Sunday, May 1, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Patrick Henry would not have been proud. He would have been confused.
Every schoolchild should have learned — and committed to memory — Henry’s most eloquent words regarding the coming of the Revolutionary War and the role each man in the colonies had to assume. It was March 23, 1775, when patriot Henry challenged his colleagues in the Virginia House of Burgesses to commit Virginia’s troops to the war effort against the Redcoats of King George III.
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Powerful words for a powerful cause. The birth of the United States of America.
Fast forward a couple hundred years or so and the liberty about which Mr. Henry so eloquently spoke has been spun into an argument about motorcycle helmets and whether Nevada’s riders need to wear them. The arguments for and against have been distilled to a basic premise: If Nevada is about the exaltation of individual rights and liberties, what greater liberty is there than the freedom for a person to decide whether to wear a motorcycle helmet!
I am certain I have oversimplified the matter but not the idea that the ability to ride a motorcycle with the wind blowing through your hair is a matter of concern left to the individual: The government, which since 1971 has required Nevada’s cycle enthusiasts to protect their heads, has no place in the equation of advancing the cause of liberty.
Ever since then, there have been vocal minorities of Nevadans hellbent on repealing that law, which, truth be told, was never meant to curtail individual rights. It was merely meant to prolong life. This is not the only example of government making certain rules of reason apply to people and their actions. We require seat belts to be worn in moving vehicles. We require children to be secured in car seats rather than left free to climb across the seats and, God forbid, sail through a windshield when the inevitable accident happens.
We may not like the idea of government telling us how we must act, but, for the most part, we have accepted what appear to be responsible rules of the road. Except when it comes to motorcycles.
I am writing about this subject because for the first time in many years, the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law seems to be going someplace. At least it has gone from the bill drafter’s desk and managed to make it out of committee, which means it has a chance for success. As of this writing, it has been returned to another committee in the state Senate where, if the gods are smiling, it will die a natural death in an effort to avoid so many other unnatural ones.
The desire of this state to fix “stupid” started when Gov. Mike O’Callaghan took office. He knew the great dangers of macho men riding along our streets and highways at high speeds with seemingly low IQs. Not that they were really stupid; it is just that when it came to riding in the wind, they acted stupid.
As long as Mike was here, he did his best to prevent anyone and any Legislature from undoing the good he had done in his quest to save lives. Unfortunately, since Mike left us, a new champion for motorcycle sanity has been hard to find. And that allows those who claim they act on liberty’s behalf to do their darnedest. Hence, this latest effort to repeal the helmet law.
Frankly, I don’t much care if someone I don’t know wants to drive 65 mph on a motorcycle without a helmet. The inevitable accident will smash his brains over whatever stretch of road he happened to be traveling when his bike hit the asphalt and his head hit the — well, you get the picture.
No question, an individual has the right to be as stupid as he chooses to be. How else can you explain what is going on in the country today?
The problem, of course, is that such accidents and resulting brain injuries or deaths affect more than just unlucky and uncaring riders. Usually, there is a driver of a car somewhere in the equation. What about him?
I know a lot about what I am talking about because a motorcycle rider, who wasn’t wearing a helmet and who was driving at night without lights, hit my car. I did not — could not — see him. But when I finally saw him lying on the ground, twitching in what seemed like a death dance, all I could think of was that I killed him.
Fortunately, he turned out to be one of the luckiest people on the planet because he survived the accident — completely. But, I didn’t. To this day, I live with the belief that I came that close to killing an innocent, albeit really stupid, young man.
He didn’t have the right to give me that kind of guilt. Nor does anyone thoughtless enough not to wear a helmet have the right to force the taxpayers to pay for short- or long-term care that is the result of a brain injury caused by a motorcycle accident.
And, yet, in some perverted understanding of individual rights and liberties, the responsibilities of citizenship have been lost. The part about personal freedoms stopping when they infringe on someone else’s space seems to be missing in a philosophy that demands liberty at the expense of others.
A few days ago, Iraq War veteran Zacharie Perez was riding his motorcycle in Dallas. He was hit from behind by a car that smashed him into the car in front of him. It was all caught on tape so we could see the young man thrown into the oncoming lanes of traffic and, miraculously, avoiding getting run over. Thankfully, he is OK.
Here is a young man who survived the outrages of war in Iraq who was almost killed on the freeway in Dallas. His response? “Thank God I was wearing a helmet. It saved my life.”
Patrick Henry said “give me liberty or give me death.” He was a proud, serious and patriotic man.
There is nothing serious or patriotic about any Nevadan who perverts Henry’s words to suggest that giving him liberty means also causing his death and the lifelong guilt of an innocent American. Or worse, a lifetime of taxpayer-funded hospitalization for his vegetative state.
Should anyone believe otherwise, I suggest rereading history or, more to the point, reading it for the first time.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.