An Imperfect Solution

During an interesting exchange on the twitters, I was tested by the New York Times’ Jesse Wegman to come up with a solution to the gun epidemic.  His challenge began with a quasi-snarky twit:

After explaining that I was anything but the “arbiter of common sense,” a misapprehension of my view that “common sense” is what people (or newspapers) use to avoid the real labor of thinking,  I went on to challenge the underlying premise of his question.

It’s not that we don’t want solutions, but learn that law never provides a perfect answer to all harms humans create.

This provoked the response from Jesse, “No one is claiming there is a perfect answer,” a good parry to the absolutist word “perfect.” But then came the riposte:

We already have imperfect solutions. They’re called criminal laws.

During the course of our twitter engagement, others thrust themselves into the discussion, usually with simplistic and uninformative twits reflecting their pithy solutions. The battle line is clear to most people, either you hate guns or love guns, and any excuse will do if it serves your cause. That’s the nature of what passes for discussion these days, as the notion of principled support for constitutional rights is entirely unfulfilling to a society that demands answers.

The problem is that the use of the word “perfect,” albeit slightly hyperbolic, is also mostly true. Any crack in the system that allows someone, regardless of what motives or infirmities drive him, to kill 50 human beings, wound another 49, is unacceptable and must be closed. If it can still happen, then we have not yet found the right answer. But it is out there. It must be. There must be a solution.

If we were to repeal the Second Amendment tomorrow, there would still be someone who will commit an atrocity. And then there will be calls for yet another solution, because we do want a “perfect” solution. Nothing less will satisfy our desire for safety, plus identitarian concerns for whatever group may be targeted.

But my reply to Jesse’s very reasonable statement that he’s not seeking a perfect solution wasn’t meant to be snarky, even if it came off that way.  Since Hammurabi, we have sought solutions to eliminate malum in se crime. While small minds will reel at the idea, murder for pedestrian reasons is just as horrible as murder for political reasons. Or crazy reasons. Or no reason. Many will disagree, because they’re so absorbed by the righteousness of politics, but the dead person is dead either way. His friends and family lost their loved one either way. There is no good murder.*

And since Hammurabi, society has devoted its resources to ending such harm. And has failed miserably to accomplish the dream.  It’s not that the tools in place for centuries are necessarily poor choices, but that our species has demonstrated an ability to find ways to accomplish harm when it’s bent on doing so, no matter what impediments, theories, arguments, rationalizations we come up with.

So we try to find an answer, only to find that our answer doesn’t work to the extent that the harm we are trying to eliminate happens anyway. And when that happens, guys like Jesse pose snarky questions to guys like me to trick me into giving up my “common sense” solution. Because I’m the arbiter, you see.

We’re a nation with laws upon laws upon rules and regulations, plus some more laws, most of which is enacted with good intentions (or at least publicly sold that way).  And yet, tragedies like Orlando happen. The latest push comes with a cool name, almost always a sign of problems ahead, closing the “terror gap,” with a simplistic suggestion that sounds infinitely reasonable to anyone who understands nothing about the law.  And, as is its wont, the New York Times cranked out an editorial in favor.**

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats began a filibuster to force a vote on gun-control legislation. If Congress is serious about the threat of terrorists using guns, there are several steps it can take right away.

First, support reasonable efforts to close the so-called terror gap, which would make it harder for suspected terrorists to get their hands on a gun. In December, Congress considered legislation by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and Representative Peter King, a Republican, that would have given the F.B.I. the ability to prevent gun sales to people it had reason to believe might be connected to terrorism.

The King/Feinstein bill is a travesty, and only someone with eyes wide shut wouldn’t recognize that it was a dog and pony show of failure, much like the inane “no-buy” list. This is where Jesse’s “no one is claiming there is a perfect answer” retort is revealed as, well, not entirely accurate.

We are replete with imperfect answers, each one chipping away at rights that would otherwise deeply concern civil libertarians, except those who abandon all principle the moment it conflicts with their feelings. And because we’re up to our eyeballs in imperfect solutions, Jesse wants more solutions until we achieve whatever level of perfection will satisfy those who will demand more when the next tragedy occurs. They will never be satisfied, because there will always be a next tragedy.

It’s understandable the people of good will find it intolerable that tragedies like Orlando happened. They shouldn’t be faulted for wanting to do something to prevent it from ever happening again. Only a deeply twisted person would shrug off mass murder. But that doesn’t mean there will ever be a solution.  And the efforts to impose one, at a time when emotions blind us to consequences on our civil rights and the collateral tragedies, such as police killings, are an ineffective paean to blind empathy at the expense of freedom and reason.

We already have imperfect solutions. There will never be a perfect solution. At least not through the bludgeon of law. That so many refuse to tolerate this, to accept the frailties of humanity and the limits of law, will not change this, but merely compel us to keep trying until there is no liberty left.

*For the thinking challenged, note the use of the word “murder,” which distinguishes it from the more benign word, “killing.” Murder is unjustifiable, so don’t conflate it with justifiable killing.

**The editorial is a putative attack on the NRA, as the force that prevents America from “reasonable gun control.” The NRA is a liberal stalking horse, and the editorial attacks a strawman organization because it’s already despised by those favoring gun control. Addressing civil rights having nothing to do with NRA is far harder, and raises much of the hypocrisy inherent in the conflict. The NRA is low-hanging fruit, so the Times chows down.

15 thoughts on “An Imperfect Solution

  1. wilbur

    If there was a simple response or answer to these mass murders, it would have already been implemented. A few more of these incidents and the public will justifiably demand drastic measures from either or both sides of the gun control/Islamic terrorism blame spectrum.

    Unforeseen consequences will inevitably ensue.

  2. DaveL

    Okay. Since you’re the arbiter of common sense, what common sense measures do you propose

    I tell you sacrificing a virgin will not stop the volcano from erupting, and you demand to know what I intend to do instead? I intend to not kill an innocent virgin, that’s what.

  3. JK Brown

    “Thus at first the American people got the notion of law-making; of the making of new law, by legislatures, frequently elected; and in that most radical period of all, from about 1830 to 1860, the time of “isms” and reforms — full of people who wanted to legislate and make the world good by law, with a chance to work in thirty different States — the result has been that the bulk of legislation in this country, in the first half of the last century, is probably one thousandfold the entire law-making of England for the five centuries preceding. And we have by no means got over it yet; probably the output of legislation in this country to-day is as great as it ever was. If any citizen thinks that anything is wrong, he, or she (as it is almost more likely to be), rushes to some legislature to get a new law passed. Absolutely different is this idea from the old English notion of law as something already existing. They have forgotten that completely, and have the modern American notion of law, as a ready-made thing, a thing made to-day to meet the emergency of to-morrow. ”
    –Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute, Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)

  4. Dragoness Eclectic

    “We already have imperfect solutions. They’re called criminal laws.”

    Silly me–I thought murder was illegal already.

  5. Brady Curry

    Evil does not abide by the laws of man. If man rules “it” is illegal to make, Evil will make “it”. If man says it is illegal to possess “it”, Evil will possess “it”. If man says it is illegal to use “it”, Evil will use “it”. Man will continue to thwart Evil by passing new rules based upon Evils’ most recent transgression. Man will eventually rule that Evil itself is illegal thus bringing to and end Evils’ reign.

    At that point Evil will continue to do as it pleases.

    Having run out of rules to defend himself against Evil, man will take pause and look into a mirror asking, “What can I do now?”. The reflection will say, “Evils’ roots are in Man, make Man illegal and Evil will end”.

    The new law, “Man is illegal”, will require all to either commit suicide or be killed for breaking the law. As the last Man prepares to commit suicide he finally realizes that the mirror’s reflection was Evil.

      1. Brady Curry

        I also like the scene in Robocop 2 where he has to reboot his system by electroshock due to all the crappy new directives installed during his rebuild which limit his ability to properly function. The reboot gets him back to his three “original” prime directives. I imagine Robocop’s original prime directives as being similar to our Bill of Rights. I fear our country will reach a point where it can no longer properly function due to all the crappy laws added since.

  6. John Barleycorn

    When the goblins come out
    The nightmares creep
    Well into the sleep
    Of all the girls and boys

    Try as they may
    Awaken and trembling 
    They just can’t see the way

    Sleep is to far away
    Sleep is to far away

    For if they do
    return to sleep

    Certain they are
    Certain they are

    The goblins will find a way

    Certain they are
    Certain they are

    The goblins will find a way

    If they sleep
    If they sleep

    The goblins are certain to win!

    Enough! They say
    Enough! They say

    As they make their vows

    Cease the sleep
    Cease the sleep

    Until all the goblins have gone away

    We cease to sleep!
    We cease to sleep!

    Put the goblins away!

    Anything it takes!
    Anything it takes!

    We will not sleep
    We can not sleep!

    Take the goblins and their tools away!

    But try as they may
    In a week or a day
    Monsters start to creep

    And then they awake
    To see their fate

    Anything it takes
    Has taken it all away…

    P.S. Hammurabi? DAMN Dude! You best be careful with that crystal ball of yours and the sorcery shit or next thing you know, the successor to Sesimie Street will have their incarnation of Snuffleupagus rolling out the Hammurabi Stone on a hover board as the SJW barista character on the block stops by to tell the children about the code and how ALL the judges just got to go.

  7. Jake DiMare

    If brilliant men, such as yourself, would stop conflating specific problems which can be solved, with systemic problems which can not, we’d get somewhere. Are we going to resolve the evil that lies in the hearts of all men (and women)? No. Can we move the needle on the number of individuals murdered in a single mass shooting incident? Yes. Other countries have proven this is possible.

    This country already has a mechanism in place to keep weapons with a level of destructive power beyond some defined threshold out of the hands of individuals. The rest is just a conversation about which weapons belong in that category. And Heller left the door open for this conversation to continue.

    “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. Pp. 54–56.”

  8. Bruce Coulson

    Few people have considered that the method and opportunity for such crimes have been around since the 1930s… but until the last 20 or so years, they were very uncommon. Examining what has changed in our society to make such actions more common might be more effective in preventing future tragedies. But that would take a lot of effort, a lot of time, and wouldn’t allow political agendas (of any side) to be advanced.

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