Trading off individual rights for community protection

By Claire Cummings

Many Western Canadians buy into the myth of civil liberties and civil freedom. Though it may not be nearly as evident in big cities or on university campuses, suspicion of government intervention and taxation has been a mark of the mid-Western mindset in Canada for a hundred years.

Like our American counterparts, Western Canadians, particularly in rural areas, don’t want the government to control any aspect of their lives. The Progressive Conservative and Reform parties gain popularity by pushing tax cuts, less government intervention in business, and no gun control. The idea that freedom equals a lack of constraints is one that has a deep hold on the American and the Western Canadian psyche.

But what is freedom? A closer look south of the border shows that if freedom is really individual rights over the larger societal good, the cost of that freedom is incredibly high. In many states in the US, testing for drunk driving is not allowed because it violates the rights of responsible drivers. The cost for society, and for individuals, can be measured in the death of two people every hour in alcohol-related traffic accidents. Drunk driving killed 15,935 individuals in the US in 1998. The devastating cost of the freedom to bear arms is illustrated to us every week as children kill children with guns they find in daddy’s closet or under mommy’s bed. Sociopathic eight-year-olds have free access to weapons just as responsible citizens do.

One may argue that anyone who is determined to kill will find a way to do so. However, the difference between the murder of Jason Lang in Taber and the 15 who died in the Columbine shootings is significant: the young offender who entered W.R. Myers High School in Taber carried a sawed-off rifle with one round in it; Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had two sawed-off shotguns, a 9 mm semi-automatic carbine, a semi-automatic handgun, 30 bombs, and fired 900 rounds of ammunition. When civil liberties take precedence over the protection of those who can’t protect themselves, the cost of freedom is too high.

The freedom that Canadians experience is a freedom from fear. We need not fear that there might be as many concealed weapons on campus as cell phones. Acts of violence, especially random acts, are much less likely when we forfeit the right to bear arms. Certainly, individuals who are determined to hurt others may find a way to do so–the massacre at the Ecole Polytechnique at the University of MontrĂ©al is evidence enough. But by choosing to submit ourselves to governmental restraint, and by giving up our so-called rights, we can make it a lot harder for those who would destroy them.

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