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Protesters linger at the perimeter of Lafayette Square across from the White House early Sunday. They were confronted by police officers who at various times fired tear gas, pepper spay pellets and concussion grenades.

 long time ago, when they set this country up, the idea was that we’d all live under some agreed-upon laws.

Ever since then, things have gotten increasingly complicated:

  • What if you break the law but didn’t mean to?
  • What if breaking the law was the best option at the time, considering the alternatives?
  • What if the particular law you broke was a bad idea in the first place? Or what if passage of that law inadvertently broke some other law?

So now we live in a land of lawyers to help us sort it all out.

We pay people handsomely to dissect how the laws work, whether anybody’s broken any of them and what the consequences should be if they did.

We started out with good intentions, but now here we are.

Take this new package of laws aimed at making sure police officers behave themselves. Gov. Jay Inslee signed all dozen or so of them Tuesday.

“As of noon today, we will have the best, most comprehensive, most transparent, most effective police accountability laws in the United States,” the governor said, just before picking up his pen.

These new rules — largely in response to instance after of instance of police across the country doing atrocious things to innocent people — are strict: No chokeholds, period. No neck restraints and no no-knock warrants. Car chases and tear gas are restricted, and from now on, officers are required to intervene if they see a fellow officer using excessive or illegal force.

Police are expected to use “reasonable care” in dealing with prickly suspects. They must use every tactic possible to de-escalate dangerous situations.

Additionally, the laws establish an independent office that will review cases in which officers have used deadly force. Officers who break the rules can be sued or lose their badges more easily now.

Given the inexcusable and needless deaths of people like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent years, it’s hard to argue against the new legislation. Good for Washington for stepping up and making a serious commitment to making things better.

At the same time, we can’t get an old saying out of our heads: You can’t legislate morality.

In this country, we have a law for nearly every occasion — but what effect do they really have on our behavior?

Despite speed-limit signs and the possibility of expensive tickets, we’ve all experienced the spectacle of someone passing us on the freeway doing somewhere around 100 mph. Killing somebody can land you in prison for life, yet murder stories are staples on our daily news budgets.

It’s enough to drive you to drink … but please don’t drink and drive.

Look, we aren’t opposed to behavioral expectations being codified. The last thing we’d want to do is put any lawyers out of work.

But rules alone aren’t going to make us better. Shouldn’t some internal sense of common sense and decency kick in at some point?

When it comes to police, maybe the emphasis ought to be on screening out bad characters from the beginning. Maybe we should work even harder at not hiring people who are getting into police work for the wrong reasons. We might even consider devoting more resources to identifying the potential bad hires, rather than coming up with more ways to punish them when they fail.

The sad truth here is that all of this is futile if we can’t stick to one of the key premises of this country: that government’s role is to secure the “inalienable rights” with which the Creator supposedly endowed us — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

If that doesn’t resonate with us anymore, if every aspect of our lives requires regulation, then maybe we’re not the country we set out to be.