Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is adamant his state doesn’t need local mask laws, and he’s explaining his reasoning with a familiar refrain for another law related to public health.
“While we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I’m confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing,” Kemp said Friday morning.
If you swap “mask” for “seat belt,” you’d essentially get the following argument against a seat belt mandate:
“We can’t legislate common sense,” New Hampshire state Sen. Robert J. Letourneau said in 2007. “The point of view to put these things into law, to change people’s personal lifestyle, is not what I consider good policy. I trust our citizens to make those decisions for themselves.”
New Hampshire is still the only state without a seat belt law for those over 18 (though there are frequent attempts to change that, including another effort this February). It also stamps the state motto, “Live free or die,” on every license plate.
Like these mask mandates, passing seat belt laws happened largely through the states, with opponents citing personal liberty and proponents citing public health and safety.
Back in the ’60s, as debate over Wisconsin’s seat belt law raged, one resident wrote into local newspaper the Appleton Post Crescent stating: “As long as the life risked is his own, I believe the individual should decide whether or not the use of safety belts is wise.”
In the ’90s, Maine’s Gov. John R. McKernan Jr., a Republican, was one of many governors who vetoed a seat belt law, saying it “crosses the line between public interest and personal choice.”
Another parallel to mask usage? Seat belts are far more effective when worn properly.
Then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (remember him!), a Democrat, explained why he wore a seat belt: “The ethos in northern New England is: ‘Don’t tell me what to do in my personal life.’ And a lot of people think they have a God-given right to do what they want with their bodies,” Dean told The New York Times in 1993. “But I know from my profession just how important highway safety is, and a mandatory seat-belt law is the right thing to do.”
The Point: The argument against laws mandating masks is strikingly similar to the one made against seat belts. And in both cases, we know both tools save lives.