Sniper Panic

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The
apparent panic
produced by the recent sniper shootings greatly disturbs me. Isn't
it natural to feel fear at a time like this? If one examines the
facts carefully, the answer seems to be "no." The odds
that the sniper will target any particular person, among the more
than four million
in this region are so vanishingly small that we can each essentially
afford to ignore him. You're
more likely to be killed or seriously injured in an auto accident

than to fall victim to the sniper.

And
if we cannot bring ourselves to ignore him completely, there are
several simple,
costless measures
that we can take to protect ourselves. So
there's no convincing rational reason to fear the sniper any more
than we fear the people who share our daily commute. Why, then,
are people afraid? Are they simply irrational? Perhaps. But I suspect
that most of the fear stems from the sudden realization that a modern
American article of faith is simply a Big Lie.

What
is the Big Lie? It is the promise of the Nanny State: If you'll
just do your part – by subordinating yourself to the State – the State
will make everything OK. The State will provide everything, including
physical security. Americans have been swallowing the Big Lie in
droves since at least the Depression. The recent shootings demonstrate
the falsity of the Big Lie. One murderous psychopath has run circles
around the omniscient, omnipotent Nanny State for two weeks.

People
who have been raised from birth to trust in the Nanny State now
must confront the fact that it cannot deal effectively with one
brazen killer. No wonder they're frightened. For them, it’s like
discovering that their seat belts are made of paper and their airbags
were never installed, after they've put 150,000 miles on the minivan.

There
are at least two ways to respond to the discovery that the Nanny
State can't deliver the goods. One is to rationalize its failures.
Perhaps the State's noble efforts are being frustrated by all these
silly constitutional restraints on its power. This isn't eighteenth
century, after all; we can trust the State now – it's composed of
enlightened people like us. If we only had the wisdom and selflessness
to elevate the common good over our antiquated notions of individual
rights, these things couldn't happen.

The
problem is people who believe that some set of abstract "rights"
is more important than the general welfare. This response is popular
right now. No one bats an eye at random searches of thousands of
motor vehicles on our roads. Nary a peep is heard when CNN cameramen
record an innocent citizen sitting in his vehicle at a roadblock
with two police shotguns pointed at his head. Candidates for the
upcoming Maryland elections propose more gun
control
– in a state that already regulates guns more heavily
than all but a very few – even though it's almost certainly
expensive and
useless
.

Just
as it was after September 11th, many of us are apparently ready
to abandon principle if doing so might marginally improve the State's
ability to make us feel safe again. The problem with this
approach is that there is absolutely no basis in logic or fact
for believing that any state can ever deliver on the Big Lie.
In fact, those states that have tried hardest have become the most
murderous regimes in human history.

The
Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Cambodia,
Vietnam, Hitler’s Germany – all demanded subordination of self and
the surrender of individual liberty for the “common good.” If even
regimes as brutally oppressive as these were unable to bring safety
to their citizens, it should be perfectly clear that no State can
ever make everything OK.

One
of the harsh realities of life is that, ultimately, each of us can
only count on himself. There is another possible response to the
exposure of the Big Lie, though. Simply accept that the world is
a dangerous place, and you are ultimately responsible for your own
safety. Adapt
to the real world
, and stop relying on the Nanny State to solve
your problems.

For
those accustomed to the security blanket of the Nanny State, this
may sound frightening. It is a little frightening. Responsibility
is always a burden, and sometimes outright terrifying. But if you
accept responsibility for your own safety, and eschew the Big Lie,
you'll soon discover that you feel freer – and safer – than you've
felt in a very long time.

October
21, 2002

Matt
Bower (send him mail) is
a law student in Northern Virginia. He spent seven years in the
Marine Corps, and is a 1993 Naval Academy graduated.

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