Legislating Morality

Legislating Morality


Leonard Zwelling



These two articles in The New York Times on February 5 caught my eye.

The first is an opinion piece by Megan K. Stack making the case that Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of a school shooter who gifted her son the gun he used to kill four classmates and wound seven others, should not even be on trial for involuntary manslaughter. I won’t go through the details. Read them for yourself. Try to keep a straight face. (No matter. Crumbley was convicted.)

In the other piece from the front page, the problem of massive sports gambling in the United States ($115 billion bet in 2023) and the fact that it has been embraced by the National Football League as the league also tries to prevent its own players from placing bets is discussed by Jenny Vrentas.

These two articles shine a light on two major American problems, gun violence and addictive gambling. It can be safely said that both problems are huge and, in some ways, uniquely American. They also make the point that society—legislatures and the courts–has thrown up its hands in both cases and basically said that there is nothing that can be done.

That is not true.

In the case of guns, there are some simple legislative fixes. First, mandate that you need to have a license to buy a gun and it should be hard to get a license. It should require tests of knowledge about guns and gun laws and tests of shooting proficiency and gun safety. You know, like a driver’s license. Second, no citizen of the United States needs an assault-style weapon. Outlaw them. Third, neither guns nor ammunition should be purchasable over the internet. Fourth, no one under 18 can own a gun. Fifth, guns must be stored in safes under lock and key and breaking of this law should be punishable by a prison term. Sixth, all gun purchases must require a background check before the gun is transferred to a new owner regardless of where it is purchased. That includes gun shows. Seventh, if a child (under 18) commits a gun crime, the parents have a legal culpability.

I totally disagree with the conclusion that Ms. Stack arrives at that would allow Jennifer Crumbley to go free. She bought the gun. She knew she had a mentally troubled 15-year-old. She bears some responsibility.

As for gambling, that horse has been out of the barn for a couple thousand years. That does not mean that the NFL ought to sell commercial time to sports betting operations not to mention go into business with them and sell them space in NFL arenas. People are going to gamble. That’s life. The NFL does not need to enter the fray. Yes, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on sports betting outside of Nevada and it will be soon legal in 38 states. Yes, the NFL will fire employees who bet on sports and will penalize players who bet on NFL games. That’s not enough. Gambling is no business for the NFL to be in business with.

At some point, any society or organization has got to take responsibility for the behaviors that go on within them. Academic medical centers do so now by badgering the faculty and staff to take hours and hours of training on what not to do so that they can fire anyone who does it. These centers too are throwing up their hands in the face of human frailty instead of fostering a culture of morality and honesty. Isn’t that the problem with the rampant rise of research misconduct? Basically, everyone does it so it’s OK.

Institutions like the United States, the NFL, and academic medical centers need to have rules that they operate under that actually make sense. Free access to guns, the advertising of commercial gambling operations, and a lax posture toward research misconduct is not a responsible position for any organization.

Stand up straight. Own the rules. Expect morality. You might be surprised at what happens when you expect the best of people through leading by example.

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