Friday, February 15, 2008

"Necessary to the Security of a Free State"

As I read about the horrific shooting at Northern Illinois University yesterday, which, I learned, was the fourth school shooting in the last two weeks, I wondered what it will take to prompt local, state and federal governments to disarm people in the U.S. How can anyone argue that school shootings are merely a tragic byproduct of any legitimate right when someone opens fire in a college lecture hall or a 14-year-old shoots a 15-year-old to death in a California school? The ready availability of guns to any adult or child who wants one is terrifying - for the obvious reasons and also because it creates a detachment between killer and victim that I suspect makes killing easier. Knives, fists, blunt instruments, ropes and the like require a close proximity and a strength (intentional as well as physical) that must make it more difficult for even the murderous to kill.

I'm all for personal freedom, but in a society personal freedom has to be balanced with public policy concerns. We already tolerate lots of fetters on our personal freedoms. Many of them - like laws prohibiting suicide or those requiring the use of seat belts or motorcycle helmets - offer relatively attenuated benefits to society as a whole. Gun control seems far more important as a public policy matter and it would offer far more direct societal benefits. Conversely, it's impossible to articulate any benefit stemming from the right to bear arms that is compelling enough to outweigh that right's tragic and escalating consequences.

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