The congressional baseball game shooter was clearly motivated by political hatred of Republicans. This hatred was clearly fed and magnified by listening to hysterical partisan rhetoric and participating in online discussions that reinforced his political biases, painted caricatures of the evil of his future targets, and reinforced his emotions of anger and resentment.
But is there any solution? We can oppose this kind of rhetoric and deplore it and argue for more civility in politics. But what else can we do? Should we decide that, because speech that is harshly critical of some politicians might motivate a man to kill, therefore we should control or limit political speech? Most of us, thankfully, would say “No.” We recognize that criticizing politicians too harshly is a far lesser evil than not being able to criticize our political leaders at all.
But the same thing applies to other freedoms, including the right to own a gun. In the aftermath of shooting, one of the witnesses, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, was asked whether the incident changed his views on gun control, and he gave reporters a remarkably clear-headed and eloquent off-the-cuff response.
Not with respect to the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment right to bear arms is to ensure that we always have a republic. And as with any other constitutional provision in the Bill of Rights, there are adverse aspects to each of those rights that we enjoy as people. And what we just saw here is one of the bad side effects of someone not exercising those rights properly.
But we’re not going to get rid of freedom of speech because some people say some really ugly things that hurt other people’s feelings. We’re not going to get rid of Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights because it allows some criminals to go free who should be behind bars. These rights are there to protect Americans, and while each of them has a negative aspect to them, they are fundamental to our being the greatest nation in world history.
So, no, I’m not changing my position on any of the rights we enjoy as Americans.
A lot of politicians can say the right thing when coached, but you always wonder what they will say or do under fire. Yet this is the response Brooks came up with just hours after he was literally under fire.
The key to this response is that Brooks understands deep down what freedom is. He understands that freedom isn’t just about leaving people alone so long as they do the right thing and act as you want them to act. It means recognizing their rights even when some of the consequences might be bad.
Freedom is not a guarantee of life in perfect security with ideal outcomes. Freedom is not perfection. Of course, neither is government control, which promises perfection and invariably delivers something much worse than what came before. (Venezuela, for example, is starving. How did it get that way? It started with a promise to provide everyone plenty of food.)
When people are free, they are able to do and create amazing things, but that very freedom also requires the freedom to fail. It includes the freedom to be wrong, even the freedom to be bad. The freedom of speech that frees people to come up with new ideas and level trenchant criticisms against the errors and follies of their leaders can also be used to spread “fake news” and encourage hatred and resentment of political opponents. The freedom to keep and bear arms that we recognize so people can use guns for sport or self-defense, and so that the government does not have total power, can also be used to obtain weapons that might be used for murder.
Freedom, as they say, is not free, and this is one of its unfortunate costs. When you see what a disarmed population has to endure at the hands of an unrestrained tyranny, you realize that the alternative is a lot more expensive.
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