There are some common-sense lessons we learn as children that we really should hold dearly. Here’s one that I recall. It was acted out time and time again as I progressed through school. Class would be going as usual, and in the corner of my eye there would be some unexpected movement from another part of the room. Inevitably, the teacher’s back would be toward the class. Out of two dozen or so students, two or three people would be acting up. They would eventually come to the attention of the teacher and would be scolded. But their antics would only end temporarily.
Once the teacher returned to writing on the chalkboard, the antics would begin anew. Again the teacher would address the students and perhaps she would even mete out some punishment. Sometimes the problematic students were removed from the room to face consequences from the school’s administration. More often than not, the problem continued and the eventual outcome was that the entire class was punished with the loss of some privilege.
This same model is very popular in government. You see, rather than confronting a problem directly and with bold action, it’s easier to make a general rule or prohibition that affects everyone.
In the classroom, the best action would be to deal with the offenders in no-nonsense terms, engage the support of administrators, and demand action from the parents of the offending children. That, however, is a difficult path requiring self-confidence, determination, clear vision, and bravery. Well do I know this from my 21 years of teaching! Parents don’t like to be called when their children are out of control. But the truth of the matter is that when they are forced to be involved, the problem is much more likely to be resolved. I know this from experience.
Now let’s turn to examples regarding government. I’ll apply this lesson to reality. In each case there is a small minority of trouble makers, or there is a small group of citizens with genuine needs that must be addressed. In the examples I provide the government response (or proposed response) is often not to fix the problem or curtail the offenders directly but to limit the rights and opportunities of everyone.
The US Census Bureau provides a real-time “clock” that monitors the population of the USA and the world. As of this posting, the US population is just a bit over 314 million. In 2009 and 2010, according to statistics gathered by The Guardian (a UK newspaper), there were approximately 9,000 homicides in the US by firearms. I realize that I’m not being very exact, but these statistics are close enough to give us a very interesting picture. If we adjust the US population back to levels of 2009 and 2010 and average it at 305 million, we can do an interesting math equation. The results? Gun deaths in the US in 2009 and 2010 represent approximately 0.0000286% of the population (way less than 1%). That means that for every 100,000 Americans there were 2.8 murders for those years.
Is that a tragedy? Yes, assuredly so. Even a single innocent death is a tragedy. But let’s learn from some perspective.
In the fall of 1995, the Northwestern School of Law published an insightful article in their peer-reviewed journal entitled “Armed Resistance to Crime: the Prevalance and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun.” The article documents a study completed in the previous year in which a convincing argument was made. It was so convincing that even one of their opponents was amazed. The survey found that about 2.5 million times in that year an American used a weapon for self-defense. Of those, it was reported by self-defenders that in 392,500 cases someone would “almost certainly” have died if a gun had not been used for defense. In 2,087,500 instances (83.5%), the perpetrator either used violence or threatened to do so. In addition, 73.4% of the time the attacker was a stranger and 79.7% of the time the attacker used a concealed handgun. The most amazing statistic is still to come: in 91.7% of these cases of self-defense, the attacker was neither killed nor wounded.
Shortly after these findings were published, two gun-control advocates (Cook and Ludwig) attempted to disprove the statistics with their own survery. They could not do so. Their findings indicated that the number of successful gun self-defense incidents was probably higher than originally reported.
Honestly, I wish we could do away with every weapon on earth. But we can’t do so until evil no longer exists. That issue, I’m afraid, is above my pay grade, even as a theologian. But until there are no violent people in the world, every person should have the right to adequate self-defense. That includes the ownership of a weapon if they choose that option. The old adage about guns is trite, but true: when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have the guns.
In the US, we’ve spent billions on the so-called “war on drugs.” For all the success we’ve had, perhaps we should just as soon be fighting a war on human nature. Our species has been finding and cultivating mind-altering substances almost from its inception. The first humans to become intoxicated probably thought themselves under control of a deity or other spiritual force. We’ve been imbibing ever since then, and not always harmlessly. The “bath salts” craze is just the latest. Government authorities can’t wait to ban another substance that is being abused, but at soon as one is banned, another synthetic drug is invented and circulated.
In my home state of Mississippi, as in others, we have a problem with illegal use of methamphetamine. Law-enforcement officials report that it’s being dangerously manufacturered in home “meth labs” all around the state. Because these “labs” can explode and kill unsuspecting neighbors, I support the vigorous search to find and dismantle them. But in 2010 the Mississippi legislature went one step further: it banned the use of a simple over-the-counter antihistamine (pseudophedrine) without a prescription.
Used by thousands daily, the drug is safe, inexpensive, and extremely effective. I know because I used it for years, since I suffer from sinus headaches. It’s found in many name brands, including my favorites like Advil Cold & Sinus. Now its use requires a visit to my doctor and a prescription that must regularly be renewed. Why? Because pseudophedrine is used by those who illegally produce meth in their home laboratories. Once again, the law-abiding citizen pays a price–in liberty and in health–for the criminal. According to the DEA, the problem continues, as always: through falsification of prescription forms, by lying to doctors, and through illegal shipments from out of the country. Go figure.
We’ve heard it so many times that it’s obnoxious: thirty million people in the US have no healthcare, we were told, so the responsible thing to do was to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “Obamacare.”
The problem with that statistic is that there are lots of facts that aren’t being mentioned. First, it includes illegal aliens–millions of them. No nation is obliged to give permanent, long-term healthcare to those who are within its borders illegally. We are obliged to give emergency medical care, of course, and this we are already doing. Law-enforcement officials are obligated to do so when sick or wounded persons are apprehended, and US hospitals are required by law to stablize everyone who comes to an emergency room no matter what their financial situation.
Second, that figure includes millions of young Americans who simply don’t want or don’t believe they need healthcare coverage. Never mind that they can purchase catastrophic health insurance for a low premium because of their youth–that’s a discussion for another day.
When we finally get down to the barest of healthcare facts, there are only 5-7 million Americans who want healthcare coverage but who are unable to get it. If the US Census Bureau is correct and there really are 314 million Americans, that means that the real healthcare problem in America only affects about 2.2% of us. Back in 2009 The Washington Times reported that 89% of us were happy with our healthcare.
Huh. Imagine that. We have a small problem that we can fix. Most of us are happy. So the federal government rushes through a Utopia-inspired healthcare law that butts into the private affairs of citizens, increasingly limits their options, is going to cost tremendously more than it was ever intended, and still doesn’t cover millions of Americans?
Does that sound responsible to you?
THE MEN AND WOMEN “BEHIND THE GOVERNMENT CURTAIN”
We Americans are sending elected representatives to Congress, supposedly, to fix real problems. Ideally, any fix they offer should fall within the scope granted to their powers by the Constitution. That gives them plenty to do without overreaching and making things up.
For their service we pay them exceedingly well. We pay 100 senators (two from each state) and 435 representatives (distributed by national census numbers) a base salary of $174,000 per year. Let’s put that into perspective. That’s $14,500 per month. That’s $3,346.15 per week–nearly $500 a day! Leaders in the House and Senate get even more: Harry Reid (D-NV) makes $193,400 while John Boehner (R-OH) gets $223,500. Let’s not even start talking about all the perks enjoyed by the political elite.
In addition, we have fifty states with legislatures, legislators, salaries, and perks. Far too often, like Congress, they react like teachers who don’t know how to confront a problem directly. So they limit the rights and opportunities of us all. Is that the best they can do?
For the money we’re spending on the federal and state levels, one might imagine that government could find those direct answers to the few problems that truly belong in the arena of governmental responsibility. Instead, we get grand-standing and theatrics. That’s much easier than finding genuine solutions. It’s popular and it makes our elected officials look as if they are actually accomplishing something useful. It looks decisive. It provides terrific soundbites to the journalists who refuse to do the hard work of digging and asking questions.
Remember the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz? The old man behind the curtain wasn’t a bad guy after all. Neither are the men and women in our state capitals and in Washington, DC. But, like the old fellow in Oz, he couldn’t help Dorothy and her pals until he came out from behind that curtain, and put aside the pretended pomp and allusions of grandeur.
In the end, the old guy behind the curtain is us. He helped others to find the answers they truly needed only when he met them directly, confronted their issues honestly and bravely, and became one of them. As an elitist he was useless to them. Face to face, respecting the limits upon them all, he began to move them toward resolution of their problems.
The elite in Washington and in our state capitals could learn a great lesson from the man behind the curtain. I hope they learn it while we citizens still have a few liberties left to us.