The Great Debate: No Cow-Tipping Allowed
Who to blame after a freak atrocity? For many of those who’ve felt obliged to comment, the question seems rather who not to blame.
Walter then provides a laundry list of articles and posts contending why the author's sacred cows aren't responsible.
My sense of awe was raised by my good pal Eugene Volokh's 47 posts since the Newtown shooting about why guns were not the problem. Now I understand that Eugene is a gun guy, and as such, combined with being a very sharp cookie, immediately recognized the enormous pressure that would come from the tragedy on firearms, and hence the need for both immediate and constant argument as to why taking any action with regard to weapons was fundamentally misguided. After all, pound the table enough and everybody will eventually see your wisdom.
The point hit home when Eugene finally, finally, turned from writing posts about why any attempt at impacting gun rights would both fail and bring about the end of civilization, and instead asked the question, so what are we going to do about it?
After the Sandy Hook school shooting, as well as after other shootings, those of us who are skeptical about gun controls are often asked: So what are we suggesting should be done about the shootings? If we’re not suggesting gun controls (as opposed to proposals such as allowing teachers to be armed, increased concealed carry rights outside schools, providing school guards, and the like), the argument goes, we’re not taking gun tragedies seriously.
Now I generally don’t support the “don’t just stand there, do something” school of criminal law. When all the proposals seem likely not to work, or do more harm than good, implementing one of them for the sake of “doing something” strikes me as a mistake.
Nothing? That's it? If there is no magic bullet (get it?) solution to such tragedies, we throw up out hands and walk away?
But let me offer a concrete analogy (recognizing that, as with all analogies, it’s analogous and not identical). Every day, about 30 to 35 people are killed in the U.S. in gun homicides or gun accidents (not counting gun suicides or self-inflicted accidental shootings). And every day, likely about 30 to 35 people are killed in homicides where the killer was under the influence of alcohol, or in alcohol-related drunk driving accidents...
So what are we going to do about it? When are we going to ban alcohol? When are we going to institute more common-sense alcohol control measures?
Well, we tried, and the conventional wisdom is that the cure was worse than the disease — which is why we went back to a system where alcohol is pretty freely available, despite the harm it causes.
So his solution to the murder of 20 children is to ban alcohol? No, you dolt. Eugene is drawing an analogy to show the hypocrisy of our concern over the deaths of children and the failure of prohibition. His solution, thus, is to not ban guns. See what he did there?
We should certainly consider proposals that aim to ameliorate the problem, and weigh their costs and benefits. But we should not presume that there’s somehow a moral imperative to Do Something. In fact, there’s a moral imperative not to do something that’s likely to make matters worse.
As one who regularly cautions against knee-jerk, simplistic responses to tragedy, I can well appreciate Eugene's message. But then, there is this nagging sense that the discussion has little to do with coming up with rational changes that might alleviate the potential for "freak atrocities" so that nobody messes with stuff we like to do.
Though I'm not a gun guy, and have no interest whatsoever of packing heat as I stroll down the street, and have no desire to have others strolling down the street with their weapon strapped to their ankle just in case, the arguments proffered by those who disagree with me are not unreasonable or unsupported. One of the most difficult point raised is that, given the Heller decision, the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental, personal right.
Whether I could have slept just as well at night had the Supreme Court come out the other way on Heller, I very much appreciate the fact that the right is established in law, and that I cannot rationally promote respect for only those constitutional amendments I like while advocating against those that didn't match my personal tastes, Hooray for the first, fourth, fifth and sixth, but screw the second? If I took that position, I would be shooting blanks. For those who adore the second but couldn't care less about the others, the same it true.
Yet, none of this leads to anything remotely suggesting something worth doing. While I can understand and appreciate Eugene's admonition not to make matters worse, I hesitate to believe that we've exhausted all rational thinking and have reached the point where we throw up our hands and walk away. Sure, there are crazies making loud, stupid noises all over the place. Plenty of gun guys are cringing at the mere mention of Wayne LaPierre, who has brought more embarrassment on gun ownership than Jim Brady.
But we're no closer to a worthwhile discussion of things that can be done to improve safety without sacrificing rights or making things worse. It's not because there is no fix, no tweak, no limitation that can make things better, but that too many of the thoughtful people, like Eugene Volokh, are spending all their time and capital shifting blame away from their beloved sacred cows.
Unless and until we start to consider things that can be done, nothing will change. It's possible that nothing should change, but we can only know that after all the screaming and blaming stops, and people start putting their efforts toward something more useful than marshalling the arguments to save their favorite things.