Saturday, May 4, 2013

Gun Control or Erosion of Liberties?

I sometimes think that I believe in two contradictory messages.

 The first message I believe in is that gun ownership, just like the ownership of anything else is a matter of individual discretion, responsibility and personal liberty.  What right does the state have to tell a person that he or she cannot own a gun?  What gives them the right to tell you, as law abiding citizen that you cannot go out and get your own food, or shoot clay disks or other targets?

On the other hand, news of a child given a gun by his parents for his birthday and then went off and killed his kid sister. Of course it was an horrific accident and one that I will not use to make a message advocating gun control, but let me just say that the individual responsible is the parent.  However, as there are people out there like those parents, we do need laws.

Where is the balance between these two messages?  As the NRA top dog, Chris Cox stated, you can't blame lawful gun owners for these incidents.  You have to blame the criminal or the person who though it was okay to give a gun to a child.  This is a compelling argument.  You wouldn't give your five year old a car to drive, would you?  If you would, you probably should have your head examined.

As unfortunate as it may be, I think it is true that people cannot be given full right to buy anything they want without any kind of regulation because people do moronic things and sometimes those moronic actions spill over and have a broad public cost.  The idea of any innocent person being harmed by another individual who has misused his rights is, to my mind, a compelling argument for gun control.

However, the vast majority of gun owners have never shot anyone.  In fact, statistically, your neighbors swimming pool poses a greater danger to the public than his rifle.  So, does that mean that we should ban his pool along with his gun?  Perhaps not.  There is a sensible middle ground here.  As unfortunate as it is, we must make homeowners have safe premises and we must also encourage safe pool ownership.

We have natural rights and liberties, but we also have the responsibility that goes along with them.

I am well aware of the argument that some make that the United States government wishes to control your guns so that they may control you.  I don't buy it.  Folks, they have tanks and drones...your gun is not going to stop them.  Rather, I think it is far less sinister.  It is the madness of politics that drives these gun control efforts.  The President and Congress want to be seen as acting.  If they are found by the public to have not prevented a disaster, they will suffer in the next election.  That is one of the unfortunate kinks in the electoral system.  A focus on short-term priorities and a race toward some kind of action often trumps deep inquiry and long term solutions.

We balance budgets by cutting the very programs that are needed for long term economic success.  We reduce medical school placements to save costs in one budget only to have to spend greatly later on to fix medical shortages.  Leaders often have trouble keeping up.  Top civil servants are often racing to provide answers to the politicians which just do not exist.

I think it is these factors which are more responsible for government action than plots to take away the rights of the public.  The state is not a unitary actor with a single goal.

What I fear most is that the public will begin to panic against gun control, and that the government will react to that.  The fear of the slippery slope has been reified.  People really believe that that metaphor is true.  Take away my semi-automatic, and the next step is that you'll take away my shotgun also.

So, on the one hand you have the desire to protect the public from a small number of criminals, and on the other hand you have a public that is overwhelmingly peaceful and shouldn't have the government interfering in ownership.  I believe in both of these messages at the same time.  I'm not so sure if they are contradictory.  If they are, perhaps we just need to allow for these two contradictory impulses to exist at the same time and trust the legal system to find the balance.

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