Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.



December 2012

Easy Answers Rarely the Best

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Gun Rights

An awful, horrific thing happened today – the mass murder of innocent children.

The response to the tragedy is predictably one of mourning. Some people process such traumatic events by reflecting, others by lashing out in anger at the perceived cause. All are understandable methods for dealing with such an horrific event, but we shouldn’t let our immediate emotions lead us to knee-jerks demands to limit freedom.

Many of those reacting to today’s shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut want us to finally have that debate about gun control. But since we’ve been debating gun control nonstop for decades, I assume what they actually mean is that we should stop debating gun control and start doing gun control, implementing whatever happens to be their preferred level of restrictions. Forgive me for not immediately jumping on board that train without first actually discussing the matter.

But perhaps before we begin yet another discussion about guns with all the same arguments,  we can start with a discussion of what problem(s) today’s event actually exposed. I wonder, is the presence of a gun really the biggest problem people see with what happened today? What about the society that birthed and raised the person who could do such a thing? Can we perhaps spend a little time talking about that? Or given reports that the shooter may have a mental illness, perhaps we should look at how we deal with such people. It seems to me that the polarizing issue of guns has obscured so many other, perhaps more important, factors at work.

Guns provide an easy answer, but not a particularly good one when actual evidence is considered. Focusing on access to weapons furthermore doesn’t require any self-reflection. It requires no questioning of just what we are all capable and how social pressures work to restrain our impulses in ways that allow us to live together as a community, much less where they have seemingly gone wrong. It’s far easier to avoid all of that mess and just demand new gun control laws. But doesn’t the evidence suggest that there are other factors at play?

We might want to consider, and I know this will be hard for many to accept, that there is no easy public policy solution. Not every social ill can be solved with government legislation. I don’t have all the answers, but I can’t help but feel that the proliferation of moral relativism, replacement of civil society institutions with less personal government institutions, and the general erosion of social cohesion – perhaps related to technologically driven changes in human interaction – are possibly playing a part in the seemingly increasing frequency with which young, disaffected males are committing mass atrocities (as it turns out, guns are not the only relevant commonality). These are just some of the possibilities that immediately come to mind, and I’m sure others can contribute many more possibilities than I, so perhaps we should first identify all the problems before demanding that somebody do something.

We would also do well to keep some perspective, perhaps by remembering that despite recent events violent crime in the US is on a 40-year long decline, and that gun crime in particular is at a 45-year low.

If and when we are eventually ready to talk about potential solutions we must weigh without excessive emotion the costs and benefits of taking any particular action. After all, life is not and cannot be made to be risk free. So we must ask: should we really sacrifice some of our freedoms to enhance our security, or the illusion thereof? Will the intended goals of any action actually achieve those goals, or does the evidence suggest it is merely wishful thinking? We should also be cognizant of the fact that laws born out of emotional demands to do something tend to have the worst unintended consequences. Finally, what if anything can we do as members of society that doesn’t necessarily involve the force of government?

Today’s shooting represents the worst of human capabilities, but it also serves to remind all of us of our inherent vulnerability and, we can hope, our shared humanity.