Margot Livesey: Some Americans seem confused about the word "freedom." Laws do not constrain freedom; they enable it. Without laws none of us are free. In this photo, supporters of gun control gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, during a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., and to call on President Obama to pass strong gun control laws. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

In 2009, soon after the massacre in Binghamton, New York, I wrote a column about gun control for the Boston Globe.

On the day it was published emails flooded in, and five men left alarming messages on my home telephone. Any worries I had that my argument was too subtle — I simply described what was required to buy a gun in Cambridge, Mass. — were allayed. “You’re lucky, Ms. Livesey,” one of my male callers said, “that Americans are armed and ready to defend some Scottish immigrant.” (I was born and grew up in Scotland.)

Laws do not constrain freedom; they enable it. Look at civil rights. Without laws none of us are free.

But, alas, defending immigrants, Scottish and otherwise, is the least of what Americans do with their guns. They kill their representatives, their neighbors, their students and their children. And in addition to the larger tragedies that make national news, there are many, many others –– each lost life leaving a terrible hole in many other lives. (For a more accurate picture of the price Americans pay for their love of guns, read David Hemenway’s 2006 book, “Private Guns, Public Health.”)

Why does this continue? Back in Britain people ask me this question and I can only speculate.

Because no politician who advocates for gun control can get elected?

Because Americans don’t trust their police force to defend them?

Because an organization called the NRA pours money into opposing any changes to laws which are so liberal that non-military individuals can legally own assault weapons? (And manufacturers of guns, I presume, pour money into the NRA.)

Because this country is confused about the word “freedom”? Laws do not constrain freedom; they enable it. Look at civil rights. Without laws none of us are free.

Because it’s important to be able to go hunting?

My British friends are not impressed by these answers. But why? They keep asking. So do my American friends. So do I.

Vulnerable people need to be protected from their impulses of despair and violence.

I have no new answers to offer but a few years ago, after Columbine, before Binghamton, I did research into suicide for a novel I was writing. I learned that in Britain when domestic gas ceased to be fatal, the suicide rate fell dramatically. People did not seek a new method. The same thing happened here when barriers were put up along a bridge notorious for suicides. Again the death rate went down. Vulnerable people need to be protected from their impulses of despair and violence.

If any good can come out of the events of last Friday it will surely be that people all over this very large country finally acknowledge that everyone should be allowed to go to college, go shopping, go to temple, go to the cinema or go to school without the fear of being shot.

Hopefully many of these people will be NRA members who, with their expertise, will be invaluable in crafting safer laws. And perhaps the federal government will at last give all of us greater freedom by banning weapons that properly belong in the armed forces.


Tags: Guns, Newtown

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  • Geoff Dutton

    It seems to me that America produces guns and mental disorders at about the same rate, and the effects have started to tell. An arms race organized by psychotics and run by paranoids.

    Nothing I can imagine will stop or even slow the manufacture of firearms, but I can imagine measures to slow the production of desperate people. I’m not talking about more therapists, counselors, intervention specialists or multi-hazard evacuation plans. I’m thinking of reforms to the economy in which institutions exploit people and pit them against one another, deliberately manufacturing a sense of insecurity. Such a system may be hailed by Randians and other social Darwinians, but I and others believe we can have a better society if we stop rewarding the creation of mass psychosis for commercial gain and government self-aggrandizement.

    It’s the creation of crazies, stupid. Let’s stop manufacturing desperation and encouraging selfish and anti-social behavior for profit, and I just know things will get better.

  • Henry Minsky

    The violence in America is largely traceable to the utterly failing “Drug War” which has been going on for 40+ years. The violence we see in these misleading statistics is concentrated largely in inner city gang turf wars. And our President and his administration (including Joe “No possibility of drug legalization” Biden) , while he cries tears on television about this sensational massacre, has steadfastly refused to budge on drug legalization.

    The breathless demonization of semi-automatic rifles, like we hear on NPR yesterday, is misleading; there were around 323 murders in the US committed with any type of rifle in 2011, according to the FBI. However, there were 1600 stabbings and around 720 murders using fists or feet, another 500 with blunt objects.

  • RWB

    Yet when anyone from my side responds, then we are shouted at that we are blood thirsty and how dare we speak in this moment of tragedy, and we should just shut our stupid mouths out of respect for the dead, while they are free to promote policies which will simply lead to more dead… If the NRA says something they are bloodthirsty monsters, and if they don’t say something then their silence is damning guilt. It is hypocritical in the extreme, and when I speak out against this I am called every name in the book, I want dead children, I’m a cold hearted monster (the death threats are actually hilarious). If I become angry because they are promoting policies which are tactically flawed and which will do the exact opposite of the stated goals, then I am a horrible person for being angry. Perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed to own guns at all.

    Read the whole post here: