Freedom is paid for with blood. The Ukrainians are seeing that reality in a real and horrible way. America has seen it in numerous wars. We see it in the tens of thousands of car wrecks that maim and kill every year. We witnessed this reality last month in a rash of school shootings.
More than any other nation in the history of this earth, Americans cherish their freedom. The founding principle of our nation is individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But one man’s freedom is another child’s nightmarish end. And so it goes.
Guns are inextricably linked to American freedom. It’s written into our Constitution. We feared the English would try again to subjugate us so we wanted armed state militias. And we got them.
By far the largest standing army in the world is armed American gun owners — 81 million of us. That makes the biggest national army in the world — China’s at 1.6 million — look puny in comparison.
We must tread lightly on the idea of gun control. This is not a no brainer. If the solution were simple, it would have been implemented a long time ago. The reason we haven’t solved the problem of school shootings is because there is no easy answer. Beware of the law of unintended consequences.
My good friend Sudha Madakasira, a Jackson psychiatrist, spoke to the Rotary Club of North Jackson last week about school shootings. The statistics are alarming. Not only are school shootings on the rise, but so are gun-related homicides and suicides. Guns make killing easy. There can be no doubt about it.
Sudha shared some other interesting facts. Mississippi is near the top of most lists in gun ownership and all the killing that goes with it. In America, there is a correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. The lower the ownership, the fewer deaths.
In 1996, shocked by the horrible Port Arthur massacre that left 35 dead, Australia embarked on an ambitious gun control program. It worked. Forty years later, gun violence is down substantially according to most studies. But there are still 250,000 illegal arms on the black market.
Strict gun control does seem to reduce gun violence, but at what cost to freedom?
Statistics aside, every Mississippian has personally known people who have successfully defended themselves with their legally owned guns. Banning guns would not be a simple solution to the problem of gun violence, especially given the current existence of 400 million guns in the U.S.
Dr. Madakasira also pointed out that less than 20 percent of the mass shootings involved mental illness and only 10 percent involved schizophrenia. The shooters were more often socially isolated loners who had been bullied or slighted. These alienated existentialists often had gone down Internet rabbit holes of hate and conspiracy theories. Killing was nothing more than a thrilling video game.
Once again, we get back to freedom. Do we ban violent video games? Do we ban violent rap lyrics? Do we censor the Internet for hate thought and conspiracy theories? And who would censor the censors?
Recently the Biden administration planned to create a government agency to fight “misinformation.” The plan created an uproar and was soon “paused.”
I seriously doubt there are many school shootings in North Korea where the students are brainwashed to think like robots from birth. The same is true to a lesser extent in China and Russia, where the government closely controls and censors media and the Internet.
We could do the same here in the United States and school shootings and gun violence would drop dramatically. But at what cost to freedom and liberty? Therein lies the rub.
In 1974 Congress imposed a 55 mile per hour national speed limit, ironically to reduce fuel consumption. Over the next five years, 36,000 lives were saved. Nineteen years later, the limit was repealed. So Americans would rather see tens of thousands of people die in car wrecks than drive slightly slower.
No doubt, thousands of those 36,000 car deaths were innocent children, far more than have died in school shootings.
This is tricky business organizing millions of people in a nation around laws designed to promote prosperity, fairness, equality and freedom while avoiding tyranny and violence. We’re still trying to figure it out day by day. It’s a fascinating process to witness.
Given this enormous uncertainty and complexity, I am amazed at how the Americans exhibit such certainty and conviction when expressing their opinions as to what to do next. If there is anything we should be able to agree on, it’s that there is no easy answer or simple solution.
Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]