Over at the National Review’s Corner blog, Charles C. W. Cooke has this smart observation to make about the extent governments claim they will go to eliminate risk:
No free society worth its salt operates anywhere close to the principle that a law that could save “one life” is automatically worth passing, or that “actions” that result in “only saving one life” are axiomatically “worth taking.” Holding all school classes in lead-lined, bulletproof underground panic rooms would probably save “one life” over the next few years, but that doesn’t mean we should do it; banning Ibuprofen would probably save “one life” in the next few years, but that doesn’t mean we should do it; limiting access to trousers and bananas and televisions and wardrobes and swimming pools would almost definitely save “one life” over the course of a given year, but, again, that doesn’t mean that we should do it. And so on and so forth. The question, as ever, is whether the cost is worth it. The “one life” canard is an attempt to bypass that and appeal to emotion. Depressingly enough, it’s relatively effective.
The “one life” idea is especially silly in the context of the gun debate because it can be used both ways equally productively. Almost every day, an American saves his own life — or someone else’s life — with a privately held firearm. Last week, for example, a mother in Georgia used a .38 revolver to protect herself and her children from an intruder. Taking Joe Biden’s line — which he appears to have inherited from the president — one could quite easily construct a case to issue all mothers with revolvers whether they like it or not. Wait, you object to having a gun in the house? You think that arming all of America’s mothers sounds expensive? You’re not sure that’s the best idea anyway. Civil liberties? Yes, yes, but if it saves just one life . . .
Indeed. And as he goes on to say, the UK government in the past – and still – engages in the same sort of behaviour. (Often, this is done in the name of protecting children, playing to the understandable desire of adults to protect youngsters.) Then there is that old friend, The Law of Unintended Consequences. A risk-averse society creates new risks, which of course fall on different shoulders from those presumably being protected by the measures, although often people who are supposed to be protected by bans on X or Y can suffer in other ways.
We cannot create a no-risk society, and even if we could, it would be horrifying. Indeed, the only place where humans exist without risk is in a grave.