When tragedy strikes, our reaction is fairly standard: gain new information about the incident, find the motive, discuss how the tragedy occurred and comfort the grieving. However, there are many who use tragedy to gain political leverage to advance their particular political goals. While understandable that new legislation requires discussion about issues our nation faces, using personal tragedy to advance political ideologies is not only taking advantage of tragedies, but it can also result in the infringement of civil liberties and even allow statist — even totalitarian — ideas or ideologies to proliferate.
Perhaps the most famous case in the past two decades is the Patriot Act. Shortly after 9/11, congress implemented and passed the Patriot Act. This act allowed three-letter agencies — such as the NSA or the FBI — to expand their power and ability to conduct surveillance on both foreign individuals and U.S. citizens. It has become infamous as an unconstitutional legislation that has allowed the government to domestically spy on Americans at will for over a decade. They conduct surveillance, track via GPS, and make arrests without warrants. This act was opportunistically passed just over a month after 9/11.
An older case — and probably more vilified in the eyes of history — is the Reichstag fire of 1933. The budding National Socialist Party captured and convicted a communist arsonist found near the fire for burning down the Reichstag — the legislative building of Germany — and blamed it on Communists as a whole, attempting to overthrow the government. Several communist figureheads were imprisoned and executed, and Adolf Hitler used the emergency powers act — just one month into his chancellery — to acquire powers that suspended many civil liberties. This is an infamous event as it was responsible for the Nazi’s ability to concentrate power in the German government and attain ultimate, unilateral control of the government. The rest, as they say, is history.
While one can say that these events are rather rare and unlikely, we should be hesitant to consider eroding or confining what civil liberties we have due to rare or unlikely events. It is exactly these types of knee-jerk reactions that can result in the government acquiring more power than it should, and can result in some of the greatest human tragedies that have befallen mankind. Rather, we should comfort the grieving and search for more realistic solutions to preventing tragedy than over-legislating what rights others should or shouldn’t have.