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Is the damage to society from the misuse of guns worth the freedom to have guns?

My good friend, Jack Burton, graciously allowed me to re-post an important essay that he wrote a few years back. I hope you enjoy it as much as many other people do.

The Question

Are we as a country willing to accept the several hundred thousand situations and incidents per year when those who mis-use an otherwise legal substance create problems and harm innocents? Or do we demand that freedom for all be curtailed so that the innocents be spared?

A Similar Problem

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes."

There are 147 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion.

We can perhaps put a dollar figure on alcohol abuse, but that doesn't even begin to put a face on the shattered and lost lives from drunk drivers, the beaten and abused wives, the children who grow up under intolerable and cruel conditions, the jobs lost, the companies gone bankrupt, and the hazards it creates for everyone else who is innocent. Do those people who demand that all alcohol either be strictly controlled or banned all together have the right of it?

Is the damage to society from the misuse of alcohol worth the freedom for you and me to have a glass of wine with dinner, a cocktail at a party, or a bottle of beer after work?

Can society tolerate retail stores where any adult can walk in and buy as much liquor as he wants with no questions asked? Where parties are held where there is no limit on the amount and type of alcohol served? Where a keg of beer that can get many people drunk is as freely available as a bottle of beer?

Prohibition and Beyond

We do know that the people of the United States decided that question decades ago.

Remember Prohibition? Those who pushed the 18th Amendment in the early part of last century had dreams of utopia. Just give the government tight control over demon rum, or even get rid of it all together, and the world will be a better, safer place. No individual needed to drink alcoholic beverages. There was far too much damage to society from that freedom.

It didn't work out as those who had good intentions had planned. Crime skyrocketed and vicious, law breaking gangs who ran booze to the people who wanted it become entrenched in society to this day. People found a way to drink, and ruined their health from cheap, poisoned whiskey. Innocent wives and children still suffered.

So what happened? The American people, knowing full well that millions of their neighbors would misuse alcohol, that families would be destroyed, children abused, jobs lost, lives lost, tens of thousands of more car wrecks, and more homeless roaming the streets, still passed the 21st Amendment giving back to Americans the freedom to choose what they would do.

The people spoke. They considered the "collateral damage" well worth the price of freedom.

It's the same with guns.

Freedom vs. The Nanny State

There are laws against the misuse of guns. There are laws against the "wrong" people having guns. But as long as we are a free society a very small percentage of the firearms will wind up in the hands of those who find a way to hurt themselves and others with guns.

My paternal grandfather committed suicide with a gun. My maternal grandfather died an agonizing death a year after being carelessly and negligently shot by his son, my uncle. My brother in law attempted to shoot and kill my sister, and failing that, committed suicide with his gun while my sister was in a phone conversation with him. I was robbed at gun point so many times at the retail store where I worked that I became best friends with the mugshot books at the police department.

Yet -- the very same as we tolerate alcohol in our society with all the damage done to our communities by those who abuse the freedom to drink -- we've made the decision to tolerate the freedom to have firearms.

And I am the son of an alcoholic -- I have very intimate first-hand knowledge of just what harm comes to a family, and to individuals from demon rum. But I've never called for it to be prohibited. There was never a bottle invented that picked itself up and poured it down my dad's throat. Or my brother's throat. Or my other brother's throat. You think they would have learned better from the bad example Dad set. But society gave them that freedom to make bad choices that sometimes hurt themselves and others. Even to the point where my oldest brother lost his life in a car accident while drunk.

There is also not a gun that has picked itself up and put itself in the hands of someone who is then forced to misuse it. People use their freedom to make bad choices with firearms and sometimes innocent people are hurt.

I'd rather have the freedom of choice than to live in an obsessive nanny state that desires to control the actions and essential freedom of others.

Freedom is freedom. It is not to be balanced against the evils that people do either purposefully or willfully. There is no tipping point, no level of unacceptable behavior by those who choose to live outside society's rules that counterbalance the concept of freedom. Once we begin to quantify freedom and parcel it out in part based upon some kind of social formula where the most fearful, the social deviants, the least apt among us have controlling interest in what we are allowed to do or not do then it is far from freedom and becomes instead merely privilege.

As Charles C. Cooke states it, "Does a preference for human liberty in an imperfect world yield unfortunate, even tragic outcomes from time to time? Indeed, so. Should we give that preference up in consequence? Absolutely not."

Tim Hsiao nails the concept with, "...natural rights are not things that depend on the balance of social utility, nor can they be overridden simply because there is a greater good at stake."

If you're going to fall back to the argument that firearms are different because they only exist to kill people, then you're also going to have to back the argument that alcohol is just as different as it only exists to get people drunk. Neither argument is going to impress the hundreds of millions of gun owners who do no harm to anyone with their firearms, and the equal number of social drinkers who never get drunk and hurt others.

A special request...

If you think this blog helps clarify the issue for those who are unsure of the concepts of freedom and rights, please share it on Facebook or other social media. To help this info reach the greatest number of people please feel free to post a link to it on any forums that you participate in that might enjoy it.

Thank you very much...

Jack Burton

A Note From Rick: This essential freedom applies also to the people's rights to defend themselves with such items as pepper spray and stun guns. If you believe in the right to keep and bear arms then please support the rights of people to carry non-lethal means of self-defense also.

3 thoughts on “Is the damage to society from the misuse of guns worth the freedom to have guns?”

  • Rich

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

  • Michael G Spivey
    Michael G Spivey July 8, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Putting aside constitutionality and the entire concept of natural fights vs the misnamed moniker "constitutional" rights and why the framers knew an armed populace was necessary, the supposed "damage" done by firearms ownership and proclaiming curtailment of that natural right (a power that does not exist) must also be examined in light of the overwhelming use of firearms in the defense of those same "innocents". Without the ownership and use by those that have spines the death toll from criminal use of arms or just lethal violence itself would be much much higher.

    Guns used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year -- or about 6,850 times a day. This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives.

    Of the 2.5 million times citizens use their guns to defend themselves every year, the overwhelming majority merely brandish their gun or fire a warning shot to scare off their attackers. Less than 8% of the time, a citizen will kill or wound his/her attacker.

    As many as 200,000 women use a gun every year to defend themselves against sexual abuse.

    Even anti-gun Clinton researchers concede that guns are used 1.5 million times annually for self-defense. According to the Clinton Justice Department, there are as many as 1.5 million cases of self-defense every year. The National Institute of Justice published this figure in 1997 as part of "Guns in America" -- a study which was authored by noted anti-gun criminologists Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig.

    Armed citizens kill more crooks than do the police. Citizens shoot and kill at least twice as many criminals as police do every year (1,527 to 606). And readers of Newsweek learned that "only 2 percent of civilian shootings involved an innocent person mistakenly identified as a criminal. The 'error rate' for the police, however, was 11 percent, more than five times as high."


  • Dale

    The damage is not to society, it is from society by the products of society!

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