It’s a scene that’s grown all too familiar: the grieving family members, the stolid cops at press conferences, the red-and-blue flashers cutting across a dark night. This time, the mass shooting was the most lethal in American history, carried out by a monster influenced by radical Islam against the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.
His massacre will forever be remembered as “Orlando,” just as the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School is denoted by “Newtown,” and the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon are simply “9/11.” These events are so seared into our national memory that recalling them requires nothing more than a location or a date.
So Orlando it is, and also a ransom, we’re now told, for the America that we currently enjoy. Several commentators have emerged over the past week wondering if the carnage at Pulse is “too high a price to pay for…” well, fill in the blank: the Second Amendment, our Mideast refugee program, our tolerance of Islam, our open society as we know it. “Until we as a nation find the political will to reject a mass shooter per day as the price of freedom, I’m just going to pray,” sneered comedian Samantha Bee.
I know it’s bad form for writers to warn about slippery slopes, but consider the veritable Kilimanjaro that this logic sends us sledding down. Many college students are laboring under the delusion that hateful speech is equivalent to physical violence. When will we find the political will to reject South Park and Milo Yiannopoulos as the price of freedom?
What about the toll exacted by warrants when they slow our criminal and terrorism investigations? Or the threat to public safety posed by those who are acquitted during trials but are transparently guilty? So out with the Fourth and Seventh Amendments, too. What did Ben Franklin really know about security and liberty anyways? “Love you, Madison…but you really f—ked us with that one,” Bee said of the second entry to the Bill of Rights.
Gruesome mass shootings are difficult for an interconnected nation to endure. They might come amidst some of the lowest violent crime rates in American history, but they’re a matter of emotion, not cold statistics. Incidents like Orlando grind at us, leave us raw, and make us yearn for facile and morally righteous solutions that will prevent them in the future. “Stop thinking and do something to improve our society!” Bee wailed in a perfect encapsulation of the mentality that prevails after a mass shooting: less thought and more action, with the latter uninformed by the former.
Plenty of other commentators have already addressed why none of the post-Orlando proposals would have stopped Omar Mateen from going about his grisly business. Solutions like more background checks and more law enforcement are simply too small to deter a determined killer in a country of 300 million people and 300 million guns. Those who are demanding that this Never Happen Again should at least be honest and admit that anything short of mass gun confiscation, or blocking radical Islamic websites, or censorship of the press to prevent postmortem glorifications of mass killers, isn’t going to meet their daunting standard.
In other words, the price is our fundamental freedoms and they’re willing to pay it.
There is no society in which the figurative (and also the literal) taxman doesn’t take his cut. Those of us who stick up for liberalism and openness do so because we believe the old Churchillian chestnut was correct, that this really is the worst form of government except for all the others. Thanks in part to our Constitution, America has a gun culture that’s presently yielding far too many mass shootings. That’s a horrible defect, which we endure only because the aforementioned alternatives are far worse.
“I don’t want comfort!” protests the Savage in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.” “In fact,” replies the technocratic Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.” “All right then,” says the Savage defiantly. “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
Liberty—to love who you like, dance at a club, buy a gun—sometimes leaves us unhappy, shaken, grieving. But that’s a price we must pay, is it not?