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Liberty and Justice for All: The Metahuman Response Act

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A WHAT-IF? SCENARIO

BY JAYSON JOLIN

The provisions of the Superhuman Registration Act were on their face unconstitutional violations of the civil rights of metahumans.  However, that does not mean that the regulation of those possessing superhuman abilities cannot occur without violating metahuman civil rights.  If treated as a law regulating activity and use of enhanced abilities rather than as a de-facto enslavement of metahumans to the government, such a law could function well and only minimally impact the metahuman community.

THE METAHUMAN RESPONSE ACT

The Metahuman Response Act is an alternative act proposed by Matt Murdock and Jennifer Walters after the Superhuman Registration Act is proposed by Congress.  It attempts to regulate reckless behavior by any citizen, metahuman or no, in activities normally pursued by law enforcement.  It also indicates the legal and illegal use of metahuman powers, high-powered equipment, or other similar abilities.  Finally, it indicates the penalties that violators will incur for various illegal uses of their abilities.

  • Self Defense or Protective Action:  Any citizen may use any means of defending themselves from the aggressive actions of another that do not recklessly endanger the public.  This includes the use of any metahuman power or high technology.  Any citizen may also defend a third party or parties from said aggressive actions, with the same restrictions.
  • Active Pursuit of Justice:  Any citizen witnessing a crime may attempt to detain, but not actively pursue the injury or death of, the criminals in question by any means that do not recklessly endanger the public, including the use of metahuman powers or high technology.
  • Active Hunting Of Criminal Activity:  No citizen may, without the consent of the government at the federal, state or local level, actively seek out potential criminal activity.  Those wishing to receive such consent must undertake specialized training from the relevant government body.  Consent from the government may effectively deputizes the consentee or may merely license the consentee to act as though deputized, and makes the consentee answerable to all rules and regulations that govern government agents and law-enforcement officers.
  • Registration and Proper Use of Metahuman Ability:  Any individual currently possessing metahuman abilities or high technology must register that ability within 45 days of the passing of this Act.  Those manifesting or acquiring such abilities or tech after the passage of this Act must register those abilities or tech within 30 days of acquisition.  Said individual must begin proper training in the safe domestic (non-combative) use of said abilities or tech within 10 days of registration.  Use of said powers in a non-life-preserving manner will be considered a misdemeanor offense at minimum.  All training facilities must possess appropriate licenses for training of metahumans.
  • Registration Of Alternate Identity:  Any citizen showing proper cause and need (as defined by the state in which the citizen resides) may register his metahuman abilities or high technology under a secondary identity, which will only be tied to his primary identity via a sealed record.  Any criminal activity undertaken by either identity will result in the unsealing of said file and the public release of all alternate identities to the courts and law enforcement.

So basically, anyone may continue to defend themselves from aggressive action, with or without powers or super-gadgets.  Anyone may stop a crime in process so long as they use non-lethal force and do not recklessly endanger innocent bystanders.

However, only those deputized or licensed by the government may actively go looking for criminals.  This means that even private detectives must receive a license to engage in their trade (and actively renew it after a period set by the licensing agency).

Yes, metahumans must register their powers and receive training to use them safely in non-combat situations, in the same way that gun owners must register their weapons and receive training in their use.  This passes muster because metahuman powers, by law, are considered to reside apart from “the essential nature of the human condition,” as evidenced by the fact that superhuman abilities can be jammed, transferred, or bestowed in ways that “natural” human abilities cannot.

Finally, if a citizen can prove that his life or freedom would come under significant threat if his metahuman abilities became known, he can register them under a secondary legal identity.  However, if he does anything illegal (he is arrested and found guilty under one identity), all of his identities will be made public.  Note that the person must be found guilty of the crime for this to occur.

The MRA achieves the goals of keeping untrained kids from endangering the public, of making vigilantism clearly illegal, and of providing a legal means for those with metahuman abilities to live their lives without civil rights violations and still being able to operate as heroes if they so choose.

NOTE:  This is just one possible alternative to the Superhuman Registration Act.  You or your players may come up with more detailed or varied variants.  Just remember; the point is to preserve civil rights for all involved, both human and metahuman.  This is the only way the heroes can hope to avert the civil war and ensure liberty and justice for all.

UP NEXT:  Milestones!

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About jpjolin

I started gaming in high school using FASA's Doctor Who RPG. I have the most experience using TSR's Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Currently I am running the House Of Madness campaign here at Plot Points.

14 comments on “Liberty and Justice for All: The Metahuman Response Act

  1. “Registration of Alternate Identity” = You’re screwed if you get so much as a Parking Ticket or Assault charge (and god help you if you were framed for something). Also curious as to why “Active Hunting Of Criminal Activity” seems to be taking a large swipe at non-heroes…

    • jpjolin
      January 6, 2013

      The provision is general (as are all the provisions) to give Watchers and heroes room to debate and establish specifics together. Obviously a balance must be struck so that the courts could not frivolously reveal a legally-obtained secret identity.

      The law restricts all citizens on purpose to ensure that only those properly trained to seek out trouble actually do so. It also protects the right of any citizen who happens upon a crime to act to stop it.

  2. laughingmad4
    January 6, 2013

    Think this is a great idea! I had the same thought reading Civil War. At the time, I thought it odd that She-Hulk seemed to go along uncritically (given her standing as a lawyer specializing in superhuman law). It seems it eventually came back to haunt her when her powers were stripped away by Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. Looking forward to your future material. ‘Nuff Said!

  3. CoreBrute
    January 9, 2013

    “Use of said powers in a non-life-preserving manner will be considered a misdemeanor offense at minimum. ” That seems unusually harsh. What about a metahuman who wants to use his powers for profit, like a super strong building constructor, a precog stock broker or an alchemist who wants to sell the gold he makes? Those don’t seem like misdemeanor worthy offenses, let alone more serious crimes. (maybe the precog depending on if you think it counts as insider training).

    • jpjolin
      January 9, 2013

      The MRA requires that metahumans get training in the use of their powers before they use them for any non-life-preserving means. This means that they have to show they can use their powers safely and receive a license in their powers’ use before they can use them for profit, transport, or whatever. This does not mean that they have to become government employees (as was the case in the SHRA), merely that they must prove they can safely use their powers in public. It is analogous to requiring someone to have training in specialized equipment before allowing them to use that equipment in their jobs. The point is not to prevent metahumans from using their abilities for profit, but to ensure that they can do so safely and ethically.

  4. jpjolin
    January 9, 2013

    Remember that the whole point of the Metahuman Response Act is to provide Congress with a less harsh alternative to the Superhuman Registration Act and to preserve the civil liberties of all citizens. Nothing in the MRA outlaws possession of superhuman abilities or even licensed use of those abilities in a safe and ethical manner; it merely renders illegal unlicensed use of said abilities unless said use is required for self-preservation or self-protection (or protection of others) from immediate harm. Licensed metahumans are free to use their powers within the confines of what their license allows, and of course only to the extend that said use does not endanger others or infringe on the rights of others.

  5. Nojh
    January 10, 2013

    Obviously meta-humans include Mutants, and at the time of Civil War story line, mutants are mostly a non-issue. But I still see serious tension in the “Proper Use of Metahuman Ability” area when it is a misdemeanor to use your ability at any time other than to save your life. You’re born with an ability that is generally not transferable or curable (depending on the current story-arc), and even if it is as simple as the ability to change your skin color, not only do you have to register it but it’s against the law for you to use it unless someone is threatening your life.

  6. jpjolin
    January 10, 2013

    Characters can have a debate on the Safe And Proper Use clause during the first Scene of the Event Supplement (coming soon), as well as other aspects of the MRA. The above is how the MRA is presented to the heroes by Jennifer Walters and Matt Murdock.

    Also, consider the climate at the time of the debate over the MRA. People already want to put every metahuman’s head on a pike. The SHRA is a totalitarian response to that sentiment. The heroes want the MRA to preserve civil liberties, but they also want to appease an angry nation. By requiring a license to use their powers for all but the most basic needs, Matt and Jennifer are attempting to strike that balance.

    This is an opportunity for game play; perhaps Matt and Jennifer disagree over this issue. Matt would probably want fewer restrictions, while Jennifer might want the more restrictive language. The best possible outcome here is that you and your fellow players hammer out the details in-game and present the best-possible MRA to the public and Congress. The MRA itself could become a Resource for your heroes to use in their attempts to get it passed!

  7. CoreBrute
    January 10, 2013

    Sorry to bring up technical points again, but I noticed something just now. In all the other clauses, you use the term ‘citizen’. However in “Registration and Proper Use of Metahuman Ability” You say, “Any individual currently possessing metahuman abilities or high technology must register that ability within 45 days of the passing of this Act. ”

    Originally I thought citizen was very clever, because it prevented any issues from forcing an Asgardian like Thor, or an Atlantean like Namorita from registering. However, you changed it to read individual. That seems to say, “All aliens and foreign nationals, either get out of the country or register your sensitive details to a national database.”

    Even putting Inhumans and Kree aside, British, Wakandan or Chinese supers for example, will not be happy about this. Neither will their respective governments (especially since I think Captain Britain and others in Excalibur are part of a British military service).

    So I have to ask, was the use of the word ‘individual’ a mistype, or on purpose, so the players can have a discussion about the sort of things I just mentioned?

    Note: Thank you for your extremely fast and satisfying response to my original comment. I really like what your doing, and it’s quite similar to a version I wrote up, inspired by law and the multiverse.

    • jpjolin
      January 10, 2013

      I can definitely see where that could cause concern (and I’m certainly no lawyer). We could certainly change the wording to “citizen” in that instance.

      However, I could also see a separate clause applying explicitly to how we handle foreign metahumans. Our government’s first priority (special interest groups notwithstanding) would be to protect the rights and safety of its citizens, not the sensibilities of foreign metahumans. Certainly they would be required to divulge any metahuman abilities before entering the country, just as non-metahumans would have to inform customs of any registered weapons or dangerous equipment they may be traveling with. The government would probably allow most travelers a non-combat license for their abilities for the duration of their stay, with some (like Thor) allowed a more flexible license.

      One way the law might handle this is to have a basic requirement for all foreigners operating within the U.S., and then forge treaties with other countries on how they handle citizens from that country (and vice versa). Part of the agreement might be that only the home country maintains an official record of its metahumans’ abilities, but that the information must be cleared by U.S. officials at time of entry and for the duration of the stay. The United Nations might become involved. This could create a nice spin-off story (or stories) for heroes interested in such things. Of course, normal rules for handling foreign lawbreakers would apply, including deportation for those protected by diplomatic immunity. And yes, this could be a good way to keep Dr. Doom legally out of the country; if he proves unwilling to divulge his full arsenal or in any way deceives U.S. officials and gets caught, he could be barred from the country (and then he’ll undoubtedly seek vengeance on Reed Richards, for some reason).

      Incidentally, if you want to make things interesting, by all means involve special interest groups. Nothing throws a wrench in the works of passing a law than money from “Concerned Citizens For Cute Puppies And Kittens” (a bogus name for a SuperPAC formed by any seedy corporation or political fringe group with a name designed to hide the true purpose of the SuperPAC). Once the law is before Congress, senators and representatives in the pockets of special interest groups could do all kinds of harm to the law before it passes. The heroes would have to act in some way to curb the influence of these special interest groups or in some other way protect their version of the MRA.

  8. jpjolin
    March 1, 2013

    I just thought about something with regards to metahumans getting licenses involves the real-world legal changes going on right now with regards to gun laws, especially with regards to weapons bans on certain types of weapons. Right now we ban (and may expand that ban) certain types of weapons being owned by civilians. Given that some powers may simulate such weapons or even prove more potent or dangerous in civilian hands, it is entirely possible that the MRA may include provisional bans on use of some types of powers. It could also ban use of certain powers over a certain level.

    I envision it like this; let’s say that (in game terms) your hero has a Power Set with three powers, one at D8, one at D10 and one at D12. Your hero also has Area Attack for any die pool that contains that D8 Power. The congress has stated that civilian use of automatic fire weapons or powers is illegal, as is use of any power over (in game terms) D10 potency. That would mean that unless your hero works on a government-sponsored team he cannot use his D12 power at full level (he must intentionally step it down to a single D10). He could also not use his SFX for his D8 power.

    Enforcement of this provision would vary from state to state. Typically I would imagine that heroes would be expected to follow that law without coercion. If the hero ignored the law he might have to wear an inhibitor collar to prevent abuse of his powers (forcing him to comply without jamming his powers entirely). Serious abuses might call for a revoking of his license to use his powers and mandatory wearing of an inhibitor that jams all powers at all levels.

    How would such enforcement be legal? Possession of metahuman abilities and/or gear is a right under the Second Amendment; however, as with the real world in the game world the government has the right to regulate weapons, and powers count as weapons. THAT people can possess metahuman powers does not imply TO WHAT DEGREE they may possess such powers.

    • Nojh
      March 1, 2013

      So this is for licensed to hunt criminal (as opposed to registered) heroes right? I don’t really see the need to create specific rules for this, although a particular gaming group might like it. It would seem within the realm of reality that the granting of a license would or could include guidelines for legal and proper use of your abilities to hunt down criminals and that improper use (including the use of power prohibited by your license) would simply have your license revoked.

      Also how would this apply to the Self Defense clause? Would the use of your d12 eye beams to protect your life still be illegal?

      • jpjolin
        March 1, 2013

        The MRA applies to any citizen in the United States. In layman’s terms, it states that everyone with a metahuman ability or equipment must register those abilities but otherwise is free to live his or her life as he or she sees fit within the bounds of the law.

        There are two basic forms of license; civilian and combative. Under either license metahumans can use their abilities in self-defense or in the defense of others, and can take actions to stop a crime taking place, provided they do not use excessive force. They may also use their abilities in any other non-combattive manner such as in the course of their jobs or for other pursuits of happiness (within the confines of law and without potential or actual harm to others) However, only those with combative licenses can actively pursue criminals, go on patrols, make arrests, etc. Combative licenses have two forms; in one you work for the government or one of its agencies, in the other you are a private citizen in a job that requires use of combative force (such as Heroes for Hire).

        The reason for the civilian license is the same as for possession of any other dangerous equipment owned by a private citizen; you have to show competency in their use so that the general public remains safe. If you are registered but cannot use your powers safely, you can have neither forms of the license and are not allowed to use your powers at all except in situations where your own life is threatened (such as powers that provide you with a healing factor). Dangerous powers that are involuntary (acid skin, for one) may require an inhibitor collar or other measures to prevent use by unlicensed citizens.

        All of this is much less restrictive than any of the SHRA’s provisions.

        Yes, you can get your license downgrade or revoked for improper use of your metahuman abilities, and you can also receive other legal punishments if the situation warrants. If you break other laws you could wind up paying fines or going to jail on top of having your license revoked.

  9. Nojh
    March 1, 2013

    “They may also use their abilities in any other non-combattive manner such as in the course of their jobs or for other pursuits of happiness (within the confines of law and without potential or actual harm to others)”

    Ahh that’s interesting. I didn’t get that from the initial write up.

    Registration and Proper Use of Metahuman Ability Section: “Use of said powers in a non-life-preserving manner will be considered a misdemeanor offense at minimum.”

    This line led me to believe that the MRA is basically going to require you to register, train you so you aren’t a danger, then tell you not to use your powers or it’s a crime, unless you get the combat license.

    Looking over the comments I realize now you stated this several times in some of the follow up comments, but I felt I should point out the line that made me think otherwise in your initial post.

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2013 by in What If?.

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