In an article titled "Will Property Crime Uptick become Crime Wave?," Debra J. Saunders opines that a recent small rise in property crimes could be a harbinger of a much larger and more violent growth. Ms. Saunders does a straightforward job in explaining how reducing the punishments for some "property" crimes from felonies to misdemeanors is going to have the unintended consequence of increasing violent crimes.
I agree with her, but that is not the problem – it's a symptom.
The real problem is the unstated presumption in Saunders's article that there is an actual, substantive difference between property crimes and violent crimes – or, as they are referred to in law enforcement, "persons" crimes. When it comes down to it, there is little if any difference. Both categories bring harm to others, varying only by degree.
It took me a long time to understand this. Like many people, I considered persons crimes more heinous than "mere" property crimes. After all, "stuff" isn't nearly as important as a human being.
I had my epiphany a little over twenty years ago, when my wife and I made a personal commitment not to go into credit card debt to pay for Christmas. I worked several overtime details to make sure Santa Claus was adequately funded. My oldest daughter wanted a bicycle, her first. With a bit of extra effort, I was able to get her one...the Barbie model, with "pink streamers and everything, Daddy!"
Not two weeks after Christmas, in the middle of the day, someone came into my backyard and stole my daughter's new bike. She was crushed. What else could I do but go buy her another?
As I worked voluntary overtime to come up with the cash for a replacement, it struck me that what was stolen wasn't just a $150 bicycle. What was stolen was the piece of my life I had to spend to earn the cash to buy it...twice. In that regard, this petty theft was really a crime of violence, a persons crime.
Now look at the Constitution. Four different amendments specifically give property equal regard as with liberty and people.
3rd Amendment: No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
5th Amendment: No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
14th Amendment: ... nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law[.]
Why did the founders believe this way? My experience with my daughter's stolen bike got me halfway to the answer. I realized that, in a manner of speaking, property is a form of stored labor. Somebody, somehow had to work to get the money to purchase that property. In that regard, property represents so many hours of a person's life. It follows naturally that taking property could be considered taking a portion of someone's life.
Before John Locke, the common belief was that there was a "divine right of kings." This divine right stated that all rights, liberties, and properties were held by the king. His subjects were permitted to use them only at his pleasure. Of course, the king could revoke such a right at any time. As Mark Levin has noted, John Locke and a few of his contemporaries espoused a radically different paradigm: that certain rights resided in the individual. These rights were "natural rights" that were inherent long before, and regardless of, the existence of government.
Our Founding Fathers took Locke's philosophy regarding life, liberty, and property and sprinkled it liberally throughout the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. This equal billing of these three fundamental rights continued until the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. After that point, personal and property liberties came to be treated differently and unequally. One recent and truly egregious example of this is Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws, whereby a citizen merely suspected but not convicted of a crime may have his property confiscated and must prove innocence, at his own expense, to get it back. Another is the recent Kelo decision by the Supreme Court, whereby property can be taken from one citizen because the state (city, county, or state) can obtain more tax revenues from another, a clear violation of the intent of the takings clause of the Constitution.
It's time that we all as Americans understand that property is a significant part of liberty. It's time we all insist that the possession of property is a part of being a human being. Your property is your labor. Your property is you.