South Carolina legislators, once again ignoring history and human nature, tacked on additional regulations and restrictions regarding the sale of scrap copper last year, a move some said would do little to thwart the theft and illegal sale of the nonferrous metal.
Since the new law was enacted in August 2011 requiring anyone buying or selling copper to obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s offices, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office alone has issued 9,187 two-year permits and an additional 1,076 48-hour permits, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
But guess what? Despite the additional work required of legitimate businesses and law enforcement, it hasn’t had much of an impact on copper theft.
Major Jim Brady of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department told the publication that the number of thefts has remained about the same.
“The problem with this whole situation obviously is when you get metal, you can’t always link it back to a specific crime …,” Brady said. “When the stuff is sold, it’s sold as scrap metal.”
Last year, I wrote a story for my previous employer on this very bit of regulation, which built on previous anti-copper theft laws passed in 2007 and 2009. At that time a lobbyist for the South Carolina Recyclers Association said then he had doubts as the wisdom of passing additional legislation to try to curb the fencing of stolen copper.
“This is really nothing more than feel-good legislation,” the individual noted. “Every time you do something like this, the bad guys find a way to get around it.”
What actually stems copper theft is falling copper prices, he added.
The new law not only forced scrap metal dealers to obtain a permit to legally sell or buy copper, aluminum and catalytic converters, it also made it illegal to transport nonferrous metals without a permit.
In addition, metal recyclers were required to make a copy of sellers’ permits, and record information such as the seller’s photograph, license plate number, the date of the transaction and amount paid.
Not surprisingly, businesses and sheriff’s departments around the state have seen a tremendous workload increase as a result of having to issue permits.
End result: Honest folks must deal with increased regulations, with the inherent increase in paperwork and other costs, while thieves go about their (dishonest) business by finding new ways around the law.
The fact is, legislators can pass all the laws they want, but as long as copper prices remain high, unscrupulous individuals are going to look to make money by stealing it.
However well-intentioned our elected officials may be, it’s been shown pretty regularly that more laws does not necessarily equal less malfeasance.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to try to prosecute criminals, but at some point the concept of diminishing returns means law-abiding citizens are the ones more likely to suffer when laws are heaped one atop another.
After all, if reducing crime was simply a matter of enacting legislation, murder, rape and armed robbery would have been wiped from the earth long ago.