Individual or Group rights
This is one issue that we keep having to repeat, mostly because people are so miseducated. When you bring up something like guns, smoking, drug laws, etc., some people keep bringing up the fallacy, "what about societies rights?" or "don't the rights of the many outweigh the rights of the individual/few?" The answer is no -- NEVER! Society and groups do not have rights only individuals do. That's fundamental to understanding American history, law, or people.
Groups are constructs. You can't give a construct a right. A building does not have a right. A bridge does not have a right. A math formula does not have a right. A city does not have rights. A tree does not have rights (nor a forest). People (individually) have rights. Groups and governments only have POWERS to try to protect individuals' rights.
Democracy = Bad
The whole point of American Experiment (Declaration of Independence, Revolution, Constitution, Government by the people and FOR the people) was to protect the rights of the individuals against the tyranny of the masses. That is why we (America) are not a democracy.
In a democracy, if four men and a woman are stranded on a desert island they can vote to see if the men can have sex with the woman. She will probably lose the vote and gets gang-raped by the tyranny of the masses.
Can we agree that is wrong? Democracy is bad!
The question asked is often why? The answer is simple and seems to need to be repeated, groups do not have rights, individuals do.
America is not a democracy! American is a Constitutional Republic.
The Constitution part means that we created a Constitution which recognized individuals' rights (Civil Liberties) to begin with -- but not groups. These individuals' rights are INALIENABLE rights -- they can not be transferred or taken away. Individuals have the right to life, liberty, and property. The only time you can take those rights away is when a crime has been committed first and you are protecting other people's individual rights. Our Constitution only discusses the rights of the people (as individuals), and the powers of the State or Federal Governments.
The Republic part means that we vote in representatives to do our bidding, and don't vote on everything ourselves. The representatives (legislative branches) responsibility is to protect the rights of the individuals, even when unpopular -- and we have an executive and judicial branch of Government to also protect the individual rights and preserve the Constitution (which guarantees those individual rights). Notice that everything was intended to protect individuals FROM Government abuse (and the tyranny of the masses). The only reason for Federal Government at all was to basically protect human rights (Civil Liberties) and the Constitution -- and a few federal powers like regulating interstate and international trade, and national defense. Everything else is pretty much extraconstitutional (without an amendment).
So in our Constitutional Republic -- on that same desert island -- the woman cannot have her rights voted away. They can vote to have sex with her -- but she has rights, the group does not. The representatives voted in is supped to know the law (Constitution) and not even put bad ideas up for a vote. The executive (President) is supposed to know the law (Constitution) and Veto unconstitutional ideas (laws). The judges are supposed to agree to challenge any law that is unconstitutional. The Constitution guarantees individual rights -- but there is no such thing for the group. So in our little analogy, an individual is saved from the tyranny of the masses. Good stuff -- we had really wise leaders... too bad more people aren't taught these fundamental concepts (and too bad our leaders are failing too often in doing what they are supposed to do, instead of what is popular).
Now in America, and throughout the world, people have been misguided and believe that the rights of the many outweigh the right of the one or the few. That is complete crap -- and I only wish more understood the above example of why.
Every tyranny that has ever existed started with the belief that rights were to be weighed as in one individual more than the others, or a group against the individual. They missed out on "all men are created equal" -- not some men are more equal than others. Once they believed that an individual or more recently a group "rights" are more important than the individuals' rights, you start a downward spiral. You convince people that the world would be a better place if you just encroached on the civil liberties of some individual, and before you know it they have empowered government (and the leaders) with all the powers (under law) that they need to start exterminating any who oppose them. Every great tyranny has started with this perverse concept, that the rights of the many outweigh the few or the one. It is the cornerstone of societal collapse and anarchy (or tyranny) in the name of the opposite.
This of course does not mean that every country that allows the tyranny of the masses, or has the misguided belief that the group has rights (and the rights of the many outweigh the rights of the individual) will lead to an extremely evil tyranny -- sometimes it can be a fairly benevolent or benign tyranny. But it is just philosophically a bad idea. Slippery slopes don't mean that you will always fall and plunge into the depths, they are just dangerous because it is easier to fall and likely that eventually you will. Historically, it is not a matter of if, but when. However, the belief that group rights outweigh individual rights is wrong because it is wrong, not just because of the slippery slope.
Powers and Proxy
The government has powers over individuals, but all the powers are granted to Government not because society has rights, but to protect the rights of individuals. You can make a law against behavior that endangers others because you are trying to protect the others rights. You are arguing in proxy for individual rights.
- Murdering someone is violating their rights -- good law.
- No shooting a gun inside city limits (unless at a safe place like a shooting range) because bullets fall down (or go through walls) and kill individuals -- good law.
- No speeding or driving drunk because that endangers or kills individuals -- another good law.
- Tapping someone's phone violates their right to privacy -- good law.
- Watching someone through an open window (without violating their property rights) is a crime -- probably a bad law (since people who leave the curtains open shouldn't expect privacy).
- Individuals should be able to do things that put themselves at risk; seat belt laws, drug laws, prostitution laws) -- bad laws! Individuals have the right to be stupid with their own bodies -- they just can't endanger others.
Laws don't need to be that difficult. We allow the Government and Society to enact laws, and use force to enforce those laws. The only laws that are valid or those that comply with the ultimate supreme law of the land (Constitution). And the foundation of our Consitution is the Declaration of Independence inspired and Bill of Rights guaranteed laws intending on protecting Civil Liberties and Individual Rights. If they do violate those things (liberties, rights, and our Constitution) then not only do we not have to obey those corrupt laws, but we have a societal responsibility to break those laws and challenge them in court.
This is the part where our society has been failing. Not only have our legislators ignored their responsibility and written unconstitutional laws, but the executive branch has either failed to veto it or has been the motivator behind it, and our Supreme Court has often ignored its responsibilities in overturning such laws. Even the last protector of our rights, the individuals and our society itself, has failed to rise up or even care. If it is just some other groups we rights being infringed, most don't want to get involved (that is their problem) -- those being infringed upon are usually marginalized when they do complain, and persecuted so that they learn it is better to survive with a few freedoms curtailed, than to be imprisoned (or killed) and have all of them removed. Utopia is slipping from our grasp through apathy -- which proves that we do not deserve it.
In America, more leeway is given to States, Counties, and Cities than to the Federal Government. Rules for public standards of behavior, zoning, property, and taxation (of anything other than trade) are "wrong" only at the Federal level. A Federal Law banning a behavior (like say Flag Burning) is pretty much wrong and unconstitutional unless it is an amendment. And it is a pretty dumb Amendment that violates the spirit of the law (the Declaration of Independence) and the bill of rights. No one's rights are being infringed upon by burning a flag. Their right to protest (in a civil manner) is constitutionally guaranteed. Some think it is offensive, but you have no right not to be offended. Some may not like the behavior and think it is disrespectful, but they have no right to force others to do only things that they like and agree with. But these rules about the law only apply to the Federal Government. Communities have been allowed more leeway to set public standards. A community (State, County or City) has the power (and autonomy) to try to pass any law they want -- and the Federal Government can overturn it only when it is violating someone else's rights (or goes against a Federal Law that is about Civil Rights, National Defense or Trade, etc.). If a community wants to make a law that says, "we don't approve of flag burning in this town" then the law flips over, they are not violating anyone's civil rights by passing that local law (or at least is debatable). That doesn't mean it is a good law or the best law to pass, but that is how the power is divided.
I believe the reasoning for this division of power is that if you don't like a local law, you can more easily move to another community (rather than another nation) -- and hopefully, the communities around you have more sense with their laws. Social Darwinianism. Not only that, it is far easier to get momentum in a community to change a bad law, rather than to try to get that same momentum across an entire nation. So bad laws are easier to overturn at the State, County or City level, rather than at the Federal Level -- so they are less bad (and deserve more leeway).
Other countries are different -- and many other countries are far smaller (economically and in population and size) than many of the States or even Counties in the United States. So if Luxembourg wants to pass some totalitarian law for their country, that is their business. I may disagree with it, and be saddened by their disregard for civil liberties, but I'm not for running around and cramming my standards down their throats, just like I don't think one state or region should be able to cram their standards down the throat of the entire nation (by trying to make national community standards type laws).
Our Southern States have (had) many flaws -- but at least they understood state sovereignty, the Constitution, and the 10th Amendment. Our South lost the civil war -- and in some ways, our nation lost a lot because of that (but it at least gained the civil rights for many more of our citizens).
The Way Back
Remember that Government is just a tool of force. It is sticking a gun in someone's face and saying if you don't do what I like, I'll pull the trigger, or imprison you or take your things. Sometimes that sort of power or intimidation is justified -- like when someone is violating someone else's rights (or threatening to do so) -- "You rape her, and I will imprison you" or "you rob them, and I'll take away your freedom". These are legitimate uses of power, all to protect individual rights. You are punishing the behavior after the fact (and not before) as a way to set examples and hold people accountable for their actions -- good use of power, and law. But often the use of government power is completely unjustified -- like when someone is not violating anyone else's rights or threatening to do so -- "you don't give enough to charity, according to my standards, and I'll shoot you or just take it from you" or "if you won't stop developing that land you own, then instead of buying it and protecting it ourselves we'll just imprison you". The means to an ends matter! The law of the land matters! Power should be used as little as possible, and only in cases where there is no other choice -- not as much as possible, and not for every special interest. That is the point of freedom that so many don't understand.
So the path back to a better society is to look at our laws according to their intent and reason -- and adjust our philosophy and stand by it! We should make as few broad objective laws (justice is blind) -- and apply those laws across the board -- not make as many little pedantic subjective laws and apply them on whims. We should remember that the rights of the individual should always be protected from the tyranny of the masses -- and not allow our laws to just become a tool or the masses to abuse the rights minority groups or individuals!