They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
– Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin
Everyone – and I mean everyone – has been gripped by the absolute terror that unfolded in Newtown a few days ago. You would have to be particularly soulless to not be affected by the murder of twenty kids under the age of seven, six adults, and the suicide of Adam Lanza, the 20 year old man who is understood to have committed these heinous crimes. The 24 hour news cycle is off and running, not even the tragic deaths of these people cracking the veneer of their practiced cynicism, and finger-pointing and recriminations have started.
The debate springs up every time there’s a terrible tragedy of this type involving the deaths of innocents. Whether it be a school shooting like Newtown or Virginia Tech, the deaths that occurred in Aurora during the opening weekend of The Dark Knight Rises, or a devastating terrorist attack such as the Oklahoma City bombing or the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the battle lines are drawn between those who want increased security measures versus those who want to preserve personal freedoms. Breaking it down to vulgarities and stereotypes, it’s the Tinfoil Hatters with bug-out bag in hand, oiling their AR-15’s and stockpiling MREs for the coming Civil War versus the Bleeding Heart Hippie Liberals crying for Big Daddy Government to come save them from themselves (or Fox News versus MSNBC if you prefer).
For every old white guy clutching a rifle in his cold dead hands or talking to an empty chair on national television, there’s a counterpart condemning their actions and desires as antiquated, barbaric, and leading the country down the path to destruction through rising gun violence. We need tighter controls on who gets to purchase and possess firearms in this country in order to protect us from ourselves, the Gun Control proponents say, while the 2nd Amendment Rights folks will counter with the fact that yearly gun-related deaths in the US are a mere fraction of the deaths caused by things such as car accidents and smoking. At least now with this newest tragedy there have finally been calls for better screening and treatment of those possibly suffering from mental illness in the hopes that better preventative care can result in fewer tragic instances like Newtown occurring in the future, but as no one can reasonably adopt a political stance in direct opposition to better preventative care for the mentally ill it’s not likely to get nearly as much press as the Mainchean binary of Gun Control versus 2nd Amendment Rights; they’re like Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio constantly going at it for eons in that one Star Trek episode that everyone remembers because it was such a “subtle” way to deal with race hatred in the 1960s.
Is it really as cut and dry as the Right and Left Wing political machines would have us believe? Do we have no choice but to choose between Freedom and Safety? The past decade or so has seen a swift erosion of our political liberties in favor of supposed increases to our security through legislative vehicles such as the ironically named Patriot Act, but must we live in a world where these two concepts – Freedom and Safety – exist in inverse proportion to one another?
Can we not both have reasonable amounts of personal freedom while also be reasonably safe from harm? It can be all too easy for 2nd Amendment Right proponents to become indignant about “those fucking hippies” campaigning long and hard to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but these gun control campaigners just want to live in a world where they feel safe and secure from the threat of gun violence. Likewise these gun control advocates look at anyone clinging to their guns as culturally backwards, violent rednecks that have been drinking the Jesse Ventura Kool-Aid, but there are a large proportion of responsible, careful, and non-violent gun owners out there that enjoy firearms safely and responsibly – and who take steps to make sure that children (or mentally unstable adults) do not have access to these weapons.
There has to be some sort of actual real-world solution we can come up with that preserves our personal freedoms yet still provides high levels of safety for those who cannot protect themselves. This is a country that has been able to land people on the moon and develop computers that can fit in your pocket; solving a social and cultural problem such as this should be easy in comparison – provided we can stop the partisan political posturing long enough to accomplish anything.