When You Are Not Right To Feel Safe

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posted on May 6, 2015
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Something very disturbing happened in Highland Park, Ill., last week.

We’re not talking about the alarming rise in homicides in the Chicago area, which are up 140 percent over this time last year despite continued draconian gun restrictions. No, something far more … insidious transpired.

First, some background. Highland Park, a wealthy suburb north of Chicago, is one of the urban-area municipalities that rushed to pass gun restrictions in the wake of new state concealed-carry law. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McDonald v. Chicago hammered Chicago’s handgun ban and forced major rollbacks of gun restrictions in the last state that still refused to recognize its citizens’ right to keep and bear arms.If it has no other effect, Highland Park’s ordinance may increase the public’s sense of safety … If a ban on semi-automatic guns and large-capacity magazines reduces the perceived risk from a mass shooting, and makes the public feel safer as a result, that’s a substantial benefit.

Highland Park’s ban reads more like Monty Python than municipal code. It uses tortured language in an attempt to describe combinations of peripherals, such as pistol grips and muzzle brakes, to outlaw AR-15-type rifles—the most popular rifle in America. In contrast, FBI statistics show that rifles—of any type—are used in less than 2 percent of violent crime (the FBI doesn’t break out “assault rifles” because there is no functional difference between them and other semi-automatics, and the FBI presumably doesn’t want to sound like John Cleese).

Despite all this, on April 27 the Seventh Circuit Court upheld Highland Park’s ban, explaining patiently that the federal government shouldn’t bully local bureaucrats into allowing U.S. citizens access to rights guaranteed by the Constitution. According to the court, the principles of “federalism” and “home rule” should allow local government to decide who can own what flavor of identically functioning firearms … in the name of “diversity.”

But what was really startling is this nugget of judicial wisdom from the Seventh:

“If it has no other effect, Highland Park’s ordinance may increase the public’s sense of safety … If a ban on semi-automatic guns and large-capacity magazines reduces the perceived risk from a mass shooting, and makes the public feel safer as a result, that’s a substantial benefit.” (Emphasis ours.)

Stop right there! The Seventh District Court says the state is justified in banning firearms for no other reason than some people might feel safer. Anyone else feel like we went to a Monty Python skit and a George Orwell lecture broke out?

Confronted with logic, the gun-control crowd (actually, just the “control crowd” in disguise) excels at dancing out of the corner, countering facts with emotion. How often have you carefully laid out the case for firearm freedoms only to hear, “Yeah, but I just feel we’d all be safer if the guns were gone?” Now, the court is essentially codifying that response, saying that facts, data, logic, rights, precedent, fairness—truly, any criteria—don’t matter. Instead, any action by the state is justified if only it makes people feel safer. Will they ban gatherings of teens on downtown corners because they make us anxious? If so, what combinations of piercings, dreadlocks, skateboards and tattoos will be proscribed?

How far will local authorities go in pursuit of a perception of safety? Will they ban gatherings of teens on downtown corners because they might make us anxious? If so, what combinations of piercings, dreadlocks, skateboards and tattoos will be proscribed? Even if none of them have committed crimes, might we all just feel safer if they weren’t around?

If Highland Park city councilmen or councilwomen had to bail their law-abiding, skateboarding teens out of jail under such circumstances, would they even recognize the irony? Or would they once again dance out of the corner?

There is no right to feel safe guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and the Seventh Court is wrong to attempt to establish one. If the court succeeds and this ruling becomes a precedent, we should all feel less safe.

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