When I first heard about the shooting at a high school in Ohio Monday morning, my mind immediately went back to the shootings at Columbine High School near Denver almost 13 years ago. I wonder if this incident will ignite the same hysterical reaction as the one that followed the Columbine tragedy.
In the shooting at Chardon High School, just outside of Cleveland, a lone student apparently came to the school cafeteria Monday morning and fired four or five shots. The student was someone who other students described as an outcast, someone who might have been the victim of bullying.
Roughly 1,200 students and their parents spent the rest of the day being grateful they weren’t directly affected by the shooting — such as the student and her father above — but a few families weren’t so fortunate. Two students died and three others are wounded.
After the Columbine shooting in 1999, there was a renewed push to make guns harder to own. There was also a huge and very expensive push to install metal detectors and upgrade security at schools all over the country. Schools that had been relatively open to their communities because more like fortresses in some cases. Why? Because every administrator was scared that his school system might one day be the site of another random fluke of violence — so every one of them went overboard to show parents that everything was being done to protect their children.
Some people watch things such as Columbine and the Chardon shooting and think that maybe we would be safer if nobody had guns, but that’s the scariest potential result. If enough people believe this, we’ll move again in the direction of banning more and more guns. When that happens, people are less likely to be able to defend themselves against criminals. More important, though, they’re less likely to be able to defend themselves in the future against governments and against lawlessness. If things get as bad in this country as I expect them to get, that’s going to matter a lot.
Some groups — such as the National Rifle Association — try to defend guns in the name of hunters. Others try to defend guns in the name of our right to protect ourselves against burglars or muggers. I don’t have any problem with those defenses, but my real concern is making sure that enough people have guns to fight back against the government one day. A disarmed populace has no ability to revolt. If the American colonists had been disarmed in 1775, the American Revolution would never have happened.
On an average day, nobody gets killed in American schools. It’s very rare for anyone to be shot and killed in a school. However, on an average day, 90 people die in this country in auto accidents. The government says that something like 3,400 people die in swimming pool accidents each year. But nobody is calling for bans on cars and swimming pools.
Life isn’t perfectly safe. There are going to be risks. We can do certain reasonable things to minimize risks, but we’ll never eliminate all of them. People are going to die every day. We don’t need to freak out when an occasional tragedy happens. Those things are sad parts of life, but we have to balance the risks and the benefits of all that we do.
The pursuit of unattainable perfect safety isn’t worth the tradeoff of giving up our freedom to own guns. We need to be able to protect ourselves — against garden-variety criminals in the present and possibly ever-more-tyrannical governments in the future. Unless you have complete trust in the competence and trustworthiness of government — for now and the future — you have every reason to want your neighbors to own weapons, whether you choose to own them yourself or not.
I feel bad for the victims in Chardon Monday, but let’s not use their losses as a way to attack everybody’s freedom — any more than we use highway deaths as an excuse to try to ban cars.
Unfortunately, people want to believe we’re completely safe — and bureaucrats are the first in line to assure you that you’re safe. I listened to the statement by the police chief in Chardon Monday when officials were first explaining what had happened. Police chief Tim McKenna said, “I want to assure our community of Chardon that we are safe.”
We’re not safe. We can never be safe. There will always be risks. We need to quit pretending that anybody can rationally promise us that we’re perfectly safe, now or ever.