Freedom or Safety: A Blast from the Past


Perennially on the subject of guns, people keep saying we need to give up the freedom of private gun ownership for “safety” from criminals.  However, in the current Winnie the Flu (Covid-19) we’re seeing the same dichotomy being put forward regarding infections disease.  I wrote the following about guns, but, really, it applies regarding anything where “safety” is given as a reason for giving up freedom.

This march of the children (yes, let’s let those that the law does not recognize as maturely responsible enough to drink alcohol, and who are trying to claim they are not maturely responsible enough to purchase even a .22 rifle for target shooting, make public policy) had a bunch of kids carrying signs.  One of those signs asked the question (at least I think it was a question–apparently “punctuation” had to make way for political indoctrination in the school this child attended) “Is freedom more important than safety”?

Yes.  Next question?

Okay, here’s a bit longer answer.  There are threats in the world.  Some of them are unintended and impersonal:  accidents happen, illnesses, things that don’t involve any malice directed toward you.  And some of them are very personal–people who mean you harm whether it’s directed at you specifically or if you just happen to be there and anyone would do.

The world can be a scary place.  We all want to be safe.

But couching the question in terms of Freedom vs. Safety they actually are choosing between two approaches toward achieving ones safety.  The first, is the “Freedom” approach.  Take personal responsibility for ones safety.  Take the personal actions that one believes necessary to achieve an acceptable level of safety.

The other approach is to eschew personal freedom and turn over the task of keeping one safe to someone else.  That person or persons will take authority over your safety and give you instruction on what you’re permitted and/or required to do toward that end.

Some folk reading this are already seeing the problem.  And that problem is a big one:  How do you ensure that the “someone else” given authority over your safety will actually make your safety his, her, or their primary priority?  How do you prevent them from dismissing, or even sacrificing, your safety for some other end?

And that’s not even addressing the question of what to do when the supposed guardians of your safety themselves become a threat.

It’s part of a larger question:  how can you guarantee that another person will place your interests first and not their own?

The answer people who clamor for safety over freedom don’t want to hear is:  you can’t.  The ones trusted with your safety, unless it is in their own interest otherwise, can decide to leave you to your fate at any time.  History has shown that while some few will put the safety of those in their care even against their own self interest (parents looking out for their children might be an exception to “few” and even that is questionable in the larger scope of history) that’s a pretty long-shot bet.  In the end, those you would entrust with your safety look out for themselves long before they look after you.

Look around.  Can the police (or fire departments, or other emergency services) save you?  They police have won court cases saying that they have no responsibility to protect you the individual, just “society” (which looks very much like “society” is just another word for “those in power”).  Most of the time, the police officer is not going to be on the scene when you face a threat.  Until the police arrive you are very much on your own.  And even if they are present, that is no guarantee they will be willing or able to help you.  The deputies of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department were not the first to refuse to put themselves at risk to protect others.  They will not be the last.

You must take responsibility for your own safety.  You need to have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors to help you stay safe in the event of a fire.  You need to have first aid supplies and knowledge in case of accidents or injuries.  And you need to be prepared to defend yourself against those who mean you harm.

No one else will do it for you.  No one else can do it for you.  No one can be as well positioned to take action to keep you safe as you are.  Even when they do come to your aid, you have only yourself to keep yourself safe until they do arrive.  And you need the freedom to do what is necessary both to protect yourself in the event, but to prepare in advance against the event.

Benjamin Franklin said famously:  “Those who give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” He said that because it’s a fool’s trade.  To give up liberty, to put ones safety in the hands of someone who almost invariably will put his own hide before yours, is to give up the very safety you seek.  It’s paying a con man for sweet sounding words that in the end evaporate to nothing.

If I may paraphrase Economist Milton Friedman, “The society that puts safety before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before safety will end up with a great measure of both.” (The original contrasted Freedom with Equality rather than Safety, but the phrasing works here too.)

It isn’t perfect safety.  There is no perfect safety.  But it’s the only safety you’ve got and you get to make the choice of how much is enough, how far you’re willing to go to secure your own safety and the safety of those you care about.

Freedom vs. Safety?  Freedom is safety, the only safety you can trust, where the authority, and the responsibility, is in your own hands.

One thought on “Freedom or Safety: A Blast from the Past”

  1. One problem is that many people want to eat their cake, and then have it. They want the freedom to do stupid stuff, but then want someone to come in and save them from their own mistakes (and pay for what needs to be done to fix things).

    Very few people grok the fact that the laws & rules you pass to restrict that guy over there also restricts your rights. A lot of people in the past few weeks have been very unpleasantly surprised to find out that all those gun rules and restrictions they voted for and supported and posted defenses for on FB and argued about (shocku!) also apply to them! That they (despite being good people) can’t just walk into a California or New York gunshop and buy a gun- even if they need it RIGHT NOW!! They can’t believe that those laws and restrictions they thought were solely for evil gang members or evil NRA members are the same laws and restriction that apply to them- despite being good people.

    I suspect that “The Rest of the Story” of the person in the photo above involves them standing in a two hour line at the local merchant of death, then finding out that they have to fill out several dozens of forms, get special permits, and wait for two weeks to a month before they can pick up something to defend themselves with.


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