Disclosure (or confession): The author is a firearm owner.
The hyper reactive media wasted not a breath in reanimating gun politics following the recent Colorado Movie massacre. Coincidentally, the shooting spree touched off a powder keg of irrational panic—as if such events were commonplace—complete with an embarrassing slew of headlines almost as if to maximize the emotional crater left by the twelve victims. One read “Can we feel safe in a crowd anymore?” Or “Will the Dark Knight Rises shootings revive the debate on copycat crimes?” Another “Colorado Movie Theatre Shooting Shatters our Sense of Safety.” Was there a contest of who could sensationalize the thing more?
To be fair, the events that evening were as unfortunate as any in recent memory. Military men, students, and an aspiring journalist were a few of the lives claimed by an orange haired lunatic looking to make a scene. The most one can say about the shooter is that his mentality and motivation reflect the fantastic nature of one very determined individual. Hence, the futility of America’s loopy desire to “make sense of the senseless.”
Journalism is in a bad way when it attempts just that, and substitutes speculation for information. Headlines of the sort allow the populace to cast, like a sail, their fear to the turbulent currents of the media. A 2011 column by Reason’s Ronald Bailey tabulates some statistics associated with a similarly fallacious fear: terrorism. He estimates that US intelligence has disrupted around 23 terrorist plots since September of 2001. Had each succeeded in killing a hundred people, the deaths might be expressed by the following fraction: 2,300/300,000,000. Given the population, then yes, you are far more likely to be felled by a bolt of lightning than any act of terror.
Indeed, terrorism only “works” because it plucks our emotional strings before rationality prevails in tuning them out. Death—ever oblivious to the fear It causes—may be a breath or light-year away. The point is one cannot know, so, should one flinch at the thought of one’s demise or accept it for the dismissible banality that it actually is?
Putting the question another way, should the government legally mitigate the dangers that accompany freedom or leave them to fate? In a less philosophic realm, the answer often assumes a red or a blue political hue. The latter prefers a society of attenuated dangers, which Time’s Joe Klein represents in this noble yet flawed manner: “An assault-weapon ban would, at the very least, make it significantly harder to bring off the Aurora massacre. And if it prevented just one of the 20 mass killings a year, it would be worth it…Actually, if it prevented one person from getting wounded in a rampage these past 30 years, it would have been more than worth it.”
An argument with a faulty premise seldom solidifies. Klein denounces “assault- weapon” without once defining the term, making for easier argumentation at the expense of some important details. Many pistols, rifles, and shotguns are semi-automatic, meaning one pull of the trigger expels one round without the need to manually reengage the action before firing again. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 established further criteria—more cosmetic than practical—in its struggle to define what it sought to ban. Though it imposed restrictions on large capacity magazines (which the Colorado shooter equipped to his rifle), exactly nothing in the legislation would have prevented another basket case, Seung-Hui Cho, from killing 32 people at Virginia Tech with two comparatively modest pistols.
Other arguments hold that the shooter purchased inordinate sums of ammunition for his high powered weapon. The speedometer of a ZR1 Corvette goes to 220 miles per hour. With more than 600 horse power, it could probably go that fast. Personally, I find it to be “too much car” to be practical. Someone else with a lot more money than me would probably disagree, and for other reasons. Still, virtually no one agrees dragsters and NASCAR vehicles should be permitted on public roads for the same reason a private citizen has no business purchasing grenades or shoulder mounted missile launchers. Yet cars—a technology invented to enhance life—end up taking three times more of them than guns. And, unlike guns, cars require licensing.
If forced to follow Klein’s logic, one risks a slippery slope. Were assault weapons banned, gangsters and criminals would continue to murder one another by the thousands in relative anonymity. Yet when another James Holmes, John Hinckley Jr., or Jared Lee Loughner comes along, for whatever reason society renews its vows to safety, normally by calling for increased firearm restrictions. Until what point? Will a certificate of sanity someday become the requisite document for firearm ownership? Benjamin Franklin supposedly said “Those who sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.” Experience shows that sacrificing liberty does not ensure safety, either.