Thursday, June 17, 2004

Dated June 17, 2004 at 12:40 pm; revised at 2:50 pm

Who knows better? Government or the individual? Free to Choose?

Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, Free at Last.

Larry Handlin ( responds on his site today to my blog entry of last week on gun control (See June 11, 2:30 am, revised June 12, 12:45 pm, below) by listing a litany of constitutional, public policy, and paternalistic arguments that in large part consist of an implicit argument that (1) Government (a collection of people) knows better than the individual as to what is best for that individual and (2) Government makes fewer mistakes in implementing its decisions than does the individual. I am neither a libertarian nor an anarchist, but I do think that neither of Larry’s implicit arguments should be taken as gospel. Let’s look at the specifics of Larry’s blog entry.

Perhaps most importantly, Larry focuses almost his whole argument on the efficacy of “waiting periods,” ignoring the example I gave of a woman in danger, facing an adversary of greater physical strength, being prohibited, by law, from possessing and using a handgun [the great equalizer] in the City of Chicago to defend herself. She can't possess a handgun in the City of Chicago now, in 24 hours, or ever. Same with the People's Republic of Wilmette. Now, that, I think, is particularly a Woman’s issue [although also, if a little less so, a Man's issue] and I wonder where Larry and other so-called Women’s rights' activists stand on that. At a minimum, it merits a response from Larry.

As to Larry’s argument about why “waiting or cooling off periods,” are appropriate to purchase guns, Larry leads with his public policy arguments: (1) people, if left to their own stupidity, will think that they can learn how to shoot guns safely in 72 hours. Larry tells us they cannot; (2) people stupidly underestimate how the element of fear will distort their aim (3) people cannot make appropriate decisions for themselves in 24/72 hours whether a gun would be good for them, they need government to require more time for them to get over their anger or whatever else might be distorting their short-term judgment; (4) Far more effective means of personal safety are available to those in danger; and (5)a FOID card in Illinois takes a couple of weeks to obtain, and that is prudent policy.

Well, Larry, it may be that learning how to shoot guns safely, in a defensive posture, is harder than most people realize. On the other hand, some people may pick it up in a shorter time period, and given the offensive threat, they might be making a rational decision to take that risk. You may argue that the new, inexperienced gun owner may shoot an innocent bystander. I could argue than the perp, who may or may not own his gun legally, may shoot an innocent bystander. But, if the perp thinks that the good woman “may” have a gun because she can respond to his threats by buying one, he may decide to leave her alone, and no one gets shot; neither the intended victim nor the "innocent," bystander. Another example of a positive benefit of a “defensive use,” of a gun that may not make the 5:00 news.

As to the aim distorted by fear, I think the dead victim might be willing to take a chance that the sight of a gun will scare him off, or perhaps if he is wounded in the leg, that might suffice to slow him down, if not stop the threat, until help can arrive.

As to waiting periods as a societal anger management tool, I think I will go with the individual’s decision as to how to best manage anger, as opposed to a governmental “one size fits all,” decision.

As to your argument that there are far more effective means of personal safety available to those in danger, that was apparently not true for the woman who was shot dead. She had a protective order, that didn’t work. The police were called, that didn’t work. Perhaps you would argue she should have stayed hidden in a shelter, cowering in the corner and never left until the danger subsided. Perhaps she tried it and didn’t like it. In any case, who are you to dictate how people live and provide for their own safety?

Finally, you argue simply, “that is the law.” It takes several weeks to get a FOID card. I am unencumbered by any knowledge of the legislative intent or the administrative operation of the FOID law, but perhaps that is how long it took originally to do background checks and perhaps that part of the law has not caught up with new technology. If so, perhaps we should re-examine the law to see if we want to change the procedures to obtain a FOID card. Old technology should not dictate individual rights. In any case, your argument does not apply to those who already own a FOID card and who want to purchase a more suitable gun in 24 hours to defend themselves.

As to your constitutional argument, I am not an expert on that part of constitutional law, but assuming arguendo that the 2nd Amendment has never been ruled an individual right, and that currently that is “The Law of the Land,” I remind you that for almost 100 years, or so, slavery in this country, under its Constitution, was, regrettably, "The Law of the Land," and for more than 150 years, “separate but equal,” was, regrettably, under the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution, the "Law of the Land." So, I am sure reasonable arguments have been made, can be make and perhaps ultimately will be made successfully that the "Law of the Land," is that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right.

In short, Larry, it is all about being Free to Choose. As in schools, as in so many areas of our life, the fact that an individual, from time to time, will make a mistake cannot be the primary justification for governmental action. This is because, as I am sure you would concede, the government also makes mistakes from time to time. So, the question is who [Government or individuals acting freely] will make fewer mistakes over time, and which mistakes can be more readily remedied. You, of all people, should be more skeptical of the heavy arm of government always doing the "right thing."

Remember those words: Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty, Free at last.

Yes, at that time, it took the heavy arm of the Federal Government to stop the oppression of the heavy arm of certain state and local governments. Even William F. Buckley, the true voice and conscience of Conservatives, in an interview he did with me, recently [published on this Blog] acknowledged that conservatives mistakenly underestimated the need for the Federal Govenment to accelerate the acceptance of Civil Rights in the South.

But having passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, etc., it is time to step back and let individuals exercise their hard earned individual rights. Let those parents in the City of Chicago have a chance to take their kids out of failing schools. Let them have their $10,000 fully funded school voucher and let them exit the failing public schools for a private alternative that works. Don’t demean these people by calling them too stupid to exercise the same school choice that Rev. Jackson, Speaker Mike Madigan and Gov. Blagojevich did or currently do.

Same thing with the low-income person who cannot rely on the judicial system, the police or a private shelter to protect herself. Let her purchase a gun for defensive purposes. As in school choice, don’t demean these women [and men] by telling them you know better than they do what is best for them.

It is time, Larry. Letting Go can be hard, but try it. Let Freedom Ring.

Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of “Public Affairs,” can be reached at