Liberty and Security

I promised no more posts on the massacre in Connecticut, but the hysteria over it keeps reverberating, and the left—which has foolishly been allowed to wield political power again—is using it in an attempt to revive gun control. So let me offer a brief note about the hysteria.

Whenever there is a shocking tragedy like this, unscrupulous political pundits rush in to declare that the whole thing could have been prevented if only we had adopted their pet reform. These are invariably offered before anyone knows much about the facts of the case, and most of time it turns out that the pet reform wouldn’t have made any difference. But it fits comfortably within the pundit’s ideology, so he goes ahead and advocates it anyway. It’s an exercise in raw opportunism.

Unfortunately, one of the people who did this was Wayne LaPierre, the executive director of the National Rifle Association. Veterans of the gun rights battles of the 1990s remember a certain degree of exasperation with LaPierre, and boy did he demonstrate why. First, the NRA sat in total silence for five days, a move that practically exuded an air of guilt. Then LaPierre got up to give a speech that is a master class in special pleading. He blamed violent video games, violent movies, wall-to-wall media coverage of atrocities, and “our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill.” He then proposed an armed police officer in every school as the only solution to mass shootings.

In short, he endorses precisely the idea of blaming shootings on external social forces, and precisely the same police-state approach of advocating a massive expansion of government intrusion in order to deal with a problem that is, in fact, incredibly rare. He advocates this for every aspect of our society except guns.

I think we need to challenge the deeper premises. Charles Krauthammer makes an argument surprisingly similar to LaPierre’s, ticking off a list of all of the supposed causes of these mass shootings and contemplating more government intrusion and regulation to deal with them. But at the end, he admits the problem with this approach.

But there’s a cost. Gun control impinges upon the Second Amendment; involuntary commitment impinges upon the liberty clause of the Fifth Amendment; curbing “entertainment” violence impinges upon First Amendment free speech.

That’s a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments. But there’s no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.

We made that trade after 9/11. We make it every time the Transportation Security Administration invades your body at an airport. How much are we prepared to trade away after Newtown?

Great. So were supposed to make universal the same principle that results in the TSA groping everyone at the airport. And the security we’re supposed to be buying is, in this case, an illusion—not because these measures won’t work (though they probably won’t) but because we are already secure. We are already more likely to be struck by lightning and far more likely to die in a car accident than to be a victim of this kind of tragedy.

That’s the problem with the reaction to this case. Everyone, from outright demagogues to “thoughtful” pragmatists like Krauthammer, is trying to use the emotional impact of a tragedy to panic us into selling a little bit more of our liberty in exchange for illusory “security.”


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