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KNOTT: Lawmakers can never save us from everything
Question of the Day
Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in exercising his support of the city’s handgun ban that was overturned last week, wrote that “if a resident has a handgun in the home that he can use for self-defense, then he has a handgun in the home that he can use to commit suicide or engage in acts of domestic violence.”
And the justice is accurate in that assessment. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that suicides accounted for 55 percent of the nation’s nearly 31,000 firearm deaths in 2005, the most recent year that the numbers are available. And that percentage is hardly unusual, considering firearm-related suicides have outnumbered homicides in 20 of the past 25 years, dating back from 2005.
Justice Breyer’s position encapsulates the thinking that impinges on individual liberty in this nation. It is the kind of thinking that has resulted in the smoking ban, the trans-fat ban, the seat-belt law, the helmet law, warning signs galore to spare companies from the litigious-minded, cameras that record our every move and all kinds of intrusive nonsense in airport terminals.
The motivation behind the thinking is to save lives, because if a law can save just one life, then the infringement on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will have been worth it. Better yet, if you are a lawmaker, the thinking leads to an infinite number of legislative possibilities.
Yet try as they might, lawmakers cannot legislate death out of the human experience. But they always can give it the good old political try and come across as all-caring and at one with the majority of constituents.
One of the macabre pleasures of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” was the opening scene that showed the manner in which a person died, sometimes because of just plain old human stupidity. And we all have those moments. And just like that, in that brain-dead moment, you could be dead. And sure enough, a lawmaker possibly would reach the conclusion that a law should be drafted to ostensibly protect us from our stupid selves.
The city’s Draconian handgun ban was fashioned with this feel-good sensibility in mind. Did it save lives? Of course it did. Yet was it fair on any level to the majority of law-abiding residents in the city? Of course it wasn’t.
Worse, the ban allowed the criminal element to roam the streets with the knowledge that the law-abiding were defenseless, helpless. That was the perverse outcome of the handgun ban. The law-abiding complied with the ban, because that is what they do. The criminal class do not obey the laws, so the handgun ban merely became another law to mock with the additional benefit of a largely unarmed populace.
Someone looking to burglarize your home could be reasonably assured that the resident rubbing the sleep out of his eyes would not have a handgun in his possession and would be unable to remove the trigger locker from a shotgun in sufficient time.
It is true that all too many highly educated urban dwellers have a viscerally negative reaction to the gun culture. They have never seen a need to own a gun of any sort from their part of the concrete jungle. They do not see guns as sportsmen do, but as an instrument of destruction that causes havoc and harm in our nation’s urban centers.
That is fair enough. No one should be required to own a handgun. That is the beauty of freedom, of liberty, of having the right to act in a judicious manner.
We all have the right to hop into our automobiles each day and motor to wherever, all the while knowing that more than 40,000 Americans die on our highways each year. That statistic is equally constant, unyielding.
Yet no one would suggest a ban on automobiles, although there would be 40,000-plus more of us around after a year.
About the Author
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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