Monday, April 27, 2009

Politics: Guns and Freedom

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitutions of both the United States and Canada. Among libertarian thinkers in the United States, though, there has at times been a movement for "freedom from religion." (The lower prevalence of evangelical faiths in Canada and the fact that "conscience"--and thus non-practice of religion--is given equal status as "religion" in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms seems to have kept such movements from appearing here.) The thinking is that not only should a person have the right to practice any religion they choose, including none at all, but they should also be free of the impact of others' religions.

Sometimes I think the same kind of logic should be applied to gun control. The argument that concealed weapons laws lead to lower crime rates--which seems to be backed up data--combined with growing insecurity in the society seems to have effectively ended the gun control debate in the United States. As gun sales have soared over fears that the Obama administration would implement gun control, the political reality is that many elected Democrats are now pro-gun and the political prospects for gun control are almost non-existent. The details of state and local laws may be up for debate, but there's no chance for any significant change in the interpretation of the right to own firearms stated in the second amendment.

It all reminds me of a joke that was told when I was living in Texas, working at a chemical facility in Lake Jackson, Texas. People sometimes drove into nearby Freeport for lunch. The joke told during safety training was that if you drove into Freeport, you'd be stopped at a checkpoint and they'd ask if you had a gun. "If you don't have one, they'll give you one" was the punchline.

That's the danger of current direction of attitudes about firearms in the United States. Owning a gun is gradually going from being a right to an effective necessity. In some parts of the country, the social expectation is that if you don't have a gun to defend yourself, then you deserve whatever crime happens to you, regardless of the legalities of the situation.

While I do not generally have an issue with others having a gun, even concealed ones, I don't want to carry one myself. Fundamentally, I'm too lazy--not just to safely secure one, but to learn how to use it properly in the first place. I want "freedom from guns."

I suppose with my philosophy that I am living in the right city. The current mayor of Toronto, David Miller, is so committed to gun control that he had the private gun range located above the great hall in Union Station closed. Historically used to train railroad police, this facility actually allowed people who do have guns to learn to use them properly, which last I checked was what anyone should want and is not automatically at odds with a desire for tighter gun laws. However, Miller didn't want any appearance of Toronto as a gun-friendly city in any way, and the unusually-located range was closed. In David Miller's Toronto, there's not only freedom from guns, there's also freedom from gun safety, which is not what I had in mind.

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