It’s still gun times here at the PostScript bunker, despite volatile developments in the Fiscal Sinkhole shambles last night. Not volatility in terms of anything actually changing, but the nothing that happened was really dramatic. Anyway, the commenters on the Post Opinions page would much rather discuss actions we could maybe take to try and keep the next mass shooting from happening. Specifically, Charles Krauthammer wrote about the intense complications for civil liberties involved in most of the legal actions available. Actually reducing the number of military-style weapons owned by civilians in this country would probably involve confiscating guns that had been legally obtained; involuntary commitment to mental hospitals for possibly dangerous people will necessarily involve imprisoning people who have committed no crime yet; restricting video games and movies is all kinds of banning speech among consenting adults who are not harming anyone. Essentially, innocents pay the price in all of these scenarios, though not as dramatically as they did last week. Krauthammer doesn’t dismiss any plan of action; he just says they are all fraught.
So, in light of Krauthammer’s proposed calculus of rights versus safety, some commenters suggest where we are might be the best place. Absolute safety is never a real option, they argue.
It makes no sense to design our whole society around dealing with the very rare case where some lunatic, somewhere, at some time, is going to get a lethal instrument (gun, sword, fertilizer bomb….big old Buick) and mow down a bunch of innocent people. There are so many other problems that are more common, and consistently more deadly or destructive that inordinate focus on the rare incident like this one is misplaced. It makes no sense to sacrifice the civil liberties of the whole society for the tiny increment of safety we might purchase by locking up every person we can identify as mentally ill…much less the entirely illusionary safety we could get by trying to ban privately owned firearms.
“Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.” His article brings us an important question. The issue is well beyond common sense firearms restrictions. We must deal with the ill, and those who may pose a danger to us or themselves. The likelihood that any of us will fall victim to this type of deranged individual is astronomically unlikely. Are we prepared to sacrifice some liberties to feel more secure against it, or not? It’s a fair question.
Others reject fictional violence as a contributor to real violence:
There was an article out this week [editor's note: possibly this one] that ran the comparisons between industrialized nations where the same “culture” of movies, video games, etc.exist just as here in the US. No matter how you slice it the death toll here in the US is multiples higher. When someone is mentally ill elsewhere they might kill one or two or just do damage because their weapons are knives or shotguns. Here when they break with reality they have semi-automatic weapons with clips that hold a hundred bullets, and bullets that do tremendous damage.
As long as we blame the “culture” then we don’t address the lack of mental illness treatment in this country, the need for the mentally ill to have committed a crime before they can be unwillingly committed for treatment (longterm if necessary).
His argument about the entertainment culture is spurious when we see how prolific violence has become in our culture between Hollywood and video games while homicide rates have gone down. I can’t help but notice how Mr. Krauthammer argues against himself here.
And others say it might be too easy to throw up our hands at this point:
Mr. Krauthammer argues that gun control laws do not work. So I wonder who lobbied for the exceptions, loopholes, and grandfathering in the first place. Having created the problem in the first place, it is the height of hypocrisy for the gun lobby to complain that the laws don’t work.
CK lays the problem out in all its complexity. Too complex to even get one’s arms around, it offers a perfect excuse to do nothing. Instead of despairing, we can make a start by having sensible gun limitations.
So commenters agree with Krauthammer that all action (and inaction) on this issue is going to trample some rights. The question remains whose and which ones.