I have just fixed signs to the windows of our coffee houses in DFW declaring that a ‘No Open Carry’ zone is in operation when you enter. For me, this rather pacifist oriented Englishman, the return of the OK Corral to Texas (Open Carrying of guns is now legal) is perplexing and raises some disturbing potential scenarios. Couple this with the almost simultaneous Executive Order of the current US President to introduce stricter background checks for gun owners and you might wonder where all this is going!
I believe the issues behind the whole gun control debate are deeper seated than whether guns should be openly available or not. I believe that there is a point of tension that exists around the protection of individual freedom and the protection of the community as a whole. For many, the idea of imposing rules that limit accessibility to firearms is just the thin end of the government wedge that will ultimately lead to government control and abuse of power. I get that, I really do. There are plenty of examples of nations where individual freedoms are so curtailed that basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the ability to criticize the government are all but a chimera. But on the other hand, the freedom to pursue our own individual lifestyle has to be weighed against the reality that we live in community.
The outrage and exasperation expressed by those who oppose the President’s executive order to impose slightly greater background checks has to be motivated by this underlying fear, as it is otherwise a major overreaction, given the limited change this order will make. The motivation for stricter laws in this case comes from a very real desire to protect the wider community from the small minority of people who should not have access to firearms. It also stems from a desire to curb approximately 30,000 deaths a year in the US from those firearms. It is very similar to the laws already in place that prohibit drunk driving, speeding and other automobile related offenses. I don’t think anyone is proposing we should allow people under the age of 16 to be let loose on the road or indeed those who are old enough, without some form of ‘background check’ and test as to their suitability to drive. Motor vehicles have the potential to be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands, so too with guns.
The underlying issue comes up time and again as the tension between individual and community freedoms is tested by each new advance. In my own native country, the use of cell phones while driving is outlawed entirely except in hands free mode. In Texas, we still rely on the goodwill and good sense of our fellow motorists not to text while driving. Official statistics suggest that texting makes an accident 23 times more likely! How many of us would argue that imposing a legal sanction for doing this would be a good idea. And yet, there is resistance to every threat to individual freedom that must surely come from an inherent fear that the government is in a process of removing those very freedoms!
So, in essence, this boils down to a clash of 2 competing ideologies that can be summed up as follows. ‘Every Man for Him/Herself’ or ‘We are All In the Same Boat’. I am a big believer in the preservation of individual freedoms….provided they don’t impinge on or threaten other members of the community. I am a supporter of a government at local or national level that seeks to protect the rights and freedoms of those who live in the community and particularly those who are in greater need of protection. I am not in favor of government control that takes away my ability to influence a change in that government or if it begins to abuse its power.
I believe it is sensible to create laws that protect us from drunk drivers, second hand smoke, irresponsible gun owners; the list could be long. On the other hand, I don’t think the ability to purchase raw milk or have water without fluoride added has any detrimental effect on those around me. Why do we baulk so readily at sensible measures proposed to protect us from the dangerous few? And yet, we pass laws that prevent us making individual choices that have no real impact on the community at large such as the purchase of raw milk or cannabis? Whether it be fear or corporate influences, I long for the sensible application of laws that release me to enjoy my basic freedoms and yet protect the community as a whole. After all, We are All in the Same Boat!