From the archives: I wrote this in 1999, not long after the infamous shootings at Columbine High School. I really can’t add anything 24 years later.
Would you rather be safe or free?
Those are the choices, you know. There are ways you can try to protect yourself and your children from the possibility that the events of Littleton, Colo., never again happen. But the only way to do it is to lock us all in cages.
You can have a society where no one tells you what church to attend, where no one monitors what you read, write or say, where no one keeps you from going to a Packers game or driving to see an old friend in Missouri.
But you run the risk that someone else may worship Satan or Hitler, that someone may read, write or say persuasively hateful things, that someone at the Packer game may try to sell you a $40 ticket for $250, that bad people will use the Interstate to transport illegal goods or kidnap your daughter.
So the solution is to regulate what church you can go to, what you read and write and say, and place checkpoints at city limits and state borders.
You can have a society where you are free to protect your property or defend your person, or to hunt and feed your family.
But you run the risk that someone with a sick mind will arm himself and kill you or your children.
So the solution is to make sure only the police and military have weapons.
You can have a society where, if you obey the law, no police officer or military unit will ever knock on your door and search through your personal belongings or drag you down to the county jail.
But you run the risk that your next-door neighbor is manufacturing narcotics in his basement or scheming to overthrow the government.
So the solution is a police state.
You can have a society where, if you are accused of a crime, no one can throw you in jail without proof, or torture a confession out of you, or force you to testify under oath that you did it — even if you did it.
But you run the risk that murderers will occasionally escape justice, or criminals get out of prison and commit new crimes.
So the solution is to lock us all up.
When you have a free society, there will be times when someone abuses his or her freedom and harms someone else, perhaps even kills someone else.
The only way to try to prevent such abuses is to take away our freedoms.
And the bad things will not go away.
Confiscate our guns, and criminals will use knives or bombs made of pipe or fertilizer — or steal guns — and we will be defenseless.
Regulate what the media reports, and you lose the right to know what’s happening. Regulate the Internet and you depend on the government to inform you. Regulate what singers can sing, writers can write, and painters can paint, and you begin to lose life itself.
And even then, you will not be safe. You will only have built a cage and crawled in. It will be easier for evil to find you when it decides to look.
So how to prevent future school shootings?
Teach children right from wrong. Teach them to cherish life and other living things. Teach them good choices from bad. And punish them when they do wrong, when they harm living things, when they choose badly.
Our nation, this bold experiment, has thrived because of the notion that the only limit on my freedom is that it not impose on yours. The most defining speech of our history concludes, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Sometimes the people of the world look at America and says, “How can they tolerate such things!” But most of the time they envy America and wish to live in a society as tolerant as ours. Immigration has always outpaced emigration because of our promise.
We must live free. Or we die.
– – –
This essay and more have since become part of my book Refuse to be Afraid. Just sayin’