It is often said by people of all political persuasions, and certainly by my fellow conservatives, that the primary duty of the federal government is to keep us safe.
The problem is, that's not true. The founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and especially the Federalist Papers, make it clear that the primary duty of the federal government is the preservation of liberty, not safety. The Founders had very clear ideas about the trade-offs between safety and liberty, and they willingly gave up their own security in order to take a desperate shot at more political liberty.
The Founders were primarily concerned about preventing tyranny, and they correctly understood that a free people could keep themselves safe, but a safe people might not be able to keep themselves free. You could live safely in a police state or a military dictatorship, or remain subjects of King George, but you wouldn't be free.
That's why Thomas Jefferson said, "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it." Americans in the tradition of the Founders don't trade liberty for safety.
But liberty and safety are not mutually exclusive. The Founders believed that a free people could, through self-organization, create the means and the institutions necessary to maintain public safety. Liberty logically precedes safety, but it doesn't preclude it.
Confronted with the horror of repeated mass shootings, proposed solutions have rushed toward restricting Second Amendment rights. But an American solution for reducing mass shootings should not focus on erosions of liberty.
On the other hand, when defenders of Second Amendment rights offer no practical solutions, they leave open the implication that liberty requires us to tolerate the occasional (or not-so-occasional) mass shooting. Not only is that a losing argument with the public in the long run, it's also not true. Americans are entitled to both liberty and safety.
And let's not get distracted by discussions about root causes. That might strike you as peculiar, but root causes are notoriously difficult to address, and government is particularly ill-equipped to do so. So what can we organize to do now to increase safety without eroding liberty?
Travel almost anywhere else in the world and you will commonly encounter armed security in public places. Somehow, uniquely in America, we see this as a bad thing. That needs to change.
In the church my family attends, we adapted after a threat. There is now armed security scattered throughout the congregation, in the sanctuary, in the lobby, and even on the platform. Air transportation obviously adapted after 9/11, with added airport security and air marshals on flights.
It's time to adapt to the era of mass shootings. Every school, every church, every large retailer and every government facility should have armed, obvious guards at all entrances. We don't need to force teachers to take up arms, we simply need ever-present, trained, armed security in schools. This is now the cost of protecting our children and of protecting the public.
It would take some getting used to, but seeing an armed guard at the entrance to Wal-Mart would not be a sign of a totalitarian police state. It would be an example of free people self-organizing to create new institutions to protect public safety.
A larger armed security profession would also create career opportunities for young professionals answering the call to protect their fellow citizens as well as for retired military and law enforcement.
And for those who might balk at the expense of additional security, try getting into an office building on K Street in Washington without running a gauntlet of security. We've already decided that our elites and lobbyists' lives are worth protecting. Why haven't we made the same choice for students in schools and shoppers in department stores?
Once we have secured our public and private spaces against the deranged, we can start trying to address root causes. Every civilization has developed means and institutions for reining in the impulses of boys and disciplining them into responsible men, but we've lost ours. The traditional family, especially fathers, used to play a critical role, as did the military. And there are clear gaps in our mental health systems to be addressed. If we can build a consensus to do so, we can re-create and restore the institutions we've lost.
But in the meantime, let's stop the mayhem while retaining our Second Amendment liberties.