I Have A Solution
By: Bill Schoettler
January 25, 2023
Since a “solution requires a “problem”, let me begin by defining/ describing the “problem” so we’re all on the same page as we proceed.
Let’s begin with a broadly defined problem, unwanted deaths.
Now that terminology implies that there may be wanted deaths so some sort of further explanation is needed. An example of a wanted death would be that of people sentenced to death by a jury or judge. It may be said, at least by some, that the people have spoken for such deaths.
Arguably, such deaths as those decreed by judicial fiat can be considered “wanted” because of the procedure followed.
Then we might say that deaths that come about through war/combat are “wanted”. This is a bit murky category because while wartime deaths are inevitable, some categories of such deaths are considered unacceptable. Such issues are frequently left to the victor to decide any justification or lack thereof…when it comes to an ultimate judgment.
It is certainly easy to accept the idea of a soldier who is threatened, shooting those who threaten him. Shooting an enemy combatant is probably a wanted death, at least it is wanted by the shooter who himself is the object of an enemy shooter. In general terms, we do not condemn the soldier for such killings.
But combat deaths as being wanted becomes a murky area when considering what is euphemistically called collateral damage. That would be deaths caused not intentionally but as the result of an intentional effort to destroy a “legitimate” military target. We don’t want to debate here the issue of collateral casualties or whether such deaths are wanted or unwanted.
Then there is the classic issue of self-defense and defense of family/loved ones/friends. The mother causing death to one trying to harm her child(ren) is a classic example of a wanted death. The individual faced with an attacker who uses lethal force to defend himself can be said to have caused a wanted death.
We can look to medicine for other examples and perhaps many can find personal experiences which are equally acceptable in describing wanted deaths.
But let’s jump into the broad category of all other deaths and simply call them unwanted deaths. These would be accidental deaths and intentional deaths caused without legally acceptable justification.
Okay, now we have the problem, let’s look at some solutions.
Starting with the idea of wanted deaths, we have first the issue of societal philosophy that allows the death penalty to be imposed. The obvious issue here is whether society’s wishes prevail, or some sort of philosophical objection should carry more weight. That is a social problem for which I do not offer a solution.
Next, we have the issues of combat deaths and collateral damage. Here we have a wealth of philosophical questions over the nature of mankind, issues of the psychological makeup of nations and their leaders, and a multitude of issues that have been discussed for as long as we have had people to discuss them. We will not go further into this arena.
What about deaths caused by self-defense? There are arguments raised by some that the sanctity of life is so important a concept that even the notion of self-defense is not adequate justification for killing another. This is an area of ample discussion we will put aside.
Finally, we come to deaths caused by accident (no matter how one may define it) and intent (of another). Here is an arena where prevention is worth exploring and for which some solutions will be offered.
Let us begin with the annual statistic of deaths caused by traffic accidents. In this country, that number runs around 30,000 plus per year. The solution? Simply ban all traffic. This answer is ridiculously simple. By eliminating all motor vehicles, nobody would be killed by a motor vehicle.
Now you may argue that motor vehicles are so necessary to the survival of all citizens that by eliminating them more deaths would result nationwide than the number of deaths caused by the continued use of motor vehicles.
Such an approach might be called “risk analysis”. In other words, it becomes necessary to consider the cost (in this case, the “cost” in terms of human life) versus the benefits (how many lives would be saved by the alternative). By permitting motor vehicles to continue functioning, more people would continue to live than might be killed in motor vehicle accidents.
Once we understand this cost-benefit analysis we can probably agree to the continued use of motor vehicles.
What about accidental deaths involved in various kinds of recreational activities, such as sky diving, hang gliding, skiing, mountain climbing, motorcycle riding, automobile racing, football, and a host of other activities that have all reported participant deaths? Well, simply banning all these activities will certainly prevent any involved deaths. Yes, there are enormous sums of money involved in some of these athletic activities but then that involves another kind of risk analysis, and there is the issue of potential personal reward (endorphins plus emotional satisfaction) that would seem to draw willing participants.
Not to be forgotten is the very real fact that participation in these activities is mostly voluntary. Those who do participate can be said to appreciate the various risks involved and willingly accept them. While we can’t say that death resulting to participants is a “wanted” matter, it is a philosophical question for each participant to decide.
What about those deaths caused intentionally to those who neither voluntarily participate and do not willingly accept such risks? The “victim” of an attack who frequently has no reason to believe another bears him harm, the innocent bystander whose only “mistake” is being in the wrong place at the wrong time…are these deaths “preventable”?
Yes, they are. Again we can use the simple approach…eliminate whatever mechanisms might be involved in a causal connection with the deaths.
We considered, and eliminated the idea of abolishing motor vehicle travel, air travel, train travel, and ship travel. I suppose we should include travel of any sort here (horse, bicycle, tight-rope walking, etc.).
What about deaths caused by firearms? Simply eliminate all firearms?
Whoops. Where are we going here? This is a sacred area and is certainly one of high emotional considerations. Eliminate all firearms? Well, certainly if you get rid of all guns, nobody will ever be killed by a gun. Works for automobiles, airplanes, and so forth.
There are some problems here. Perhaps we should start with the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These documents are enshrined in legal protections that are considered sacrosanct. That is, the laws of this land, at all levels (Federal, State, County, City) and the courts of this land (Federal, State, County, City) very specifically allow any adult honest citizen to possess a firearm, and to use it (in both recreational use and self-defense) without civil or criminal penalties. This idea is enshrined in the very foundation of this country and has been demonstrated to be not only a valid concept but a vital one, used over and over again for the protection of the country and its citizens.
Then there is the problem of the willingness of the general population to have their firearms“taken”. We’ve all heard or read the comment “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers”. This is a silly statement because if the potential “taker” has more firepower than the potential “giver”, the taker will pry it from his cold, dead fingers. Next, consider that if the government were to pass laws requiring the relinquishment of ALL personally-owned firearms in the hands of ALL citizens, regardless of personal inclinations to resist, the holder of an “illegal gun” would not be able to use it, ever, anywhere, except perhaps just once.
Now let us consider the concept of “risk analysis” when applied to the social question of benefits to the public versus risk to the public over whether we permit the continued ownership of firearms.
We have to consider such things as the voluntary participation of gun owners in sporting activities such as competitive target shooting, hunting, pride of ownership, and exhibition. We should recognize the volume of annual gun sales (millions per year) demonstrating the willingness of a majority of the population to own, possess, and use firearms.
We also need to address the statistical reality that the percentage of firearms used in so-called “mass shootings” and individual shootings represents the “use” of perhaps 0.0001% of all guns in the hands of private citizens. From a practical standpoint, punishing 99.9999% of gun owners for the misuse by such a small fraction of miscreants is not only absurd, but it is also legally unsupportable. And this without even examining the true social benefits provided by and to the owners of guns.
What are the social benefits of gun ownership? Depends on whom you ask and how you go about establishing the information. The Centers for Disease Control has done studies examining the number of times the ownership and/or use of a firearm has protected an individual or individuals. Their findings have demonstrated the actual number of times per year that the use of a personal firearm has protected against a potential “threat” substantially exceeds the number of times “innocent” people are killed by the wrongful use of a firearm. Thus we have a similar argument on the subject of risk analysis for keeping personal firearms as we have for automobiles and other forms of travel, as well as recreational activities.
Hunting license fees, sales taxes on the sale of guns and ammunition, and related sporting activities provide a significant source of income to governments at all levels. On any given weekend, regardless of weather conditions, it is possible to find literally millions of individuals enjoying shooting sports of all kinds. Target shooting, skeet and trap shooting, bird and game hunting, and just plinking…all are happening everywhere. Just as people go for rides in their personal vehicles, go swimming (do you know how many people, especially children, die each year in swimming pools?), hiking, flying, skiing, and so forth.
What is it that “causes” accidents, intentional crimes, and any form of unwanted deaths? It is not the instrumentality, it is the user. How then can we change the user? That is the rub.