Liberty Versus Security
Friday, a gunman stormed into a New York immigration class, slaughtering thirteen people before killing himself. It’s the fifth mass shooting in the U.S. during this month alone, shootings that have left 44 people dead.
It’s inevitable that the usual suspects will use this tragedy as evidence that increased gun control is necessary, just as they did after Columbine, Virginia Tech, and every other newsworthy massacre. Their arguments haven’t changed much over the years—gun violence is a major problem in the United States, and one that can only be solved by aggressive gun control.
Assume that they are correct. Assume that if stringent gun control laws were passed, violent crime would drop precipitously. Imagine that more controls on gun ownership could make shooting sprees like the one in New York a thing of the past, and would make every American’s life much safer. The only drawback would be that many Americans would be forced to surrender their guns. Would such a measure be worth it?
(Of course, gun control has not had a very good record—countries such as Great Britain, which have virtually no guns, are still plagued with high crime rates.)
Some people would say “yes,” that any law that makes citizens safer is a just and worthy law. And there is something to be said for that argument—it is one of the primary duties of any government to keep its citizens protected. And guns serve no other purpose than to kill, and most guns are made for the purpose of killing human beings.
But there is another side to this argument, that I think trumps the pro-gun control viewpoint. The framers of America’s Constitution included the Second Amendment for reason. They felt that the right to bear arms to defend oneself was an important human right, one worth guaranteeing in the nation’s founding document. (Although actually, the Founders probably included the Second Amendment more to ensure that a militia was always available than to make sure that citizens could shoot intruders. Still, the point stands that they considered the right to bear arms a right of every citizen).
It is rarely a good practice to do an evil so that a good may result. And that is why I think that it is wrong to violate a constitutional right in the name of law and order. Sometimes it is not possible to fully guarantee one right (the right to life and property) without violating another (the right to bear arms). Many people fail to consider this.
It is the same with health care. If a European style nationalized system would work—if it would make health care more efficient and more affordable, there would still be a strong case to be made that moving in that direction would be inadvisable. Because it would put the most important thing any of us have—our health—into the hands of the government. Maybe the government would be a good steward of the public health. But maybe it would not. Health care is a very important thing—too important, I think, for the individual to surrender his autonomy in this matter to the state.
America was built around the ideals of liberty, and the individual. Absolute liberty is obviously impossible—one’s liberty does not allow one to infringe on the rights of others. And absolute individualism is likewise impossible—every society requires mutual cooperation.
But if absolute liberty and individualism are not possible, it is still best, I think, to maximize both as far as possible. Because the very foundation of our democracy is liberty, and any attempt to limit it undercuts our democracy. Sometimes, perhaps, we must make sacrifices for liberty—but they are worth making.