Have Laws Replaced Personal Ethics?

I’ve been trying to pay a more attention to the news lately but, it’s hard. The negativity brings me down. The injustice fires me up. The lack of positive stories irritates me. It’s a no win situation unless I’m willing to fight against injustice and propaganda of hate but, who has the time. Am I right?

A few days ago, while I’m fixing lunch for work, my mobile device was playing a summary of the news headlines. There was one in particular that grabbed my attention. The story boils down to this; a company designed detailed instructions on how to create an operational gun using a 3-D printer. The company wanted to share/sell this information. The government wanted to control who has access to these instructions. The implications being if people are able to print guns without serial numbers or from plastic, it makes crimes committed using the guns pretty difficult to solve or prevent. The company said that wasn’t an excuse to impede upon their First Amendment Rights. In my view both sides have valid arguments. Freedom of speech versus public safety.

My immediate reaction, though, was one of frustration. At both parties.

When did laws become a replacement for our human conscience and moral ethics? “I’m not doing anything illegal,” is a now justification for committing acts that are less than ethical. Laws have become this new tool that we use for everyday life. If the tool doesn’t break during construction then what is built must have been done correctly.

“Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.” It’s a phrase most of us have heard at random points throughout our lives. Why is it so rarely contemplated? I mean, really thought about in relation to the thing we desire to do?

Laws aren’t designed to keep us from doing every known unethical thing. They’re designed to create order from wild chaos and protect the rights of people. At least, I assume that’s what there originally purpose was intended to be. Now we have compounded so many that instead of guidelines for a civil society, we treat them as loose morals allowed to be bent and circumvented to fit individual needs and wants. Never considering future ramifications or the personal circumstances of others. The sheer number of excessive laws and subsections to laws is a testament to conquered loopholes in a system that were exploited because someone thought they could.

This is not a rant against laws and I don’t want to get off topic. I’m all for following rules. I’m a stickler for them actually but, there are some things that should be common knowledge and not laws. My point is, whether or not we will get in trouble should not be our only criteria for doing the right thing.

Let’s go back to that news story. Setting aside the topic of the second amendment, which is not necessarily relevant to this particular argument, and instead focusing on possible repercussions this one act would have on society. Anyone with access to a 3-D printer could potential have an untraceable weapon. A student. A gang member. A mentally ill individual. You could argue there is the same possibility of someone legitimately in need of a way to defend themselves gaining access. A printed gun could be used in any situation to equalize or victimize.

All of these things are true and it is up to the person with the knowledge as to how much weight should be put on each of the possible outcomes to decide if they want that on their conscience. Anything can be used for evil. Anything can be used for good. How you balance and responsibly use your intellectual property is the key to creating a safe and productive environment.

That company mentioned earlier won their legal battle. According to article I listened to, the instructions for an AR15 had already been downloaded over 1000 times in the less than 48 hours they were available. Was the person in charge of releasing the instructions within his legal right to do so? Yes. Did they do so after an in-depth contemplation of ethical factors and moral responsibility? I hope so.


Despite conflict headlined in the news, I hold firm to my faith in people as a whole. I don’t think it’s naïve to believe there is more ‘good’ being committed in the world than ‘bad’. You just need to know where to look.


***Please note: This is meant as more of an opinion piece of writing, rather than an intent to relay facts. The article I originally heard before writing this was a brief from the Wall Street Journal and audio only. If you want to know more basic information on the topic, I later viewed a different article for my own personal follow up. That article can be found here: https://www.npr.org/2018/07/30/634177862/attorneys-general-sue-trump-administration-to-block-3d-printed-guns

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