While many people are celebrating the “beginning of the end” to the sad saga of the pandemic with the arrival of both Christmas and the vaccines, not everyone is feeling in such a charitable mood. At USA Today, retired Army lieutenant colonel Geoffrey S. Corn and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Rachel E. VanLandingham, both former military attorneys, pose the title question. If exposing others to risk is a crime, why aren’t we prosecuting “reckless” COVID-19 conduct?

In case you’re unsure if they’re talking about what you no doubt already suspect they’re suggesting, don’t worry. That’s exactly what they’re saying. Making a favorable reference to the American student who was locked up in the Cayman islands for violating her quarantine (which Karen wrote about here recently), the authors state that the United States “needs to start treating the reckless exposure of others to such risk as what it is: a crime.”

They also attempt to draw some sort of parallel between the failure to follow social distancing orders with drunken driving. As you might imagine, the wheels come off of that argument pretty quickly.

When carefully and fairly applied, criminal law — a reflection of society’s collective moral condemnation of behavior — is intended to deter and prevent harmful conduct. Consider the increased enforcement of criminal penalties for drunken driving in the latter decades of the 20th century. When individuals faced the real possibility of arrest for DUIs, drunken driving typically decreased. While the magnitude of such an ounce of prevention depends on factors such as speed of case processing in courts, the point is valid: Criminal law, when enforced, can prevent harm.

It is time to ask whether we are at a similar point with the pandemic. The United States has now surpassed 319,000 COVID-related deaths, yet too many Americans continue to ignore simple and potentially lifesaving safety measures with full knowledge that their conduct creates unjustified risk to others. Sadly, this risk not only spreads anxiety and disease but at times also has deadly consequences. There should be no impunity for such reckless conduct.

The authors couch their argument right at the top with a hefty dose of anti-police sentiment. They worry that enforcement of executive orders about the wearing of masks will risk “arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement that would contribute to skepticism about the legitimacy of government efforts to control the virus.” They go on to blame the current level of skepticism on “racial inequalities.” Hold on… are we still talking about the pandemic here?

I would first note that the majority of the anti-cop activists in the country are currently pushing to empty the jails, end cash bail and defund or abolish the police. Such proposals wound up in the platforms of multiple Democratic candidates in the last election. But apparently, we’re to believe that some people actually do deserve to go to jail. But it’s not the looters and arsonists and rapists. It’s you naughty boys and girls who don’t follow your governors’ orders about wearing face masks.

As to the comparison to drunken driving laws, I would remind these op-ed authors that there’s a significant difference. There are laws on the books against driving while intoxicated. They vary from state to state and they are laws that were passed by the elected legislators and signed into law by the executive branch. These mask mandates and other authoritarian measures were handed down on high from a single person and nobody had the opportunity to challenge them until we were well into the throes of the pandemic. Before you start throwing tens of thousands of people into jail cells (where I have been repeatedly assured that they are at even more risk of contracting COVID), you might want to let the voters weigh in on the matter.

The hypocrisy on display these days is somewhat stunning. Police are bad… until you need to lock up somebody who isn’t wearing a mask. The country’s jails and our “incarceration nation” are a sin… unless you neglected to put your face mask on. None of this is normal. It’s never going to be normal and people are not going to tolerate it forever. In fact, the pushback against it has already begun. And if any states and cities start taking the advice of these authors and begin locking people up in significant numbers, they’re going to have a revolt on their hands and a lot of them will wind up losing their offices if there’s any justice.