The Lowest Common Denominator

Column by Alex Schroeder.

Exclusive to STR

The unspeakable tragedy that recently befell Newtown, CT has reignited the national discourse on gun control. Victims’ families grieve, parents across the country remain in a state of shock, and confused schoolchildren are bombarded with heightened security protocols. Emotions are running high across the country, and will continue to do so. The opportunistic political class has seized on these circumstances to attempt to push through more stringent gun control legislation. After all, our friend Rahm Emanuel (who is incidentally one of those pushing for stricter gun laws) advised the statists to “never let a crisis go to waste.”

Let’s leave aside the highly questionable rectitude of allowing emotion to guide public policy. That is nothing new; it is an age-old tactic that state officials have used across time and space to garner support. I am concerned with something different here, something that pervades political dynamics here and abroad. The calls for bans on assault weapons and other firearms are merely a recent and highly conspicuous manifestation of a deeper phenomenon: the attempt to reduce society to its lowest common denominator.

What I mean by this is that politicians, by means of various statutes, regulations, executive orders, etc., attempt to punish everybody for the stupidity and perniciousness of the few. If religious fundamentalists carry out a terrorist attack that kills thousands, all Americans, to prevent such incidents in the future, are compelled to subsequently accept heinous violations of privacy at the hands of the TSA. Some people are apparently too incompetent to select their own barber, which is why the benevolent state mandates that haircutters obtain licenses to practice their trade. We all suffer higher prices, reduced supply, and lower quality as a result. Others are too short-sighted to adequately save for their retirement, so we are all forced to take part in a government plan with a return inferior to what we could get in the market. I could produce examples ad nauseam, but the underlying pattern governing policy trends should be clear: all of society must pay for the character flaws of the few, or the lowest common denominator.

So it is with gun control measures. Because one mentally ill individual decided to engage in a horrendous act, we all have to sacrifice our moral right to defend ourselves and our property. The political class essentially exacerbates the atrocity of the crime by using it as a justification to deny what few liberties we still have. Society descends every deeper into the realm of omnipotent statism, left completely at the mercy of its basest elements. Couching this trend in such terms is tantamount to illuminating its utter absurdity.

No intellectual justification for an individual’s right to a firearm would be complete without noting a few other arguments. We can point to the hypocrisy of the statist elites, who will always be protected with cutting-edge weaponry. We can highlight the possibility that the shooter in Newtown would have been neutralized very quickly if a teacher had possessed a gun. We can emphasize that gun legislation is generally not going to impact those who are willing to murder others, but will rather simply keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens wishing to defend themselves. One may wish to stress the supposed paradox of Switzerland, an exceedingly peaceful country whose populace is heavily armed. Perhaps most importantly, an armed citizenry constitutes a final defense against tyrannical government.

These are all valid arguments, ones that should indeed be stressed by those who wish to fight against the coming onslaught against the Second Amendment. There are myriad ways in which the prohibition of firearms constitutes an assault on our liberty. But most egregious of all is the fact that gun control legislation represents a process whereby we are all held hostage to evil. By implementing increasingly draconian state controls in the aftermath of a criminal act, the moral are punished twice. First, they suffer the crime. Then they are confronted with a government violation of our freedom, which is made all the more preposterous by the fact that it is motivated by the political elites’ utopian vision of society characterized by total security (read absolute despotism).

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Alex Schroeder's picture
Columns on STR: 11




Persona non grata's picture

A common-denominator in the majority of mass shootings in the US is the states designation of certain areas to be "gun-free" zones.  These "gun-free" zones serve zero-purpose in keeping those therein "safe" from gun-toting murderous lunatics rather they make folks working/shopping/learning more vulnerable to harm than folks outside the states "gun-free" bubbles.  One of the many ways to mitigate this type of senseless violence in the future would be to remove the "crosshairs" the state has painted and abandon the faulty logic of the "gun-free" zone delusion. 

As Alex notes in his essay,  "We can highlight the possibility that the shooter in Newtown would have been neutralized very quickly if a teacher had possessed a gun. We can emphasize that gun legislation is generally not going to impact those who are willing to murder others, but will rather simply keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens wishing to defend themselves."

Humans found in their natural state (liberty) have no higher function than self-preservation. The state in it's infinite-wisdom has attempted to legislate natural-law insomuch as eliminating the ability of human-beings to defend themselves from harm.

What next will congress repeal gravity?

Paul's picture

"Because one mentally ill individual decided to engage in a horrendous act, we all have to sacrifice our moral right to defend ourselves and our property."

No. No no NO!

The question of surrender is an individual one. It doesn't matter how many others think you should, or how well a case the state has made for it. You still have free will.

Either you have what it takes to be a free man, or you don't.

jd-in-georgia's picture

I totally agree with you Paul. However, I do not think that Alex was saying that we have to go along with whatever the state dictates. I took it more as a general observation of the populace perspective. If all people traveling by air had to be subjected to mandatory cavity searches before boarding a plane, most would finally draw the line. However, there are still a few who would subject themselves to this egregious violation of personal privacy so long as they could still fly. Most of us with common sense are outraged that the state has its grubby little hands in our lives too much as it is.

As for your last statement, it is all too true. I also have a queasy feeling that those of us living in the USA are about to find out who has what it takes and who does not.

mjackso6's picture

The Hell of it is, what kind of coertion is held over the heads of the folks who ~have~ no intention of giving up their rights? Personally, I subscribe to the old, oft repeated slogan on my grandfather's belt buckle; "You'll get my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hand."

That's well and good, and I'm personally unafraid of anything that might be done to ~me~. The problem is that I, and my guns, share the house with several children, and any scuffle-to-the-death is highly likely to catch them as collateral damage. Not to mention, where would they be, besides in some government 're-education camp' if I were to go down blazing?

This one really bothers me. I know that there's no way I'll just roll over and give up my weapons if ordered to do so, and as a 20 year Army Military Police veteran, I'm pretty sure that I can give a good accounting of myself, but what then? Even if I managed to hold off an entire SWAT team single-handedly, what's the next step?

I hate to descend this far into paranoia, but with the 'rhetoric' that's been brewing up over the last four days, this is beginning to look like a more and more viable scenario. My motivations are far from 'altruistic', but the very idea of where something like that would leave my kids scares the Hell out of me. Sorry for ranting, by the way.

mhstahl's picture


If you feel compelled to make a stand against overwhelming force over a few hunks of metal, that is your business-but it seems a waste to me.

First of all, they can't disarm you-you were a cop, so you should know that even in prison there are weapons...probably more than are on a sidewalk. They might be able to snag the few technologically advanced trinkets that you have that they know about. That's about it, and the government guys have better ones anyway...

Secondly, why is it such a line in the sand? Really?

Where armies have successfully been resisted by partisans and militias-like France, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Ireland, etc., the most useful weapons were not privately held firearms. That is really worth thinking about before you commit suicide like you are discussing.

Your motivations are your own business, there is no need to justify them even if they are-shudder-"altruistic."



mjackso6's picture


Your reply makes a great deal of sense. I suppose my apprehension is just a knee-jerk reaction, and I realize that there's little real likelihood of things going that far.

You're right about the weapons, of course; just another knee-jerk reaction. I hate the idea of anyone forcibly taking away something that they have no right to, and I suppose that armaments are a kind of security blanket.

The real worry is not being able to protect the children in the case of who-knows-what, and as you point out, I have enough experience to 'weaponize' just about anything if needs be, so the worry is really mostly irrational.

I guess the real fear is of sudden, uncontrolable change, of having my little world disrupted by an outside force that I have no control over. And I see that that's irrational as well; in today's 'society', all we have really is an illusion of control as long as we keep our heads down and 'fly under ther radar' enough to avoid unwanted attention. This whole thing is nothing but a spike in the normal 'background activity'.

I only mentioned the whole 'altruism thing' because that seems to be a recurring meme in the Libertarian world. I understand that not everyone (probably most of the folks here) aren't strict 'Ayn Rand-ites', but I thought that it bore mentioning.

I have my own theory that there ~is~ no such thing as true altruism, only voluntary assistance based on personal motivations which serve as the 'selfish' reward and cooerced assistence based on force or the threat of force if one doesn't render said assistence, which makes it just another act of social slavery, but that's for a whole article I plan on writing sometime.

Thank you for your reply, and thank you for your words of reason, which have helped me to reacquire my own.

Mike Jackson