Freedom is a dangerous thing. Ask any fascistic despotic ruler. Free people tend to follow their own predilections; they tend to do what they want with their lives. Those who wish more control over the lives of others cannot tolerate this.

But as recent events in Tucson, Arizona have shown us, freedom has other consequences, as well. So it’s not just those who desire to impose their own will on others who are questioning freedom.

The thing about free people is, as I said, they do things they want. If they happen to want to say something, for example, critical of the government, and to encourage change, they will. If they happen to be people who want not to procreate, they will try to avoid that. If they happen to begin the process of procreation unwillingly, they will try to stop it prematurely. If they want to own guns, for whatever reason, they will. They might argue that the government should, for the most part, leave them alone. They may tend to believe that government, in fact, should only have so much power, and no more. They may recognize government as “a necessary evil.” Or they may not feel the government is evil, but that it could become evil if unchecked.

To the historian and people who know how to read, there is every bit of evidence that our Founders held beliefs like those outlined above, that free people might tend to hold.

But, as I said, freedom can be dangerous.

If you happen to think that people should not be able to control their own bodies — you might even say, “at least under certain conditions,” or “sometimes” — then you will not like people trying to exercise freedom over their own selves. If you happen to think that people should not criticize the government, at least in some of the time, you will be upset about those who do. If you are stupid enough, you might even believe that guns are capable of killing people all by themselves and therefore no one — not even intelligent, thinking, friendly people who would never shoot at anyone else — should own a gun. And, of course, you will think that government shouldn’t leave people alone. Particularly if they want to own guns.

Well, okay. In fairness, some of you will think that the last few sentences were a bit overblown, or at least biased, in the way they were worded. Perhaps you agree that guns don’t kill people, but you think the risk of someone with a gun killing people is so high that no one should have a gun.

So let’s outlaw cars, too.

The last year for which I could quickly find statistics, 2008, there were nearly 14,000 people killed by drunk drivers. According to that same page of statistics, that was the lowest number since 1982, when it was more than 26,000.

Wait! Wait! That’s because the drivers in those cases were drunk! That’s no reason to outlaw cars!

Stop shouting. It appears to be interfering with your ability to think.

So your mantra is, “Cars don’t kill people. People kill people.” Or, perhaps you prefer, “Cars don’t kill people. Drunk drivers kill people.” Because god forbid we should recognize that drunk people are still people, even if they drive cars.

But, hey, I’ll go along with that for now.

By the way, it’s worth noting that I didn’t even mention the statistics for people killed by cars generally; the above number, you’ll note, was for those caused by ersatz “criminals” (i.e., drunk drivers).

But if you think we should only make it illegal for drunk people to drive cars, then I already won this argument. If you want to say that it’s not the freedom to own or drive a car that is the problem, but the fact that some people do illegal things with cars, then that same thinking applies to guns.

If you don’t want to say “cars don’t kill people; people do” and you instead want to say “cars don’t kill people; drunk drivers do” — ignoring what I said above about drunk drivers still being people — then you can’t say “guns don’t kill people; people do.” You have to say “guns don’t kill people; criminals do.”

Thus, the analogous solution to the problem regarding guns is to only make it illegal for people who kill other people to own guns.

That would be the correct approach. Because if you just want to talk about the problems that could be avoided by outlawing something, there were nearly six-and-a-half million auto accidents in 2005. How many gun accidents were there?

But you don’t want to include accidents, or acts not deliberately criminal in some way.

So let’s get back to criminals and criminal acts. After all, as I said, “guns don’t kill people; criminals kill people.” Unless they’re police officers, of course, who kill a growing number of people across the United States each year. Especially if those people are black.

The trade-offs some nutcases might suggest in light of the recent shootings in Tucson, Arizona, don’t necessarily increase safety, even while they limit freedom for sane people. No matter what limitations you place on a free people, you will never achieve absolute safety.

When it comes to guns, myths abound suggesting they are dangerous and that limiting them might help. Limiting the availability of guns to free people might — and let’s stress that word might — stop criminals from getting guns. Just like limiting the availability of drugs in America has stopped people from obtaining drugs.

Oh, wait….

Let’s go back to cars again. In 2005, there were an estimated 250 million cars in the United States. Every day, people die in automobile accidents, sometimes violently. A large number of car accidents — and deaths — are the result of criminal activity which would not have occurred, if it were not for cars. And consider this: how many drive-by shootings would there be — a crime ostensibly facilitated by guns — if there were no cars?

But it is the gun that kills in a drive-by shooting, right? Of course. Every day, guns climb into cars all by themselves, drive somewhere, and shoot people dead.

Obviously, that’s not true. A human being climbs into a car with a gun, drives somewhere, and shoots people dead.

Even if every gun in the United States were somehow located and destroyed, this would not stop people from killing people. At best, it would just change the way in which they kill people. It might make it more difficult to kill people; it won’t stop it.

Because it isn’t guns who kill people.  It isn’t even people, generally speaking, who kill others.  The folks who want to argue against drunk driving, without arguing against car ownership have it right.

Freedom isn’t really such a dangerous thing after all.

17 comments

  1. Rick may be ‘long-winded” for some however he is brilliant (I hope he doesn’t notice this comment because I wouldn’t say this to his face.) and he has an interest in many areas of law and life. It is difficult to have a discussion with Rick that does not include more than one issue that he is very knowledgable and passionate about.

  2. Rick may be ‘long-winded” for some however he is brilliant (I hope he doesn’t notice this comment because I wouldn’t say this to his face.) and he has an interest in many areas of law and life. It is difficult to have a discussion with Rick that does not include more than one issue that he is very knowledgable and passionate about.

  3. The problem isn’t with criminals getting their hands on a gun – it’s with mentally disturbed individuals being able to walk into any sporting goods store in any town in America and walk out with a legally purchased gun. Before you can get a driver’s license, you have to take at least one or two tests showing that you are basically competent to follow the rules of the road. In order to become a registered gun owner, a person just has to have a basically clean criminal record – like Jared Lee Loughner, the Virginia Tech kid, the Columbine shooters, Michael Carneal, etc. Most of these killers have either bought their weapons legally, or their ammunition, or they have gotten it from unsuspecting parents.

    1. It probably has something to do with that pesky Constitution.

      But don’t worry, we’re slowly doing away with that damn thing.

  4. The problem isn’t with criminals getting their hands on a gun – it’s with mentally disturbed individuals being able to walk into any sporting goods store in any town in America and walk out with a legally purchased gun. Before you can get a driver’s license, you have to take at least one or two tests showing that you are basically competent to follow the rules of the road. In order to become a registered gun owner, a person just has to have a basically clean criminal record – like Jared Lee Loughner, the Virginia Tech kid, the Columbine shooters, Michael Carneal, etc. Most of these killers have either bought their weapons legally, or their ammunition, or they have gotten it from unsuspecting parents.

    1. It probably has something to do with that pesky Constitution.

      But don’t worry, we’re slowly doing away with that damn thing.

  5. Fair enough, though I think our disagreement is probably more about the merits of the particular argument you’re making than it is about the conclusion you draw from it.

  6. Fair enough, though I think our disagreement is probably more about the merits of the particular argument you’re making than it is about the conclusion you draw from it.

  7. Cars aren’t necessary in absolute terms. Neither are most things. Necessity (when you get beyond some modicum of food and air and maybe shelter) is always comparative and subject to what one values and doesn’t.

    Our society “needs” cars in a way that our society does not “need” guns. Change the society and you can change that rule, but in 21st Century USA cars have more utility than guns do for the social, political, and economic fabric as it is. That may not be a good thing, but it’s pretty much inescapably true.

    That doesn’t say anything about whether we should have gun control (or greater car control). But if you’re going to argue cost-benefit analysis with people who believe guns have no benefit whatsoever, you’re going to have a hard time pretty much regardless of how the same calculus would work for cars. OK, the anti-gun folks might concede, cars should be eliminated or very much more strictly limited, too. But private ownership has some social utility in the world where we all live in this country. Guns have none, so any cost is too high.

    That makes an assumption about guns you might reject, but then you’re back to arguing first principles rather than cost-benefit and the whole analogy becomes irrelevant.

    1. We’ll just have to disagree. (I started to say “agree to disagree,” but you don’t have to agree; we’re just going to disagree.)

      I think you nailed it when you said “makes an assumption about guns you might reject.” So I guess that’s where we’re stuck.

      For the record, I don’t currently own a gun. However, I am reevaluating that position in light of our continuing and rapid deterioration of any constitutionally-based government. Until we need to fight our own government again, as we did back in the end of the 18th century, guns may appear to have no utility to sheep.

      Afterwards, they will be glad we kept them.

  8. Cars aren’t necessary in absolute terms. Neither are most things. Necessity (when you get beyond some modicum of food and air and maybe shelter) is always comparative and subject to what one values and doesn’t.

    Our society “needs” cars in a way that our society does not “need” guns. Change the society and you can change that rule, but in 21st Century USA cars have more utility than guns do for the social, political, and economic fabric as it is. That may not be a good thing, but it’s pretty much inescapably true.

    That doesn’t say anything about whether we should have gun control (or greater car control). But if you’re going to argue cost-benefit analysis with people who believe guns have no benefit whatsoever, you’re going to have a hard time pretty much regardless of how the same calculus would work for cars. OK, the anti-gun folks might concede, cars should be eliminated or very much more strictly limited, too. But private ownership has some social utility in the world where we all live in this country. Guns have none, so any cost is too high.

    That makes an assumption about guns you might reject, but then you’re back to arguing first principles rather than cost-benefit and the whole analogy becomes irrelevant.

    1. We’ll just have to disagree. (I started to say “agree to disagree,” but you don’t have to agree; we’re just going to disagree.)

      I think you nailed it when you said “makes an assumption about guns you might reject.” So I guess that’s where we’re stuck.

      For the record, I don’t currently own a gun. However, I am reevaluating that position in light of our continuing and rapid deterioration of any constitutionally-based government. Until we need to fight our own government again, as we did back in the end of the 18th century, guns may appear to have no utility to sheep.

      Afterwards, they will be glad we kept them.

  9. I would disagree that cars are a necessity. Actually, I think the harm the car has created is worse than that of the gun. Without cars, we would be forced to deal with such things as our impact on the environment, over-population, etc. We wouldn’t have over-large corporations.

    There are other drawbacks, as well. But there is no need for cars. Poor people, in fact, get along without them all the time.

    People with enough wealth to own cars “need” cars.

    And the cost-benefit analysis does not favor cars. If you run out the analysis, the number of deaths from guns — include accidental and suicidal shootings, if you want — is negligible compared to the number of guns in existence.

    The same cannot be said at all about cars.

    And, if cars were a necessity, we could place restrictions on their use to limit the number of deaths. No more going out for rides just for the fun of it. If you want to ride, you must have some purpose, like getting to work, or something like that.

    Just because you, personally, believe cars are necessary doesn’t mean they are. The world got along quite fine without them for a very long time.

  10. I would disagree that cars are a necessity. Actually, I think the harm the car has created is worse than that of the gun. Without cars, we would be forced to deal with such things as our impact on the environment, over-population, etc. We wouldn’t have over-large corporations.

    There are other drawbacks, as well. But there is no need for cars. Poor people, in fact, get along without them all the time.

    People with enough wealth to own cars “need” cars.

    And the cost-benefit analysis does not favor cars. If you run out the analysis, the number of deaths from guns — include accidental and suicidal shootings, if you want — is negligible compared to the number of guns in existence.

    The same cannot be said at all about cars.

    And, if cars were a necessity, we could place restrictions on their use to limit the number of deaths. No more going out for rides just for the fun of it. If you want to ride, you must have some purpose, like getting to work, or something like that.

    Just because you, personally, believe cars are necessary doesn’t mean they are. The world got along quite fine without them for a very long time.

  11. I’ve made clear on my blog that I hate guns but think that people have a constitutional right to ownership (though the right exists for purposes of overthrowing the government, not for hunting or self-defense or entertainment).

    But that’s really beside the point here. Your argument by analogy assumes a basic equivalence between the gun and the car, and the equivalence isn’t there. In our society, the automobile is not just a source of entertainment. It is, for a substantial portion of the population, a virtual necessity. We could imagine a country so condensed or with public transportation so widely available and efficient that there would be little utility to the private car. But we don’t have that country. Whatever you think of the merits of private gun ownership, it’s not the same sort of day-to-day necessity for many people.

    When gun control folk talk about restricting guns, they’re talking about restricting something they believe has little if any utility but much prospect for harm (including negligently caused harm, not just criminally caused). The cost-benefit analysis (some cost, virtually no benefit), they’ll say, makes any right to gun ownership trivial. Do the same for cars and it comes out high. And, of course, we do require testing and licensing before letting people drive.

    Of course, there’s no constitutional protection for car ownership (except maybe in some very attenuated reading of the Commerce Clause), but that’s a different question.

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