Column: How much liberty are we willing to cede?
Commentary by Carl Brizzi
Another mass killing and another gun control debate. Reading, watching and interacting in the increasingly divisive and shrill gun conversation this weekend reinforced an understanding that apparently both sides are beyond addressing the actual problem and working toward a rationale compromise within the framework of the Constitution. Anti-gunners easily dismiss pro-gunners as delusional nutty cowboys. Pro-gunners, not to be outdone, just as easily dismiss anti-gunners as weenie euro wannabees.
Anti-gunners believe that guns themselves are the “cause” of murders and want to restrict their availability, positing that this will help end the violence. Pro-gunners believe that the number of unhinged violent people is increasing and that guns are needed for protection, not just from tyrannical governments, but also the growing number of crazies bent on doing harm.
Regardless of position, the issue boils down to this: How much liberty are we willing to cede in exchange for apparent security against the abusers? The right to protect ourselves, like other fundamental rights, is rooted in the Constitution and essential to our country’s commitment to individual liberty. Rights are defined in the context of absolutism, otherwise they would not be a right. This right, like it or not, is one of those absolute rights. And, like all rights, it will always be abused by some. Abusers of the “right to bear arms” will, by definition, misuse weapons. And the misuse of weapons, by definition, will inevitably cause our society harm. The commitment to upholding fundamental rights sometimes causes great harm. The pain associated with the harm doesn’t diminish the value of the right, nor the government’s obligation to respect it. In other words, rights are expensive because they are worth having.
Most Americans value the First Amendment and, thus, accept tolerating hateful, offensive and ugly speech. The price we pay for protection against unreasonable search and seizures is that occasionally, a criminal avoids prosecution due to a technically bad search. Our very freedom is ransomed with the blood of soldiers fighting to protect our country’s security. Freedom of religion is so valued that we don’t prohibit certain religions from democratic participation, notwithstanding the fact, that some participants espousing the religion actually want to kill us…actually want to end our way of life. The legal construct of due process and the right to a fair jury trial is so cherished that bad guys get acquitted and are never punished for the crimes committed – à la O.J.
Much blood has spilled to preserve the above enumerated freedoms. Freedoms essential to our way of life. The right to bear arms exists and will not easily be eliminated because the gun, as a tool, is inseparable from our country’s concept of individual freedom. In the aftermath of the shootings, President Obama called for gun legislation: “This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.” Americans did not choose to consent to a madman going crazy with a gun every few months. As long as we are a nation that remains what it was designed to be, we are going to have unhinged people abusing the right and shooting people.
A real discussion about guns must involve truth and candor. And before fundamental rights are abrogated or infringed, the more difficult question of why apparently more people are coming unhinged and committing horrible crimes should be examined.