Is Freedom Killing Us?

Most Americans, from what I’ve heard and seen, like to think of themselves as a peaceful people, who only fight when provoked and to defend their freedoms. Certainly, over the
decades, pundits and politicians have pondered “the price of freedom.”

Now, most people are at least vaguely aware of the price of freedom. One measure of that is the number of dead and wounded in wars. U.S. military casualties in wars from 1775 through 2016 totaled roughly 1.35 million dead and 1.5 million wounded, but those don’t include civilian casualties, which were significant in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. There are some conflicting figures concerning the Civil War, but I’ve used the latest, and higher, consensus estimate of 750,000 Union and Confederate deaths.

But there’s an additional price we pay, and that’s the price we pay for our relatively unlimited right to bear arms. From just 1968 through 2015, 1.52 million Americans have died through the use of firearms, largely from suicide and homicide. This figure has been fact-checked repeatedly, and it still holds up. Other historical sources show that in 1910, roughly 10,000 Americans died from the use of firearms, and by 1920, the annual deaths were close to 20,000. Add in the firearms deaths from 1900 through 1968, roughly 1.5 million, and the total of non-military deaths by firearms over little more than a century is double the number of military casualties in the entire history of the U.S.

But we shouldn’t single out firearms. For most of the past fifty years, annual deaths from motor vehicles have run higher than those from firearms, but in recent years have declined to close to those deaths from firearms. More and more safety features have been required for automobiles and more training for young Americans, but fatalities continue at a high rate.

In 2016, more than 63,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, a number higher than either automotive-caused or firearm-caused deaths. Then add to that, according to a 2013 Columbia University study, almost a fifth (18%) of all deaths among white and black adults aged 40-85 was caused by obesity. The CDC has calculated that another one fifth of all deaths were caused by smoking. And the vast majority of such deaths resulted from conscious choices by those who died, from freedom, if you will.

Then there’s the question of how many deaths were inflicted on others by another’s freedom. Smokers inflict lung damage and eventual death not only on themselves, but on others through second-hand smoke. Careless drivers kill others. Opiod misuse and addiction often involves others. Thirty-five percent of all firearm deaths are homicides. How far should as society let “freedom” go?

In addition, from these numbers, one could reasonably assume that a significant percentage, possibly half, of all Americans really aren’t looking out for their own best interests. But then, what else is new?


In this day of video-everything, the old-time art and skill of puppetry is still hanging on, if by a thread, so to speak [and yes, it’s a terrible pun]. In fact, one well-known F&SF author – Mary Robinette Kowal – is also a successful professional puppeteer. And there still is something fascinating about what a skilled puppeteer can do.

Unfortunately, there are puppeteers in our lives that go totally unrecognized. Most people recognize slanted news as a form of puppetry, and, of course, “slanted” refers to the news we’d rather not hear, rather than inaccurate news. Most people don’t make a distinction between accurate slanted news and inaccurate slanted news, which is a shame. I’d define “accurate” slanted news as news where every fact is correct, but where facts are missing or where accurate facts are presented in a misleading context. Obviously, inaccurate slanted news is where both facts and context are wrong and deliberately mislead. Equally obvious is the fact that even accurate facts in a correct context can be perceived as misleading and totally slanted and inaccurate news can be perceived as accurate and truthful by those who wish to believe it.

Advertising can also be another form of puppetry, with a myriad of techniques used to influence and guide potential buyers. One could also call campaign donations as at least a form of attempted puppetry.

But there’s another form of puppetry that grows daily in its influence and sophistication, and that’s the online/internet algorithm. Everyone knows about algorithms, at least in the general sense, and how they pop up suggesting that you buy “X” because you purchased something similar. Because I periodically check on how my books are selling at certain outline retailers I get lots of emails and ads suggesting I buy more of my own books. This sort of puppetry is obvious, and often annoying, but among the algorithms that really bother me are the ones that govern search engines, because those algorithms are “optimized” for someone other than me, and for the most part, from what I can discern, for “popular” tastes and requests. That means it’s a lot more work for me to find what I want. In fact, it seems harder and harder every year.

But the deeper problem is that with more and more people using search engines and with the breadth of the internet and its comparative shallowness [unless you have access to an academic/university library database], what generally comes up in response to any inquiry on a given word and subject is pretty much the same. It’s popular, but is it accurate? How can you effectively cross-check it? Well… if you want to read every entry, you might get a better idea, or you might get a hundred versions of the same thing.

In a way, the convenience of the internet and algorithms can make an unsuspecting user a puppet, while conveying a sense of being informed that’s not always warranted. Despite the myth of the “wisdom of the crowd,” that was based on estimating numbers of physical objects that were physically present, not on evaluating the complexities of a high-tech society. Marketing and search algorithms have little to do with factual accuracy, only with popularity, and that’s something always to remember, because as human beings, we can be so easily seduced by popularity.


The Libertarians are all about freedom, no matter what their freedom does to others. The currently-elected Republicans, for the most part, only want it for the privileged, or anyone who wants to carry as many firearms as they want, no matter what they claim in their rhetoric and campaign pitches. Too many of the currently-elected Democrats praise freedom, but tend to fight the facts that some level of arms-bearing is enshrined in the Constitution and that freedom always has downsides, including the fact that such freedom can allow killings that can’t always be prevented.

And all of them are ignoring a basic requirement of a civilized society. The greater the population density and the higher the technology the more freedoms must be restricted – in some fashion – if you don’t want an extremely high body count, and I’m not just talking about weapons.

A few families in the middle of a few thousand acres at a medieval level of technology can do mostly what they want on their land and to that land without too much adverse impact on other individuals. Even terrible land management and violence to the immediate others around them will redound to their own detriment more than to others. This doesn’t hold true with families on suburban half-acre plots, or urban apartment dwellers. There have to be restrictions on water use, sanitation, traffic and transportation, and that’s just the beginning. Without regulations on food safety, tens of thousands died or were poisoned. Without worker safety regulations, even more died.

Now… most sane individuals will agree that there has be rhyme and reason to such restrictions, a compelling reason for imposing them and a prioritization that establishes which are more important and an agreement on what should not be regulated. We may disagree, often violently, on what should be regulated and how, and what those priorities are, and how they impact our freedoms, but sane individuals do not dispute the idea that some level of societal regulation is necessary. They do dispute what that level should be.

The Founding Fathers also considered the matter, and they had more than a few thoughts about freedom, or liberty, but the first time such thoughts were laid out in a general consensus form was in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which states that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

A good percentage of Americans can cite those words, but not that many note the priority of those “Rights.” First comes the right to life, because without life, there’s no possibility of the other rights. Second comes liberty, because without it, people don’t have the ability to pursue happiness.

That states, pretty directly, that the right to life trumps absolute liberty, or freedom, if you will. Or put more bluntly, some restrictions on your right to “bear arms” are allowable to preserve my right to life. This is also a point supported by a number of Supreme Court rulings. And, yes, the second amendment also establishes the point that, without a Constitutional amendment, some level of “bearing arms” must be retained. All of that means that the NRA’s insistence that the “liberals” can take all their guns is unmitigated bullshit, and that there is a precedent and Constitutional basis for restricting who can carry what arms where, and that the Founding Fathers valued the right to life over totally unrestricted “liberties.”

Unfortunately, the only group that seems to understand that point at the moment are high school students, and that’s a sad commentary on the political structure… and the voters who elected those politicians.

Gun-Toting Teachers?

The idea that teachers armed with guns will in any way stop or mitigate the deaths of students being killed by unhappy other students or other individuals is not only one of the dumbest ideas I’ve heard, but it shows just how little the President, the NRA, or others who advocate this know about schools, students, teaching, and teachers.

First off, most teachers teach. That means that when an attack occurs, they’re in the classroom. Every shooter enters the school and is then in a hallway, and in the vast majority of the mass shootings, this is where majority of students are shot. Second, if the teacher’s classroom door is locked, he or she is immediately faced with the choice of risking his students’ lives by unlocking the door. If the teacher does open or unlock the door, even if the teacher has a weapon, he or she will be faced with chaos – screaming students most likely fleeing, with no initial indication who is shooting or from where. The teacher just becomes another target, and even if that doesn’t happen, in trying to return fire in that chaos, there’s a high probability that the teacher will wound or kill innocent students. As a side note, I might add that the SWAT team in the Florida shooting labeled and restrained a totally innocent student, and they’re supposed to be trained in that sort of matter.

Then there’s the question of expertise in weapons. These days most teachers I know, and I know a great number of them, are already overwhelmed by the continual increase in duties and responsibilities, many of them administrative and bureaucratic accountability requirements. So in addition to making teachers responsible not only for teaching, but for inspiring students, many of whom have little desire to exert themselves in learning, and for providing endless reams of paper and data to administrators and politicians, those who want to arm teachers want to add the duty of bodyguard. And effective bodyguards need lots of training and practice. So who’s supposed to pay for that? The teachers? In the United States, we already ask too much of teachers for too little pay. [There was a story in the Salt Lake Tribune in just the last day or so stating that beginning, degreed, full-time teachers in many districts actually qualify for food stamps.]

Some may also claim that having armed teachers will serve as a deterrent. Having armed police who are trained in weapons doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent in society. And in a school setting, having a few armed teachers won’t matter, either, especially to a disturbed individual, most of whom, it appears, don’t seem to even care if they get killed so long as they can kill others to make a point or even some unknown score.

Like it or not, more arms, whether carried by police or teachers, won’t do a damned thing to stop or even reduce school shootings and student deaths. Giving better psychological healthcare and screening and keeping semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of would-be shooters would do far more.

But then, that would restrict everyone’s freedom to carry weapons designed for multiple murders.

“They’re Coming After Us.”

Apparently, someone in Kentucky doesn’t like the National Rifle Association. That someone spray-painted a blank billboard with the words, “Kill the NRA.” So far the painter hasn’t been discovered.

What I find most interesting about this is the reaction of the NRA, which immediately sent out “warning message” on Facebook to all of its members, saying, “This is a wakeup call. They’re coming after us.”

Despite the brutal school shooting in Florida, which took seventeen lives, as well as those in Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, and elsewhere, the vast majority of “opponents” of the NRA don’t want to take away all guns. They want to take away oversized magazines, auto-loaders, and other devices such as bump stocks that turn semi-automatic rifles into functioning automatic rifles. They want to close the loopholes on unrecorded gun sales, and they want effective background checks and ways to keep weapons out of the hands of mentally unstable individuals. The vast majority of Americans don’t want to repeal the second amendment, but they do want sensible regulations on guns.

We regulate other equipment and substances that pose a danger if misused, from pesticides and drugs to trucks and cars, including regulations on who can use such substances or devices, and Supreme Court rulings that have held that Congress and the states may in fact prohibit certain weapons.

It’s more than obvious that the NRA clearly doesn’t want any regulations at all over firearms held by civilians and has consistently misstated both the law and the Constitution in its efforts to block such regulations. In that sense, one could also say that by its endorsement of a fully weaponized citizenry, the NRA has always come after anyone who opposes its policies.

So… maybe it is time to truly come after the NRA, since, despite all its rhetoric, it’s an organization whose efforts only result in more and more preventable deaths