John Hood: Real danger is overreach on rules
RALEIGH — Should regulators require child-safety locks on stepladders?
Such a rule would have been a real problem at the Hood abode years ago when my boys were little. At the time, there were a couple of different folding ladders that got transported from room to room throughout the day, allowing the Little Rascals access to videotapes, action figures, model cannons, Pop Tarts, and other essentials of modern life.
But according to a recent report, more people in North Carolina die from falls in their homes than they do from such hazards as fires, drownings, or the discharge of firearms. The risk isn’t limited to the elderly; falls are also one of the leading causes of injuries to children under the age of 14.
So why not require a lock or other device to keep young children and the infirm from mounting a stepladder? Because that would be impractical and silly, you might say. Because such a rule might even put more people in danger, since those deterred from using a ladder to reach a great height would probably use whatever else they could find to accomplish the task. You might also point out that while falls may represent one of the single-greatest safety hazards one might encounter in a home, the chance of being seriously injured or killed by a fall is still remote.
All of these arguments are valid. They also apply to other panicky governmental over-reactions.
For example, years ago Congress required pills to be placed in bottles with childproof caps. You can understand why. Every year, some children were sickened or even killed by ingesting multiple pills they found in their parents’ medicine cabinet. Unfortunately, as economist Kip Viscusi later established with careful study, the first childproof caps coincided with increases in overall poisonings. Older people who took a lot of medicine found it difficult to work the caps and got in the habit of just leaving the caps off entirely. Another reason was a “lulling effect” on parents who took fewer precautions. …
I don’t need to spend a lot of time explaining why gun control might make at least some people less safe. By now, the arguments surely sound familiar. North Carolina is a concealed-carry state. Crime and homicide rates are lower today than they were when the statute was enacted. Perhaps they would have fallen even more if North Carolinians weren’t carrying concealed weapons, but it is certainly plausible — and there is, once again, empirical evidence pointing in this direction — that the policy deters some crimes by communicating to potential criminals that their victims could be armed. …
Freeing our lives from risk is impossible. Our goals should be to identify, manage and minimize risk. The next time you hear someone mourn a tragic loss of life and pontificate about how “there ought to be a law,” express sympathy but then diplomatically ask him what his position is on stepladder regulation.
Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation.