The pains of liberty

Shawn Mercer

Shawn Mercer

Shawn Mercer is a sophomore integrated life sciences major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact

Shawn Mercer at [email protected].

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both.” Within this statement are a few truths. The first is that liberty seems preferable to security. This preference respects that individuals can and should make their own decisions, as long as they do not prevent others from doing the same. The second is that, even in trading liberty for security, we will, ultimately, have neither.

The words of Benjamin Franklin are not a moral imperative, but they reflect a theory of governance that puts an emphasis on liberty and that is wary of restricting it. This emphasis is reflected in the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

Within the Bill of Rights is a litany of negative liberties, or what the Congress cannot do. Therefore, regarding liberty, the buck stops with people and the individual states.

In application, protecting liberty can be difficult. I cannot imagine any circumstance more difficult than the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

A lone gunman, using a semi-automatic rifle, ended 26 beautiful lives on a quiet school day. Sadly, he ended his life without ever facing justice.

It seems impossible to do nothing in the face of such tragedy. We ask ourselves, “How could we let this happen?” There must have been something we missed.

Unable to grasp the sheer senselessness and evil involved in this event, we turn toward the means to which this tragedy occurred: the weapon.

The gunman stole the weapons used in the shooting after murdering their owner: his mother. The gunman obtained them illegally. Criminals who want to end lives will find a means of doing so.

His primary weapon was a semi-automatic rifle that accepted a 30-round magazine; critics have argued that the solution is banning the sale of such weapons and limiting the number of rounds that a magazine can hold.

This is where our society makes decisions on whether to go down the path of liberty or the path of perceived safety. We must restrain ourselves from acting unilaterally based on the actions of a single individual.

There are many other ways to destroy life. On May 18, 1927, at a school in Bath Township, Mich., the deadliest mass murder in the United States occurred. The perpetrator murdered 38 school children, six adults and ultimately himself with explosives. Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” perpetuated his crimes by mailing bombs through the mail, killing 3 and injuring 23. Donald Harvey, a medical orderly, murdered an estimated 37 to 57 of his patients while they were under his care.

As you read this, some disturbed individual is probably planning the next assault on human life, using any means necessary.

A weapons ban would not make us necessarily safer because we have seen that there are many ways to destroy human life. Criminals are not obliged to obey the law. What we would be left with is an illusion of safety at the expense of liberty.