Last Saturday, on March 24, 2018, Richland High School Students led a March for Our Lives rally at Howard Amon Park in Richland. I think they spoke for all Tri-Cities residents when they said more could be and needed to be done to improve gun safety laws in the United States. My daughters attended and noticed that one person in the crowd held up a sign that said “90% of all Americans support universal background checks”. What I’m curious about is whether that person knew that Washington state already has that law? Was the sign meant to encourage those from other states?
Politically speaking, I won’t offer much to this discussion. A lot has been said and I think the right people are working on solutions inside the box of law and politics. Yes, we want people to be safe, especially when those people are children in schools. Yes, gun laws should protect the innocent. Yes, the crazed, the insane, and the criminal minds should not have access to guns. And they certainly should not have access to automatic weapons, so called “bump stocks”, grenades, nuclear weapons, or anything of the sort. But the real question we need to address is how do we truly protect ourselves from psychotic murderers? In the age of the internet, homemade weapons are more accessible than ever, and any mad sort can figure them out and no law can stop them (think of Timothy McVeigh and his fertilizer bomb, or Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his pressure cooker bomb).
The simple, non-political answer is that we need to use common sense. Long ago, Judge Learned Hand described our duty toward other people with a common-sense approach. He said that our burden to protect another is proportionate to the cost of protecting another and the gravity, or seriousness, of the injury. For example, if a protective guard costs one dollar and will save someone from cutting off their finger when they are pushing a board through a sawmill, the guard absolutely needs to be purchased. If the guard were to cost a million dollars, then somebody would need to be hired or trained with the unique ability to push the board through without cutting their finger off. In legal terms, this is called the “calculus of negligence“. I just think of it as common sense.
I know, common sense is a misnomer. It is really not that common. But it means that we should take basic precautions to protect ourselves against known dangers. We clearly cannot protect ourselves from unknown dangers. And we shouldn’t worry about protecting ourselves against the highly unpredictable or unlikely dangers. But school shootings long ago left the realm of the unknown and unpredictable. One of the most basic precautions we can take is being aware of our surroundings. Another precaution we can take is staying physically fit so we can react quickly to the very unlikely event that a psychotic murderer crosses our path. Yes, I’m serious about that one. Imagine you live in the Serengeti and ask yourself if it’s even possible to be a Maasai warrior, live among wild animals, and survive if you are not fit. Then ask yourself why you should be any different. And lastly, we can develop a mindset that we can survive and thrive when confronted with any danger that may come our way because we have the mental strength to do so. Each of these precautions have little or no monetary cost, but each of them can and have saved lives in countless instances. Many individuals have come up with other great ideas that go beyond mental preparation and that cost very little money, including being able to barricade a classroom door (although that can go both ways) and having a bucket of rocks (good, Trevor Noah, as long as you train as much as David did before facing Goliath). Each community can and should be responding according to their need.
We cannot protect ourselves against all danger. However, we are smart enough to come up with ways to protect ourselves and our children from known and predictable danger both within the confines of the law and without. While we’re waiting for the law to change, let’s start with basic common sense.