Freedom From Fear

From the President’s remarks at the Newtown memorial:

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. …

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

I was thinking about FDR’s “four freedoms” recently. You really don’t hear much about them any more, other than in the context of Norman Rockwell’s iconic paintings of them. The painting for “freedom from fear” shows parents tucking a couple of children into bed.

There are those among us who appear to define “freedom” as “the ability to own and carry whatever firearm I please whenever I choose to do so.” Firmin Debrabander argues that guns makes us less free:

A favorite gun rights saying is “an armed society is a polite society.” If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed — like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example — they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.

As ever more people are armed in public, however — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.

Debrabander argues that the threat of violence, including the presence of guns, and genuine freedom cannot co-exist:

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

And the terrible irony is that possessing a lot of guns doesn’t seem to make anyone less fearful, any more than possessing a lot of money makes people less greedy. The gun hoarder may feel better prepared for whatever phantom menace he thinks threatens him, but the fear is still there.

Awhile back I wrote about the Six Realms, which is a six-part cosmology that can be interpreted as “realities” we create by our own psychological projections. The hallmark of the Animal Realm is to live in fear of being preyed upon. Animal Realm beings are repelled by anything new or unfamiliar. They are incurious and intolerant, and they are acutely uncomfortable in the company of anyone who doesn’t fit into “their” narrow little world. If you can put yourself into their place and imagine viewing the world and most “other” people as menacing and dangerous, you can sorta kinda understand how they think packing heat might make them more “free.” But most of the time what they really want is not to be left alone but to coerce the rest of the world to be like them — not “different” and scary.

And all the guns in the world won’t give them what they really want.

I believe it’s the case that perpetrators of mass atrocities are acting under the influence of some really twisted psychological pathologies and are not just your run-of-the-mill Animal Realm-dwelling Gun Nut. But the Animal Realm-dwelling Gun Nuts are enabling the mass murders.

One of the arguments about guns keeping us “free” is that we’re supposed to be prepared by overthrow government tyranny. Mistermix speaks to the absurdity of this idea:

The other piece of gun nut arrogance or craziness is the notion that guns are some sort of defense from the government. When I lived in a small college town, one of my friends was an Army ROTC instructor, who was an active duty Major in the Army. After the Oklahoma City bombings, we had a conversation about survivalist gun nuts. Before his ROTC posting, my friend had commanded a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I remember him wondering what the fuck these nuts thought they were going to accomplish if they had a real skirmish with the Army. He knew what his unit could do, and he knew any band of civilian insurrectionists would be utterly destroyed by them. That’s such a completely obvious point, but apparently these idiots think there’s some kind of Red Dawn scenario where the largest military on earth wouldn’t roll over them if they have a couple of assault rifles in their flabby inexperienced hands.

Civil society cannot exist without a certain amount of trust. That doesn’t mean you don’t pass laws, hire police, and get receipts, but at some point you have to have some trust in the essential decency of most people, or civilization itself breaks down. Certainly democracy cannot function where people have no faith in it, which is to say faith in your fellow country-person, even if he/she is “different.”

38 thoughts on “Freedom From Fear

  1. One of your best, Maha.

    I grew up in a horrible, dangerous neighborhood in the ’60s.
    I feared someone would set their dog on me (again), or beat me up for my lunch money. When my much younger brother was coming up, someone stuck a gun in his face. Thankfully, he was not injured.

    Now, I am a parent in a nice, comfortable, safe neighborhood. But, I know this in no way guarantees the safety of my family in a world where any loony can load up on military-grade weapons.

  2. Yes, Barbara, this is definitely one of your best posts – and that’s saying something!

    A society isn’t really free if you can’t express your freedom of speech by giving the middle-finger salute to the driver who just cut you off, out of fear that he’ll shoot your head off, and pry your finger off of your cold dead hand.

    And let’s compile a list of places that have had mass gun murders recently.
    Work places.
    Post offices.
    Movie theaters.
    Shopping Malls.
    Elementary Schools.
    High Schools.

    Quite a list, that.
    A lot of places you wouldn’t go to, if you feared that “lightening” would strike the same type of place again.
    There’s no place safe anymore. There used to be an old axiom, “There’s safety in numbers.” Sure, maybe back when a killer had to load his flint lock or muzzlebuster after every shot.
    But now?
    Where can anyone go anymore, and rest assured that they won’t be shot, even with a whole lot of other people around them, by some madman carrying handguns or rifles that carry enough bullets to kill an entire football team in one or two clips, or cartridges, or whatever they’re called.
    Maybe it’s time to change our nation’s motto to Clint Eastwood’s, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?'”
    Well, do ya?

  3. [G]uns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

    e.g. by being black, male, teenaged and wearing a hoodie.

  4. Did you see/hear Anderson Cooper yesterday struggling to get through reading the list of the dead at Newtown? Gulag’s list above of places that should be safe and will not be under the “responsible for your own safety by carrying” is indicative of where the destructive gun mania will take us.

    This morning on “The View” a guest whose name I did not get but who was identified as a forensic something-or-other blathered about guns and mental illness not being responsible for this awful slaughter. He said he had facts and then just opined that we were not taking responsibility for ourselves. I thought that was pretty fact-free. The hosts of the show just sat there and let him bluster. I suppose they gave him enough rope, but the failure to call bullshit on him was pretty weak and sad.

    This will not be an easy battle.

  5. Proposal based on existing law: declare the NRA a terrorist organization and make illegal to donate to them or receive monies from them. Give one-time amnesty to existing members.

  6. Good one Barbara.
    I know there will be an attempt (at least) to ban assault weapons and high capacity clips. It will be more symbolic that substantial, and there will be a surge to buy up the weapons before the ban goes into effect. The question of will it matter boils down to this: would you ask the parents and loved ones of the slain children and faculity if it “matters”? It certainly does.
    One last thought; the weapons used in the mass killings appear to be like a fetish.
    The perps seemed to like being photographed posing with their guns, and Glocks, assault weapons, and Sig-Sauers seem to be the fetish of choice.

  7. There are two components to any mass-murder event. The weapon(s) and the sick person who uses it. I’m not using the word ‘sick’ as a slur – I mean actually ill – as in medical condition. A ban on hi-capacity clips may reduce the harm a deranged person can do. But it doesn’t heal the person inclined to violence.

    Far more effective and expensive is a commitment by this society to care for people with mental health problems – without attaching a social stigma. I see two sides of the same coin with the gun nuts who think a gun makes one powerful and the liberal who thinks peace can be achieved by pulling the fangs of ‘those people’.

    You can’t promote peace by packing – nor can you legislate away mental illness. We’re going to have to take care of each other – physically and emotionally – to make these incidents rare.

  8. I don’t know. Every so often, I think the gun-nuts could probably hold out a while, not that living in primitive conditions as an insurgent in the mountains of Idaho or West Virginia, as if you were an Afghani, is what most people raised in the United States would consider “freedom”. It’s not like they’d be able to prevail, but they could possibly have a few months to live as “free men” before they died in a blaze of glory. (Well, as much glory as you get from getting a drone missile down your chimney.)

    I sure hope we can see some progress made, this time. If this country can’t get its act together to respond to the brutal murder of 20 small children, we never will.

  9. Do we really want to live in a world where everyone has to be packing all of the time from fear of someone trying to rob us or responding to massacre. Do we really want to live in a society where our kindergarten teachers have to be trained and ready to use a weapon? If that’s the kind of society we’ve become, then I don’t want any part of it. This just seems so obvious to me; the individuals freedom to own a gun vs safety. But our society over emphasizes individual liberties so that what seems like a no brainer really isn’t. Can we continue as a society if we always protect individual liberties? I say no. And I believe many of our recent issues come down to this. Requiring something more from the individual, in exchange for a better society. But we are very leery of treading on people’s individual rights. Society, including 20 children and their six protectors, are the losers.

  10. I know we need to do something about the gaps and problems in our mental health system (which Republicans created on purpose), but let’s not change the subject. They got mentally ill people in other countries, and this doesn’t happen.

    As for the NRA, does anyone recall them ever going into a poor inner-city, mostly minority neighborhood and setting up booths or storefronts in partnership with a gun maker where they sell, or give out coupons for, reduced-price guns? You know, so that no deserving citizen who wants a gun for their safety is unable to get one because of money? As a community service, to keep America safe?

    I’ve never heard of them doing that. I wonder why that is.

  11. One thing tha seems to contribute heavily to our current situation is the hate industry. The production of hate, fear and anger has become very profitable. The attractive element of the gun nut/bagger demographic is that they are reliable voters who can be easily lead and they can be sold anything from gold shares, to seed caches, to high powered weapons. They can be made to believe fervently without the need for logic or evidence. My more whacko acquaintances are often outraged about things that are totally fabricated. Well, often there is some scintilla of reality, so the aim is the half truth, but in most cases it is more like the .5% truth. You are probably all familiar with this phenomenon, so I won’t go on.

    There has been the recent discussion about the Republican party being confined by a closed epistemic system and the same thing happens to individuals. There comes a point where reason has flown the coop. Logic and evidence are useless, anger fear and an assault weapon are strong.

    I agree with biggerbox. It is difficult to conceive of a more horrible event occurring outside of a war zone. If this can’t produce some meaningful change, then we have lost the capacity for self reflection completely and “it will not end well.”

  12. Seems like we could remove some of the stress our young men are feeling if we could demilitarize our way of life. Michael Shaw at Bag News has an excellent post on this today.

  13. OY!
    Prepare yourselves for a dose of “TEH STOOOOOOPID!!!” so great, that this is what probably really caused all of the Great Extinctions in the Earth’s history – I’m not sure I can survive even writing about it:
    If you though arming the teachers and kids in schools was a really bad idea, here’s Megan McArdle, on what we can do about gun killings.

    Is it gun or ammo control?
    NO! Well, maybe it’ll probably, might, happen – but Meg has a better solution!
    It’s to teach unarmed children to bum-rush the shooter, BONZAI-style!, and overcome him with their unarmed bodies!

    “My guess is that we’re going to get a law anyway, and my hope is that it will consist of small measures that might have some tiny actual effect, like restrictions on magazine capacity. I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.”

    To her credit, 8-12 unarmed dead children IS less than the 20 killed in Newtown – sometimes (almost always), her math skills leave a lot to be desired, so we should give her some dap when she finally gets something right.
    So, in Meg’s twisted Libertarian mind, 8-12 dead, unarmed children, is an acceptable price for stopping a killing spree.

    Here, if you’re brave enough to walk into a fusillade of stupid that would shame a Village Idiot’s Convention, is the link:

  14. I’m hearing a lot of promising noises from normally pro-gun people.

    But there IS a lot of stupid out there, too. Megan McArdle suggested that we should train everyone to rush the gunman! (I’m guessing Megan’s never actually had a gun pointed at her in anger – it isn’t an experience that leaves one in calm control of one’s actions.) The suggestion is being roundly ridiculed, thank goodness.

  15. Wingnuts (of all stripes) can never figure out that there is a difference between license and liberty, cleverness and wisdom. License is the freedom to do what you want; liberty contains within it a consideration of whether what you want to do is harmful to others.
    Cleverness is the ability to make what you want happen; wisdom/intelligence is the ability to consider whether what you want is really a good thing.
    Adolescents have the same problem; the difference is: most adolescents learn to outgrow this immature but transitional thought process…

  16. The bum’s rush is actually the most effective method of dealing with someone who is going to kill you (singular or plural). Once you’ve decided you are already dead, it is the only rational decision to make. Making a rational decision in those circumstances is, well, problematic…

    But, if you believe the press releases, it is what brought down Flight 93 and saved countless lives during Congresswoman Gifford’s ordeal. In fact, based on actual events, it is also the safest for people in the vicinity (c.f., civilian casualties during the recent “well-trained” NY police shooting of a single suspect who was not even shooting back).

    To do a bum’s rush with any hope of survival, one needs some kind of portable cover – school desks are actually perfect. The idea is not to stop or deflect the bullet, but disguise the human-outline aim point and have a weapon at hand when contact is made. The more people involved, the better. Expect casualties…

    Again, whether I could gather the intestinal fortitude to step out in front of such a person instead of cowering in the darkest corner I could find is, indeed, the question of the day. The cold, dark reality is, it is the rational course of action.

    Expecting children to do any such thing is delusional…

  17. I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

    That’s even more insane than the gun nut commenter at HuffPo yesterday who said that armed kindergarten teachers “surely would have gotten a kill shot” at Adam Lanza.

    Dude, crazy Lady Person, both of you please come up out of your mushroom-infested hobbit holes, breathe some fresh air and let the sunlight touch your faces. Real life is not a Bruce Willis action movie, or a “Call of Duty” video game. Thank goodness it isn’t.

    In the end, these kinds of deranged responses, meant to protect extreme access to firearms, only serve to reinforce the need for serious gun control in the minds of the relatively sane (and fed up) majority.

  18. Of course, Dan, Flight 93 ended in suicide by the bum-rushers. Another problematic decision even for adults to make.

    At least two women did rush Lanza, and died. He moved on and kept killing.

  19. If anyone is ever with Megan McArdle when some crazed loon starts firing, I think the only proper thing to say to her is, “Ok, Meg – YOU FIRST!!!”

  20. One other thing, too: the death penalty helps to normalize the idea of killing people as a way to solve problems. I think that also makes us a more violent society.

  21. I propose that someone start another gun-rights organization, this one geared for the needs of hunters, homeowners and shopkeepers, _rather_than_ the needs of criminals, traitors, and the insane. Call them the SRA: the Sane Rifle-owners Association. Unlike the NRA, the SRA will come out for background checks, waiting periods, gun show regulation, and mandated gun safety training. They will protect private ownership of small arms, but not of automatic rifles, nor semi-automatic; and they will also give training in mace and taser.

    These are the views of most of the NRA’s own membership. Clearly the NRA is not serving the needs of those members, and the NRA deserves some competition.

  22. There just aren’t good words to talk about Newtown. It is a crime that literally defies imagination–hell, it flings imagination down and dances upon its head. No one reading this can imagine strolling into an elementary school and opening fire on a bunch of small children. You can’t imagine even wanting to.

    Strolling? Perhaps “storming”?, Megan, If you’ve mischaracterized events in Newtown so badly in your opening paragraph it stands to reason that anything that follows will be tainted by that same bias or lack of understanding throughout. And by reading your article it’s apparent that you’re fumbling to write about things you know nothing about. Also, I think your Saipan strategy is a little over the top.

  23. I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

    The military says the correct thing to do is fall to the ground thereby reducing the target area for someone who is shooting at you. Really, who in their right mind would encourage or instruct a child to charge into the fire of an assault weapon? I know Stalin used shock troops, but I don’t recall his ever using children as shock troops like Megan proposes..

    During my elementary school days I was assigned to be the blinds monitor during air raid drills…I’m sure glad I wasn’t assigned to be on the shock troop brigade.

  24. Biggerbox hit the nail on the head:

    If this country can’t get its act together to respond to the brutal murder of 20 small children, we never will.

  25. From HuffPo:

    Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder rejected a bill Tuesday that would have allowed people who receive special training to carry concealed firearms into formerly gun-free zones like churches and school buildings.

    Gov. Snyder said in a release sent to The Huffington Post that last Friday’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School led to a thorough review of the bill. Instead, he said he calls for a “more comprehensive review of issues relating to gun violence.” He has now ordered a multi-departmental assessment of the state’s services and needs regarding at-risk children.

    The times they are maybe a-changin just a-little? Snyder is a Republican.

  26. Yeah, Swami, this is a test to see if there is such a thing as “The Pundit Fire Alert” system.

    If this feckin’ twit doesn’t lose her job for this, then I don’t know that ANY pundit can ever lose theirs.

    This piece by McArdle has to be the absolute pinncle of epic feckin’ human stupidity! If there was a God, He/She/It would have smote her, until there was nothing but a single glowing Higson Boson partical left of her, for people with functioning brains to study.

    Unfortunately, my guess is, this won’t even be a test.

  27. We had very high respect for our blinds monitors, Swami.

    You know, I am trying to formulate a response to the “bum’s rush” idea, but, I seem to be shocked into a slack jawed state, you have to admit, it’s a jaw dropper.

    Maybe some paintballers could do some simulations to see how quickly kindergarteners can rush over the desks and dead bodies of their class mates. Although, I guess in Texas they could make it part of PE.

  28. Since so many people seem to confuse action movies with the real world, maybe there should be some free screenings of “Galipoli”.

  29. How many 6 or 7 year olds can lift a desk up, let alone hold to ram someone with a gun?????

    We could build moats around all school buildings.

  30. I guess the plan with the desks follows what the Roman legions were taught to do overlapping their shields. The down side is that you can’t move very fast pushing a desk along the ground, especially over the remnants of the dead and wounded and you wouldn’t be able to see where you were going or where the assailant was moving. Even this is assuming that we could bring the elementary school students up to the level of training of the average Roman legionaire. Given an infinite number of parallel universes, this may well be true, somewhere. Here I’d say the possibility is vanishingly close to zero.

    All this being said, I grew up in Sussex County, New Jersey. I moved away to the USVI at 13. Hunting was very popular in NJ and it wasn’t unusual for kids to start hunting, with their parents, at a very young age. TWO of my friends from Little League were killed in hunting accidents. Both of them were killed the same way. They were advancing in a line and the person next to them stopped and fell behind with a gun related problem. One kid had an old shotgun with a missing trigger guard. He got the trigger tangled in this sweatshirt, and you can guess the rest. They were both really nice kids and I still think about them a lot. I guess we have come forward a bit. If anyone gave their kid a shotgun without a trigger guard and it resulted in someone dying, there would be hell to pay. Maybe there were criminal charges brought back then too, I was just a kid, so that wasn’t my concern.

  31. Ah, Megan McArdle admits the error of her ways.
    Maybe someone was finally able to explain to her that she had set the stupid and callous bar so high, that humans would have to exceed the speed of light to top it.

    Here’s what Meg, the punTWIT wrote:
    “I completely agree that small children rushing a shooter would be a terrible idea. I can see how taken out of context, if you maybe hadn’t read the whole article, “young people” could be read to refer to the Newtown school children. But I was talking about teenagers, not first graders.”

    Oh! She was “taken out of context.” And what she meant, was TEENAGERS!!!
    Well, ok then.
    Now THAT make sense! Because there are no people on Earth more altuistic, and less self-involved, than American teenagers.

    Meg, put down that shovel, and pick up that uber-blender you’ve got, whip up some honey-bechemel sauce, and lie down near a hill of fire ants.
    Trust me, that should be less painful than the abuse you’re going to receive with every post The Daily Beast may still allow you to write – or any Conservative internet rag who may hire you when Tina Brown finally comes out of her drug and alcohol induced coma, and fires your stupid sorry assclown ass.
    The only sad thing is, I’m not sure that’s punishment enough – the bites of the fire ants won’t come close to the burn of the 100 Trillions suns of stupid you exposed us to the other day.

  32. When the Founding Fathers of the US enshrined the right to bear arms they had concept of assault rifles with massive clips and horrific destructive power. Somehow I do not think they intended to facilitate the kind of massacre of innocents (whether it be at a church, a mall, a theatre, a mosque, a school, wherever) that assault weapons permit.

    A nut with a knife could never have pulled off the Columbine Massacre, the Aurora massacre or the latest at Newtown. Lots of countries in the world manage to live quite happily; their citizens have fulfilled and joyous lives WITHOUT guns. Gun ownership is not a prerequisite for life, liberty OR the pursuit of happiness.

    It is time for the US to grow into a mature nation, accept that some changes need to be made for the benefit of all, and to summon the courage to defeat the gun lobby.

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