During the lead up to Connecticut’s stricter gun laws, my friend and I had a hypothetical conversation. Myself a gun owner and he a state police officer, I asked him what he would do if an all out ban was enacted on guns and the state police were required to go to homes to confiscate the weapons. To be honest, I was hoping for some kind of heroic response that he would defy the system, resign rather than carry out orders for a law that he believed was truly wrong. However, he replied that he would go to work and do his job and know that the first door he knocked on would probably be his last. Why? Because he has a life and family to support and the option of just quitting his job in principled protest is not, in his eyes, a viable option. He has taken an oath to uphold the law despite risk to personal safety.
In turn he asked me what I would do if the police knocked on my door to confiscate my guns and I’m sure that he fully expected me to say that I would fight the good fight, the revolutionary fight; that I would stand up for the Constitutional principles that founded this country. What I said to him, though, was that I would merely step aside and let them come right in, open the safe, and give them everything I had. Why? Because I would not risk my family to engage in some kind of fight with the police.
Revolution and revolt is a young man’s game.
So here we are in this hypothetical standoff, my best friend knocking on my door half-expecting to be killed in a gunfight and me opening the door out of fear for the lives of my wife and children.
During the Civil War, ideology pitted brother against brother, so the saying goes. Now, in our hypothetical situation, I was pitted against a man whom I consider a brother and the divide between us couldn’t be deeper. It is a chasm of fear and uncertainty and it appears as one that cannot be bridged even by friendship.
How have we come to this point? How are we to define this state of affairs?
The common factor on both sides of this scenario is fear. The government fears its people and the people fear their government and fear is the exact opposite of freedom. Freedom is a principle that lets people create, explore, and experience their own ideas and goals with the hopes of personal fulfillment. Fear is a paralyzing emotion that perpetuates obedience and benefits no one, but keeps everyone in line. Unfortunately, fear only motivates to a point.
We are a nation beset by fear. But what, exactly, are we afraid of?
The answers are legion; the constant media onslaught of sensationalized crime, anxiety, crisis, and danger; a generalized feeling of powerlessness in the population and a self-perpetuating increase of fear in government and law enforcement; we fear each other; we fear freedom; we fear possibility.
Freedom allows creation and exploration and all of those good things, but what freedom truly is, in its essence, is possibility. Possibility allows for all the good practiced in a free society but also allows for the bad. The choice between them rests with the individual, not the law or society. Government can limit freedoms but it cannot limit possibility. Freedom is subject to the body politic. Possibility is not. Possibility is engrained in the very nature of life. There is no legislation against possibility, only against freedom and that is why, even the strictest gun control laws cannot and will not prevent crime or even, God-forbid, another school shooting.
Part of the reason that freedom of speech is a right is that it is impossible to stop someone from saying something short of removing his or her vocal chords. It may be illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater but there does not exist a law – or ever will – that can actually prevent someone from doing so if they are willing to accept the consequences. Likewise, self defense is a human right (whether or not the law likes it) because if a person is being attacked by another, there is not a law in existence that can physically stop that individual from fighting back regardless of the possibilities of prosecution afterward. If a police officer were present in a self-defense situation then self-defense would not be necessary. Self-defense implies that there is no one else to offer protection. None of these things can be physically controlled or prevented (there are not enough police in the world to guard everyone all the time), government and its laws try to limit possibility as strongly as it can, but it is in vain.
The state of Connecticut’s response to the Newtown shooting spree was enactment of some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. It was a purely emotional response. The legislation was passed in the belief that it will limit the possibility of something like Newtown happening again through the limitation on certain freedoms. This sounds nice of the surface, but for its limits and high- minded attempts at control, it accomplishes virtually nothing other than to limit the positive possibilities for those who choose to comply with the law. Someone who is willing to yell “fire” in a crowded theater has either already accepted the consequences of their actions before carrying them out, is not of sound mind enough to know the difference, or, as in the case of many mass shooting incidents, planning to take their own lives. In all cases there is nothing the law can do to limit this ultimate possibility aside of jailing the entire population.
Which brings us back to our hypothetical standoff. We both are afraid, fearing the other. The fear of the citizen is that the law has become unmoored from any underlying principle, such as the Constitution, and has become a corrupt, convoluted, irrational and unprincipled government of men and women who have rendered law schizophrenic and alien to the population.
Likewise, the fear in the police officer is that, in this situation, he or she knows that they are violating the underlying principles of both the country and the natural rights of man – not just to self defense but to private property as well – by taking what was rightfully and legally owned. That is why my friend is so confident that the first door he knocks on will be his last. As they teach in the police academy – fear only motivates people to a point. Therefore, the officer expects a violent and irrational response from the citizen. An irrational law, unmoored from the precepts of this nation and in violation of man’s natural rights, breeds an irrational response. The officer fears loss of job, income, or family if he or she does not enforce the law. The citizen fears imprisonment, fines, possibly even death if he resists the law. The chasm between them is the void left behind by the violation of principle and, as of now, that void cannot be bridged, but, we can ask, will we be too afraid to discover or predict the breaking point of our society when all is handed over to irrationalism and fear? Let’s hope not.