What is freedom?
Many people, both pro-gun and pro-gun control, talk about freedom. But nobody ever really stops to define what it is, and then apply it to the gun debate. This leads to mischaracterizations, particularly from the pro-gun side, that any attempt to implement gun control policies is an infringement on freedom. The ultimate end of this argument is to paint those in favor of gun control as "tyrants," or bring up the name of Hitler in an attempt to tar those on the other side. In this short essay, I will discuss what freedom is, how it can be maximized, and how limiting the availability of guns in the United States will maximize freedom for more people than current gun policy or less restrictive gun policies.
What is freedom?
Freedom, as those versed in even rudimentary political science know, comes in two variants, freedom "from," and freedom "to." Both of these are crucial in American society. We all want freedoms "to" do things that benefit us, and we want freedoms from things that harm us. We all want to be free to speak our minds; we all want to be free from, say, invasion by foreign nations. To these ends, Americans have tacitly agreed on a set of laws to help maximize our freedoms, as we recognize that we do need some laws to maintain the most freedom for all. These laws necessarily restrict things that some would call "freedoms," the freedom to kill is restricted -- but this protects the freedoms of other to live. Many small-l libertarians argue that the only "laws" should be against force and fraud, and all else will fall into place. Unfortunately, this argument neglects the simplest of prima facie facts: that sometimes, rights collide. In such a case, whose freedom should prevail? For instance, in the debate that pains libertarians to think about, whose right should prevail: a mother's right to control her body, or a fetus' right to live? Some argue that this depends more on whether a fetus is "alive" or not, but this is really not relevant to the question to the clash of rights. Obviously, some freedoms do great harm. Shouting fire in a crowded theatre when there isn't one, to use a tired example, can lead to a riot or panic, with nothing "good" to come about from it. Sure, one could argue that making this illegal would be an infringement of the freedom of speech, but from a practical standpoint, the amount of freedom we (collectively) could gain by allowing people to shout fire in crowded theatres is far less than the amount we could gain by not having people stampeded in panic. After all, those stampeded people have just lost several rights, especially if they are killed in the process. This is why the Supreme Court has decided to limit certain freedoms. Not all "freedoms" are normatively good, and a benchmark for deciding this could be if Freedom A limits Freedom B. Which freedom is more important? We live in a society, and we do have to give up certain of our rights to that society in order to make it function. We willingly choose to sacrifice some of our hard-earned cash to make sure we have roads and prisons, clean water and clean air, public schools and public hospitals. We can disagree with what our tax dollars go to, but in the end, through peaceful public discourse eventually decided by an overwhelming majority, we as Americans decide what goals we have for our society, and which freedoms we choose to allow to prevail over others. This decision and this decision process, is by no means easy, and it sometimes means making some difficult sacrifices. But in return, we get things that we would not otherwise have had. We must compromise, and in the process of compromise, never lose sight of our one true goal: the maximization of "the most freedom for everybody."
Freedom and the rule of law
“[R]egimes may observe the rule of law and yet narrowly restrict the repertoire of actions lawfully available to the citizen. However, the concept of liberty is not a simple...
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