m not going to hit you over the head with my Bible. I’m not going to tell you it’s the absence of prayer or Christianity in public schools. I’m not going to tell you that we as parents aren’t providing the necessary discipline that our children need to grow into people of character and integrity. I’m not even going to suggest it’s the disintegration of the family and the ever-rising divorce rate. I won’t even tell you that we should devote more resources to addressing mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse. Those are questions you have to answer for yourself. But, I think the truth lies in there somewhere, in part, and in other issues that you are wise enough to add to the conversation.

And, let me add a preemptive note for those of you who have accused me in the past of not supporting public education. That claim has never been accurate. I support public education and I support teachers. I just don’t equate the concept of fully funding education as allocating every available dollar for teacher salaries. Supporting education with funding includes adequately compensating teachers, but it extends far beyond just that.

While we each have the individual right to live our own lives as we choose, we as a society need to start looking at the issues that are leading to our own destruction. Laws don’t establish character and integrity. But, I think there are common characteristics among people with character and integrity — things like honesty, humility, being trustworthy, accountable and genuine.

Are we either born with those qualities and characteristics, or do we acquire them along the way? Maybe both. And, not that I profess to possess those traits, but whatever good qualities I do have I feel like someone in my life has helped me develop them — whether it be my parents, family, friends, teachers, mentors, pastors, etc. So, let’s find a way to collectively help each other to be better. If that’s a little too Pollyanna for you, then go ahead and pass your laws and see how successful they are in legislating morality.

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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