LIBERAL COLUMN: Liberty or life: which do you want?



Gun control is not a political issue. It is not something that should be itemized into a candidate’s talking points. It is not a polemical question that can only be resolved through compromise. At this particular historical juncture, gun control has become a necessity. How many more times is America supposed to wake up, see the morning news and shrug off another killing spree of some gunman or another? How many more times is America supposed to watch coverage of a school, a church, a military base, a movie theatre or even a newscast that has been attacked by a gun-toting killer? When will the body count be enough to give pause to partisans more moved by political arguments than persons’ deaths?

Now, there is a standard response to the raising of these questions: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is technically correct. In terms of an intentional agent, a gun cannot kill someone. But the fact that intentional agents (persons) have been using guns to kill other persons with seemingly increased frequency remains. Now, to entertain counterfactual notions of how many would have died if some of these murderers had not had access to guns is an unfruitful exercise. Nevertheless, the propensity of guns to appear side-by-side with violent, often deadly, acts cannot be discounted.

With this being said, another standard response will be raised to the prospect of gun control: “Those who want to kill someone with a gun will still find a way to get a gun.” This is a far more persuasive argument. Traditional methods of gun control – background checks, licensing procedures, waiting periods, limitations on ammunition and types of purchasable guns – these methods are ineffective when it comes to criminals. The gun-carrying gang member probably does not buy his heat from the local Walmart. Some mass murders have meticulously planned their crimes, evading the law’s attempt to curtail their actions. This is not, however, a failing of gun control as a method of limiting gun violence. It is rather a failing in the way gun control is practiced. To truly limit gun-caused violence, a compromise between gun control and gun rights is impossible. For control to be effective, it needs to be universal and absolute; the only truly effective form of gun control would be the total criminalization of any form of gun ownership.

For a moment, consider the following: the mere act of having a gun makes one a criminal. Stores can no longer sell guns. The only available vendors will be black market dealers. Police officers can arrest on sight anyone possessing a gun. Prosecutors can jail anyone for years for simply having a gun. No more loopholes. No more loose interpretations of unclear laws. No more questions about the intentions of the possessor. No more ramblings about how a community’s right to have guns must limit any actions taken to prevent gun-caused violence. No more excuses, only justice, only security, only the safeguarding of an innocent public from undue execution.

Of course, by this point, angry mobs have formed – pitchforks, torches and all – because they smell a whiff of threat to their sacred “right to bear arms.” Any person who threatens this right is, by definition, an American-hating, state-loving, liberty-devouring fascist whose sole pleasure in life is depriving hard-working patriots of the very ideals upon which this great country was founded. But has America’s history ever shown precedent of depriving citizens of rights, even of constitutional rights, for the greater good? Those who will not admit this are sadly mistaken. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to limitation on free speech, free press and free assembly in multiple wars, to the segregating of those ethnically-connected to the Central and Axis powers in WWI and WWII, to even Lincoln’s suspending of habeas corpus, there is a long and rich tradition of limiting liberties when some greater good is threatened. Are not the very lives of Americans precisely a greater good than some ancient and misunderstood right to form militias? Or should Americans simply throw up their hands the next time multiple children are riddled with bullets at a school, saying, “Well, at least we still have our rights?”