Category Archives: Right to Privacy

Reducing Gun Violence

Regular readers of this weblog will know that I am a believer in the basic right of all human beings to own and carry firearms. I have as much right to be armed as I do to have my tongue and my opinions with me wherever I go. I may be justifiably asked to keep my mouth shut and other matters concealed, but no one has the right to require more than that.

That being said, I do recognize that we have a problem of gun violence in America. Every year, around 30,000 of us die by gunfire. More than half of those deaths are due to suicide, but regardless of the cause, the number is too high. So what do we do?

Some propose restrictions on ownership and carry, while wanting to ban some types of firearms altogether. This approach makes no sense, given the more than 300,000,000 guns in private hands in this country and our long and porous borders. But there are things that we can do:

1. Create a functioning and available mental healthcare system. This ideally would be a part of general healthcare reform for everyone. I don’t have much faith in Obamacare, given its lack of a public option and the weak and mealy-mouthed manner of its passage and implementation, but that’s a step in the right direction. More–specifically the public option–needs to be done. Note that I don’t mean involuntary commitments or the violations of privacy. What I’m suggesting here is healthcare available to all who need it.

2. Reduce poverty. In my previous article on Alexandria, I named an educational system as a necessary element of any working democracy. I add to this the idea that education, such as I discussed here is a way out of poverty. Other intelligently run programs would have the same effect. We can debate at length whether poverty causes crime, but certainly living in poverty puts a person at greater risk–both for being a victim and an offender of violent crime. (Being wealthy brings a whole different class of crimes to commit, but that’s not generally related to guns.)

3. End our foolish drug laws. Much of our violence is related to illegal drugs. Treat drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem, and that motivating factor goes away. Al Capone didn’t sell beer nuts, after all.

We often hear from the gun control freaks that Europe is a model for good gun laws. Most countries in Europe have strict gun control–the Czech Republic being a shining exception for the moment–and those countries have lower gun violence than America. The difference is not actually that great, especially compared to other parts of the world, but the fact remains that Europe has fewer acts of gun violence than we do. But let’s note that Europe also has the three items that I just proposed. Certainly, it’s in doubt whether the Europeans will be able to afford the first two much longer, but in many cases, the problematic countries have chosen the California approach to government–lots of goodies, paid for by borrowing. Effective work for the first two can be done without requiring deficit spending–provided we are willing to pay for it. The third item would in fact save us money, both in prison and court costs and in expendatures for public health.

My three solutions have the advantage of not infringing on the rights of those who did nothing wrong in the vain hope of restraining those who make a life of doing bad acts. My answers also would show benefits in a variety of areas unrelated to gun violence. They are measured responses to a problem that has been getting better over the last two decades.

Perhaps they lack the quality of breathless bloviating, but I see that as a feature, not a bug.

Hate and Crime

The current news about the suicide of Rutgers University student, Tyler Clemente, and the possibility of hate crimes charges being filed against his two peers is disturbing, but I do hope that the New Jersy and Federal authorities and society as a whole can take a moment of pause before we lash out.

I have to ask whether what happened was not an example of the kind of behavior that many young adults, more young than adult, see as fun and having no consequences.  I know nothing about the roommate who filmed Clemente’s actions and then posted the video on-line, but I do recall times when my peers and I acted first and thought later, if at all.  Is that narcissistic?  Clinically, no, since it’s typical of that age group.  The filming and posting was a violation of Clemente’s right to privacy.  Was it an attack on him for his sexual orientation?  That’s not clear.  The statements made by Dharum Ravi on Twitter sound more like the kind of thoughtless teasing that is common in a college dormitory.

What Ravi and Wei did appears to be a violation of privacy, nothing more.  That does need a harsh punishment.  As I wrote, people their age do thoughtless things, as do many people in general, and for someone who refuses to think or who is incapable of thinking, stern penalties are the only deterrent.  I have heard discussion about this event claiming that it is the result of a generation growing up in social media who have no conception that some things don’t have to be posted.  If so, this case could act as a warning and a command.  No, children, you don’t have to know why, but the adults are telling you to get off line.  You aren’t universally interesting; some thoughts can go unexpressed, and those around you have rights.

If Ravi and Wei are convicted, then they ought to be punished for the crime that they committed.  What I don’t want to see is a “hate crimes” charge added.  I understand the motivation for creating hate crimes legislation.  Attacking someone for his race, sexual orientation, religion, or any of a number of other characteristics is a hateful act.  In every case, society needs to punish the specific bad act.  But we must not punish motivation.  We are all driven by complex motivations, and those ought not be subject to the scrutiny of everyone around us.  Motivation is itself a private matter, and each of us has a right to our motivations.  If today we can add punishment to someone who is against homosexuality, tomorrow we can punish someone who is homosexual for being so.

The important point is what I wrote in the beginning.  When outrageous crimes are committed, we must take a step back from the moment and sort out what actual wrong has been done before we rush to judgement.