Firstly, and above anything else, I am horrified and grief-stricken over the killings at Sandy Hook.

Secondly, I am in complete agreement with a brief note on the logistics of armed police in every school. And, additionally, I think it is a singularly bad idea to condition children with the experience of it being normal and appropriate for uniformed, armed agents of the federal government to be an ever-present force in their daily lives.

Thirdly, as to the rest of the ideas floating about, I find myself dubious, at the least. I consider myself a pragmatic libertarian, as I think many are, if not most. I don't desire the sort of lawless or governmentless society pressed by those with politically more anarchic yearnings. But I am firm in my beliefs that people must figure out for themselves what maximizes the positive experience of their lives, and must take responsibility-- indeed, suffer the consequences-- of their own bad choices. As to government, I do not share the view held by some of my fellows that government is an inherent evil. But I do believe, from long experience that government is frequently incompetent to any task which it takes up, and that its organs are eminently subject to compromise and corruption. It must be recognized, as well, that control of the levers of power rises and falls cyclically, and with forces acting in opposition (on certain issues, at least), there will never be a full realization of any political philosophy, but only a muddle of parts incoherently mixed together. Though some may complain that without the intervention of government, a few powerful people will impoverish and control the masses, well that's exactly what has happened with the intervention of government.

It is into this stew that I throw the issue inevitably and appropriately arising from Sandy Hook: guns.

I confess that the gun rights issue has never set comfortably into my libertarian ideology. Of those few areas where we accept the necessity of the hand of government, protecting the populace from violence is one which is key. But how? There seem to be three primary directions in the public discourse: more police in schools, more containment of the mentally ill, and limitations or bans on firearms. I'll take each as it comes.

Police in schools

First there is the NRA's stunningly ill-thought-out proposition of moving further towards a police state, of having agents of the government appear in force to dissuade or intercept attackers. There are terrible problems with that proposal-- not only in the cost of such a program, but in the mindset it would impose on the citizenry under constant armed watch, and in recognizing that there are records enough of abuse of those offices. Are our children to be to be taught that it is natural and correct for the federal government, in the person of uniformed armed guards, to present its watchful eye over them from the start of their lives? And that such agents are figure to whose will they must bow, even before their teachers and parents? On too many occasions, police boards dubiously ruling shootings to be 'justified' by the officer's claim that he 'thought he saw' the victim reaching for something. On some fewer occasions, officers have been found to have acted corruptly, or even to have lost their moral bearings and acted psychopathically. I know of a few occasions wherein a soldier has snapped and shot his own comrades. I'd hate to think of that eventuality with the school's designated patrol officer.

Now, as to the potential effectiveness of this proposition, I happen to know a little something about guns. Even the gun wielder most skilled at bullseying a paper target may have a less steady hand against a target capable of returning fire. In a situation where the hostile is surrounded by innocent bystanders, there is every possibility that an attempt to take out the hostile will result in collateral damage. And it seems to me that it is important that in the Sandy Hook case, the perpetrator's mother appears to have held some kind of grudge against the school system, which may have fueled its status as a target for her deranged son. Had her quarrel been with the post office or the electric company, his violence might have been aimed elsewhere. Naturally it might be claimed that 'gun-free' zones make attractive 'soft targets,' but I've heard of enough instances of people trying to shoot up police stations to give much credence to the notion that madmen think about the 'hardness' of the target. More likely, people target places which they have some familiarity with, which have some psychological meaning to them.

Heading off the deranged

The second idea out there is to better anticipate the people likely to snap and commit carnage. To institutionalize the mentally ill, to medicate and monitor. But at the end of the day, who decides who is 'mentally ill'? There's an old adage, 'normal people are the ones you don't know well.' On a bad day, any one of us might be a bit crazy. Maybe not 'violent' crazy, but maybe crazy enough that a wide enough net would drag us in, stigmatize us, place us under the government's microscope for life. At the same time, a great many of the most violent mass killers and even serial killers have been men whose neighbors described them as nice, quiet guys, people you'd never expect any trouble from. The Sandy Hook shooter was characterized by the few who knew him as quiet and fidgety, but not violent.

How easily can the net be drawn at the same time too widely to avoid harming innocents, and yet not widely enough to capture the killers before their destined blaze of suffering. But I will concede, before leaving the question of mental health, that if we are to deny gun ownership to the mentally unstable, isn't there some measure of mental unsoundness inherent in the desire to own the kinds of guns whose only effective purpose is in killing large numbers of people in short order? Even for those claiming to simply be 'collectors,' isn't that a kind of deranged thing to wish to collect?

Banning guns

And lastly, there is the notion of controlling the preponderance and potentiality of guns in the populace. Before this is delved into it must be noted that the US Supreme Court has already spoken on this question to a degree, and ruled that the Constitution guarantees the individual right to own guns, everywhere throughout the nation. A ban on all guns is simply a constitutional impossibility. But it remains possible, under these decisions, for the government to enact gun ownership restrictions which do not 'unduly burden' the right to own guns.

Within the realm of permissible restrictions, it is obvious beyond discussion that a small child ought not be allowed to carry around a loaded gun of even the least powerful kind. It is equally obvious (except for a few true die-hards, some of whom I know) that even a normal, relatively sane person ought not be allowed to privately own a weapon of mass destruction, for example the hypothesized Californium bullet (which would be a large caliber bullet able to explode with the force of an atomic bomb-- though the bullet itself would be dangerously risky to even carry around, much less fire from a gun). From these propositions, everything else is a matter of degree. Are eighteen-year-olds mature enough to own guns? Is there any call for citizens to be allowed to own weapons capable of indiscriminately discharging dozens of rounds per minute?

Now, I confess, I've no further use for guns. I've had my fill of them. I'm not shy about having a personal abhorrence of hunting animals, for sport of flesh. I find 'sport shooting' to be a waste of resources better beaten into plowshares. I sympathize with those who wish to protect their homes, but personally would rather be killed by an intruder than become a killer. That aside, of all the proposals made thus far on this point, restrictions on the kinds of guns owned (while still allowing for their ownership), and on the characteristics of who may own such a weapon, seem to be the least offensive to the liberty which I am keen to preserve.

Closing thoughts

Finding one bad alternative to be the least offensive option does not, by any means, suggest that I think government will suddenly become competent and incorruptible in this area. I am tempted to suppose that the best way to deal with gun-related is to put a tax on gun ownership which starts the year very low-- a few cents per gun owned-- and then goes up each time a gun-related murder occurs, and so to incentivize gun owners themselves to oppose gun murders however they may come.

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