By now we’re all very familiar with the tragedy that occurred in Aurora, Colorado. The public response to this shooting is set to follow the same pattern as the responses to Virginia Tech and the assassination attempt of former Rep. Gabby Giffords. After politicians’ very public condolences and a perfunctory debate on gun rights, the event will pass out of the media cycle and be effectively forgotten. Texas libertarian Congressman Ron Paul’s statement on the shooting is ultimately right, but not immediately reassuring.
Paul makes the point that “government cannot protect us from all possible harm” and that “we as individuals are responsible for our safety and the safety of our families.”
If this sounds like gun fever, you’re not too far off. The BBC reports that legal gun sales in Aurora have gone up 43% in the last week. Similar increases occurred after the election of Obama and the Giffords shooting.
While widespread individual armament might cause criminals’ to think twice about opening fire, accidental gun violence would almost certainly rise. And many Americans would not welcome a more heavily armed populace. That having been said, the alternative isn’t much better either:
“Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place. Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’ lives.”
Yes, America could go the way of the United Kingdom and all but eliminate firearms from the land, placing them only in the hands of the armed forces and sparking a knife fever. But events like the Whiskey Rebellion and the Waco siege are part of American history whether we like it or not. And as it stands today under McDonald v. Chicago, individuals still have the right to bear arms.
This right needn’t lead to violent rebellion. Even though it may be comforting to some Americans that they could always attempt a bloody coup, the United States government is a government by nature of it wielding a monopoly of coercive force and, as with the aforementioned examples, can easily crush uprisings. Nevertheless, it’s important that Americans be able to carry their own weapons for safety, comfort and the reassurance of both. If mental health checks for gun purchases were taken seriously and states regulated guns even to the same degree that surprisingly lethal automobiles are, only the sane, stable, and able would pack heat.
Paul closes his statement with this line: “Liberty has meaning only if we still believe in it when terrible things happen and a false government security blanket beckons.”
Indeed, it is tempting to solve all our problems through government, but “government ... is not a moral actor. The state should protect our rights, but it cannot develop our character.”
To affirm Mr. Larson's t-shirt in Happy Gilmore: "Guns don't kill people. I kill people."