Twice in the past two weeks, I've almost hit joggers who elect to use the street rather than sidewalks or the plethora of park tracks that we have. What if they get hit? What if I get into an accident with my kids in the car because I’m avoiding them? Do we need a law to prevent this and keep them safe?
No. We really don’t.
Some might even adopt a callous opinion, such as, “good riddance, serves ‘em right if they get hit.” Survival of the fittest may be a component of evolution, but, that’s really not how we should approach life, let alone govern ourselves. And yet, the legislative decision making principle here should be permissive of adults making their own decisions. Blockbuster author Stephen King nearly lost his life walking on the side of a road, but we can’t just start telling people they can’t walk on the side of the road anymore.
Significant mortality numbers and clear dangers to others, however, is good reason to legislate. Real data needs to be on the forefront of the decision making process. For too long we’ve seen legislating based on emotion and a lack of data.
The national gun control debate has been swimming in emotion coming from both sides. The result, by and large, has been a war of extreme (mis)perception: America is comprised strictly of the tyrannical gun-grabbing verklempt, and the private militia crazies. Neither is accurately representative of the majority of US citizens.
Today, the gun debate was given flesh with President Obama’s gun plan. The most extreme fears of a universal gun ban can be assuaged: there will only be a “military style assault weapon” ban. There will be universal background checks, 10 round clip limits, emergency preparedness plans, CDC investigations into video game violence impact, and more. Whether or not you agree with the measures, there is now something tangible to discuss rather than loose angry arguments that something or nothing should be done.
The Value of Personal Choice
In one Colorado town, the residents voted to keep street lights lit on a private a la carte basis. It cost the citizens 3x more to do it this way, rather than via property taxes. Residents who were asked about the irrationality of this claimed there was nothing irrational; it was about freedom of choice.
Our choices matter. Right or wrong, we want to be in charge of our decisions. We would rather drive our own cars with a far higher accidental death probability than take a bus that is slower. But at least we’re in charge. Murder victims are never in charge.
Murder, Murder, Everywhere... No Effective Law to Spare?
More murder happens by blunt objects than by rifles. But then again, blunt objects and kitchen knives don’t create mass tragedies like we saw in Aurora, Colorado or Newtown, Connecticut. Gun free zones reduce the possibility of Wild West behavior, but people who want to kill many people will find it safest to do so in a gun-free zone. There seems to be a correlation between gun proliferation and a drop in crime, but then again, the only stories you hear about “military style assault weapons” are stories of people getting slaughtered… and then again, mass murders seems to have peaked in the late 1920s when such weapons were not publicly available.
Would Adam Lanza have not killed anyone with Obama’s plans in place? We can’t be sure. Will it prevent future atrocities? Will it hurt us to try to prevent future atrocities? Listen to both sides before taking the dive. In fact, avoid taking a dive and continue to be open.
Bringing Meaningful Conversation to the Table...
Constitutional arguments aside, the killing efficiency of legal weapons is a reasonable discussion to have. What isn’t reasonable is the venom that people infuse, turning a discussion into a perceived persecution on either side of this fence. Remember to look at real data – to understand that data – and to look at alternate interpretations of data. Try to drop emotion from the debate, without holding empathy in disdain.
We’ve got big discussions and important ones ahead of us as a nation. If we want a common ground or resolution of any type, it’s incumbent upon all of us to not be a jerk. Hitler comparisons and blaming art for atrocities gets us nowhere. Data does.
Unfortunately, today, our leadership in the White House spent more time making an emotional case than one based on data. Unfortunately, the hypocrisy is piquant when this is coming from a president who continues to kill children overseas with drones and call it collateral damage. But we must compartmentalize and not cloud the immediate issue. We as a people need to take part in the conversation, contribute useful data, respect and understand the emotions of others, and distinguish our own emotion from fact.
The question isn’t whether or not we’re over-legislating. The question is whether or not we are conducting ourselves rationally enough to have productive conversation. We’re not… yet… but we can.