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Freedom's not just another word for being able to buy a gun

Freedom's not just another word for being able to buy a gun
REUTERS/John Sommers II
The Second Amendment, regardless of how you interpret it, is a fact of life.

It has become little more than a sad dead end in the U.S. debate about gun violence to show how other countries regulate firearms, and to question whether America should follow suit.

Should we look to Australia, which tightened laws after a gunman killed 35 people? It hasn’t had a mass killing in the 22 years since. Or is a better example Switzerland, with its history of relying for defense on a well-armed militia?

But it is another dead end — seemingly in some parallel universe — to follow National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre as he fulminates about “European-style socialists” plotting to take away Americans’ gun rights, and then other rights, as well.

“Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms, so they can eradicate all individual freedoms,” he declared in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee following the killing of 17 students at a Florida high school.

Neither approach to America’s gun problem has led anywhere. That doesn’t mean they’re equally valid – just that neither solves the political problem that put us in this fix. But there are ways of looking at the issue that might at least clear away a bit of smoke.

To start, how do some other countries regulate guns?

After that mass killing by a 28-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic rifle, Australia quickly banned some semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and imposed stricter licensing and registration, according to a report by It also launched a mandatory buyback program for the newly banned weapons.

Six years later, it restricted the caliber, barrel length and capacity of sport-shooting handguns. While homicides have fallen, and homicides with guns have fallen even more steeply, there appears to be no consensus regarding how much of that is due to stricter gun laws.

Next to the United States, Switzerland has the highest gun-ownership rate of any developed country. There is a strong tradition of hunting and sport shooting – plus that history of depending on a militia for defense (does that sound like the starting point for the Second Amendment?).

But according to Erin Zimmerman, a former police officer in the United States who now lives in Switzerland, automatic weapons are banned for civilians; there are restrictions on sale and possession of ammunition; and guns and ammunition must be stored separately. Gun death rates are low.

How about the Brits? Like Australia, the U.K. reacted strongly to a mass killing in 1996. A man armed with four legal handguns and 700 rounds of ammunition killed 16 children and a teacher in a Scottish school. The government banned large-caliber handguns, a move that was extended several years later to include 22-caliber handguns. Peter Squires, a University of Brighton professor, says officials were surprised by a subsequent increase in handgun crimes — until they realized that the market had been flooded with imitation and other non-functioning guns. Gun crimes were being committed with guns that didn’t actually work. The country still battles to shut down gun smugglers, but gun deaths are very low.

These are only capsule descriptions, but what’s clear is that each country, for whatever reason, heavily regulate guns.

If you follow LaPierre’s logic, they also should be less free than the United States. After all, LaPierre draws a direct line from gun ownership to other personal freedoms. Take away freedom to own a gun, and the others follow. You might argue that other countries’ experience is not relevant in the U.S., but then why go out of your way to make bogeymen out of European socialists?

There is another problem with that line of thinking. Overall, according to a couple of studies, each of those countries is actually more free than the United States. Question that? Check out this assessment from Freedom House. Or maybe you’re more inclined to believe the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, co-founded by Charles Koch.

Cato and a pair of partners publishes a yearly Human Freedom Index, which scores each country for both personal and economic freedom. It defines freedom as “the absence of coercive constraint,” the 2017 report says. “Freedom thus implies that individuals have the right to lead their lives as they wish as long as they respect the equal rights of others.”

Who has the most freedom? The Swiss, it turns out. Australians are fifth. Brits are tied for ninth with the Dutch. Americans rank 17th. Lest you think that including economic freedom skews the results, they hold true with some slight variations if you focus only on personal freedom.

Yemen — thought to have the second-highest rate of gun ownership in the world after the United States – ranks 156th, fourth from the bottom. So no, Mr. LaPierre, there is no real correlation between my ability to buy a firearm and my overall personal freedom. Freedom to buy a gun means pretty much just that. Nothing more.

One last thing, about those horrid “European-style socialists.” Cato ranks Norway, Denmark – even Sweden – ahead of the United States in overall freedom.

The national debate over guns is difficult enough. The experience of other countries is only partly relevant. The Second Amendment, regardless of how you interpret it, is a fact of life. The U.S. will need to find its own way. But you have to believe that no one — including the NRA — wants to see more children die.

If that’s true, please spare us your cheap demagoguery.

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Comments (35)


Freedom does not flow out of the barrel of a gun. This is why the authors of our Constitution spent so much time writing it. They created a government that didn't rely on force for it's legitimacy, and it's the most durable government in the world. If our "freedom" had relied on the force of a heavily armed population instead of the rule of law, separate but equal branches of government, independent judiciaries, and a variety of other nuts and bolts of liberal democracy; our nation would likely have disintegrated long ago. The guys who assembled our nation found a much much much better way of establishing, promoting, and preserving freedom than simply having an armed population, and it's worked quite well.

The idea that an American who owns a gun is more "free" than one who does not is an obvious absurdity beyond comment. Likewise the idea that all Americans enjoy their freedoms by virtue of gun owners instead of the rule of law, a free press, and countless courageous men and women who've risked life and limb throughout our history is equally absurd.

Never in the history of the United States have gun owners stepped up and defended our freedoms. Jim Crow wasn't ended, nor were voting rights, and free speech established and defended by armed mobs. Those who marched with MLK and Susan B. Anthony, didn't march with guns slung over their shoulders or around their waists. And the people standing against fascist in Charleston weren't the ones carrying the guns.

On the other hand, Americans with the guns kill three times as many Americans every year as did the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001. Most normal people would say that killing people is the exact opposite of keeping them free.

Gun advocates have created a weird Star Trekky alternate universe where Spock has a beard and those with guns keep the rest of us "free". In fact, the real world is quite the opposite; instead of gun owners protecting everyone else's rights, everyone else has spent decades defending gun owners while they kill us with the very guns we permit them to have.

Jim Crow

Not only did personal fire arms ownership not end Jim Crow, one might argue that it was enforced by personal fire arms ownership. (I'd italicize "enforced", but for some reason Minn Post doesn't offer that as an option.)

Freedom is being able to live to see tomorrow

Gun owners constantly talk about their constitutional right to own a gun. Can't argue with that, but can argue about the kinds of guns they can own.
And...can argue that...we also have a right to not fear someone carrying a loaded weapon on them....or to have access to guns that are war weapons...meant to kill people...lots of people.

Please remember...

You may not be able to argue about gun rights granted by the US Constitution, but that doesn't mean that no one can argue about that. In fact, it's quite debatable.

Now the trick will be....

getting committed gun-ownership supporters to read the information in your article! Thanks, Mark!

Sadly all this talk about

assault rifles will not stop mentality ill teenagers from killing classmates. If not a assault rifle, the disturbed person will get a shotgun, max load it with 8 shells with another 2 boxes of buckshot load on his person and shoot away. Sadly this scenario will cause many deaths also. It is not the gun which is killing these children, it is the person pulling the trigger. The anti-gun folks seem to think the gun is the issue.
There were 3 school shootings from 1940 thru 1986 and guns were easier to get back then. Why didn’t teenagers kill one another back then? There is a startling lack of understanding that life is to be valued and cherished. That is a societal issue not a gun issue.
Passing a law that bans assault rifles will make certain folks feel better but not solve teenagers killing teenagers.


The availability of assault weapons beginning the mid 1960s is directly related to the increase of mass shooting ans school shootings throughout the recent decades. The most obvious feature of these shootings is the assault weapons, and most obvious difference between the US and every other country is availability and ownership of these weapons. The most obvious problem is in fact the guns.

And I remind everyone that the primary feature of conservative social engineering over the last several decades was the promise that more guns and fewer gun restrictions were supposed to decrease gun violence and make us all safer and more free. If there IS some kind of cultural component to this, it's a cultural component put into play by conservatives and gun rights advocates.

Mental illness and teen age people are a ubiquitous feature of human populations all over the planet. These school massacres and other mass shooting are a unique feature of American life. The difference is the guns, not mental illness or teen agers.

What's sad is this tired non-argument.

I guess stop signs won't stop people from running them, speed limits won't stop people from breaking them, etc. The real "societal issue" is why some people value weapons over the lives of others.

Indeed, it is a non-argument

As long as human beings exist, they will have societies, and as long as we have societies we can have social sciences. You can argue that France has a better culture, society, or maybe just better social scientist than the US because they have no school massacres, but most intelligent people would recognize that as a intellectually bereft argument. Everyone has societies, the difference is that OUR society has assault weapons.

So yeah, people all over the world run stop signs, you should to Panama sometime. The idea that children in America must die routinely in mass shootings until we can create a society that's 100% law abiding is beyond ridiculous absurdity.

Freedom and responsibility

great article Mark!

"It has become little more

"It has become little more than a sad dead end in the U.S. debate about gun violence to show how other countries regulate firearms, and to question whether America should follow suit."

But we're gonna do it some more, anyway. Very well, let's talk about Australia some more.

Can you imagine what might happen in America if our newspapers printed this? Talk about heating up the cold civil war we are engaged in!,-nra-video-criticises-a...

Australia didn't have a bill of rights. Their right to self protection was a gift from the government; like a drivers license. And they decided to take the gift back.

Our Constitutional rights are not gifts. The government does not have the power to decide which we may enjoy and which are subject to removal.

Also, given that Australia "mass shootings" were rare to begin with, it's disingenuous to claim banning weapons cured the problem. New Zealand did not ban weapons, but has exactly the same record of "no mass shootings" that Australia has. How can this be??

Well, thankfully some research has been done on the question. Gun abolitionists are not going to like the results....

It's not clear

what research has actually been done, since only the Abstract of the article that you cite is available on their Web site. The authors' affiliations are not given (that fact is noted on the journal web site) -- they are Australians whose only publications question the advantages of limited access to guns in Australia.
I'm still waiting for some real research that supports your points.

There is a PDF. Read the

There is a PDF. Read the PDF.

It's a peer reviewed paper; real research.

Told you you wouldn't like it, but there it is, none the less.

Yes, it's a PDF, but it's also garbage

This study is plagued by a huge and obvious flaw. Basically the study assumes that the law in and of itself is the only possible difference between Australia and New Zealand and limit's itself to that comparison. There is absolutely no data for instance on the actual incidence of gun ownership between the two countries. The study seems to make a bizarre assumption that New Zealanders MUST own a lot of the weapon types that are banned in Australia simply because they are not banned in New Zealand. They make no effort whatsoever to in investigate let alone confirm that assumption.

The most likely scenario here is that New Zealanders simply don't purchase and own the weapons that are banned in Australia despite the fact that they aren't banned in New Zealand.

The issue isn't the presence of absence of bans, the issues is the presence or absence of assault weapons in civilian hands. You can't assume that New Zealanders will buy and own these weapons simply because they can.


The current population of New Zealand is 4,735,308.

230,000 gun owners in possession of 1 million guns. Including those scary black rifles!

Those crazy Kiwis are armed to the teeth. You probably don't like those facts any more than the report, but there they are.

The problem with debate gamers...

In debate games you can throw out "facts" that don't actually mean anything and still score points. It's a mistake to assume that such facts somehow "bother" serious intellects outside of debate games. Intellectual integrity isn't about searching for "likable" facts, it about finding reliable information that applies to the subject at hand.

Even with it's assault rifle ban Australia still has more guns per 100 people than New Zealand. The Aussies come in 20th in terms of per capita gun ownership while the Kiwi's come in 22nd. And there's no estimate regarding how many assault rifles are owned in NZ. Although NZ doesn't ban assault rifles as do the Aussies, they still have far more restrictive laws than the US. You can't buy a gun or ammo in NZ without a license for instance.

I'm glad that NZ hasn't had any massacres by assault rifle in a long time, and I sincerely hope it stays that way forever. The thing is this nonsense about Australia's assault rifle ban simply can't explain NZ's good fortune. Icelanders have even more guns than Kiwi's and they've NEVER had a mass shooting of any kind. What does THAT fact tell us? Nothing really..


Personally I liked the article, however using Australia as an example is a non-starter. They likely went much further than what will ever be acceptable in our culture at this time.

Personally I like the Canadian system...

The question is how would we get all the rapid fire big clip guns under tighter control, or removed from our society?

There really is no need for them in our modern society.


"The question is how would we get all the rapid fire big clip guns under tighter control, or removed from our society?"

Ban their sales and set up a government buy-back for those who want to get rid of assault weapons they have and can't sell to anyone else.


My latest goal statement after 100's of comment exchanges is:

1. Ensure that trained, responsible people can keep and carry their hunting and self defense weapons.

2. Ensure these weapons are removed from the homes of scary angry, insane and generally irresponsible people.

3. Minimize the death, injury and/or trauma to the innocent citizens of the USA when the system fails and a scary angry, insane and generally irresponsible person does not have their weapons confiscated.

I am not sure we need a massive buy back program... But we do need:
- authorities to know who has which weapons.
(at least the bump fireable semi-automatic rifles and hand guns)

- unregistered weapons seized and destroyed

- the owner punished for not registering them or failing to report their theft

- authorities to have the authority to confiscate them immediately when the owner is identified as a "high risk owner".

Gun abolitionists?

Can we at least finally come to come agreement that the issue is not "guns versus no guns" but the adoption of reasonable regulations to reduce the incidence of gun violence?

As Mark says at the beginning of this article, gun ownership and the Second Amendment are a fact oflife in this country. What the NRA and th" right or privilege, above all others that cannot be curtails by any legislative limit or regulation. e rest of the gun lobby wants us all to believe that the Second Amendment is a "super-preferred that cannot be limited or restricted by any type of legislation. That'e been the case not because of any Constitutional interpretation by he courts but by the sanction of the NRA and gun lobby. That lobby has managed to enact legislation that prevents any public funding for research on the public health implications of gun ownership. (1996 Dickey Amendment). Obviously, the NRA and the gun lobby are afraid of what actual peer-reviewed research would demonstrate.

Until the Dickey Amendment is repealed and we have a real peer-reviewed research about the relationship between gun ownership and the daily carnage wrought by firearms and their widespread ownership, it's pointless to try to prove one's point by citing isolated articles by "researchers" particularly if they have not been peer-reviewed by the wider relevant scientific community and after the researchers real biases have been vetted.


Jon, we ARE in agreement. Depending on how you crunch the numbers anywhere from 68% to 98% of us already agree that gun control laws are Constitutional, necessary, and appropriate. The problem is we have a political Party in power that doesn't respect the democratic process, and doesn't recognize a constituency beyond the gun lobby. It all started when we drained the swamp.

Uhhh...WE are the government.

WE most certainly can decide which rights we enjoy and which are subject to removal and we have the amendment process to prove it. I'm sorry, but God didn't grant you your ability to own whichever firearm you want. Even Scalia didn't believe that.

Mob majority

So a majority can take away rights by simply voting on it? You actually believe that humans have no basic rights?

So we could decide to vote to outlaw Islam and that is OK? Or we could vote to allow the government to jail you if you speak your mind?

If you think WE have the right to deprive people of the right to self protection, WE could start taking away a lot of other rights.

See , this is where gun rights arguments get REALLY weird

First, we must have guns in order to overthrow a tyrannical government of the future... those who would overthrow would NOT be a mob... they would be patriots. But then when we talk about voting... suddenly we have to worry about mobs who would take our guns away at the ballot box. So it's more important to have guns than it is to have votes... because votes are a threat to our way of life. Hence all the Republican attempts to restrict votes (presumably).

Look, if the majority is so dangerous because of it's mob potential and it's capacity to oppress... why would you want that majority to be heavily armed? Isn't a heavily armed mob more dangerous than an unarmed mob? And if it isn't, what's the advantage of being heavily armed?

Again, this whole idea that widespread gun ownership somehow protects us from tyranny is simply incoherent. Not once in over 230 years of American history has the armed population turned back tyranny in America. To the extent that tyranny has been checked in the United States it's been unarmed lawyers, journalists, women, civil rights workers, and voters who have turned it stood in the way of tyranny. The "armed" population just keeps killing fellow citizens... hardly a defense of our "freedom".

These arguments aren't just specious, they are obviously, transparently, and almost comically specious.

Not about guns


Read closer. My main point was that there are some rights that you are born with. The government doesn't "give" you the right to speak your mind or follow your conscious as you feel fit. You get those when you are born.

I was trying to point out that "WE" cannot (or maybe I should say should not) vote to take away inalienable rights.

I happen to believe that the right to protect yourself is one of those inalienable rights.

Natural rights...

Birthright claims are little more than an expression of privilege. Women, slaves, and indigenous people were NOT born with the same “inalienable” rights as white male property owners when Jefferson penned his declaration… and he knew it. By the time the US Constitution was ratified it did indeed confer rights upon Americans that citizens of England did not possess.

To the extent people actually enjoy freedom and liberty in any given country it is indeed a function of government recognition. In democracies our rights are conferred via a democratic process that reflects a consensus. Women didn’t get the vote because we suddenly realized that they had been born, they got the vote because a consensus emerged that they should have the right to vote. No birthright claim is legitimate in-and-of itself, “inalienable” rights aren’t self-granted and enforceable.

The claim that governments don’t grant rights and freedoms reflects an incoherent understanding of liberal democracy as a form of government, and indeed the whole notion of “freedom” itself. By that logic one could argue that slaves are “free” despite they’re bondage… come to think of it, there were those who made that argument at the time.

As for self defense we can always discuss what if any guns are appropriate for that purpose, but that conversation has to be a rational conversation, not simply a birthright claim. You can’t simply claim you need to have an AR-15 for self defense, you explain what you’re defending yourself against, and why you think you need that gun.

Who's talking about taking away the right to self-protection?

So, revolvers and shotguns are suddenly going to make us "less safe?" A magazine that is limited to 7-10 rounds is going to make my Glock less lethal?

Check my math

Help me understand the logic here. A survey says other countries are more free than the US, so it is OK to create a bunch of new laws and regulations to take guns from people?

How do more gun laws improve our 17th place in the freedom survey?

It's not actually a "math" question but...

The countries that are more "free" have tighter gun restrictions than we do. This tells us that more guns in America are not delivering more "freedoms" for Americans because if they did, we would #1 instead of #17.

Taxaphobic "conservatives" should admit it-

when we grant tax-exempt status to for-profit industry advertisers and promoters, we favor a certain industry at the expense of others, and at the expense of taxpayers who are not inclined to support those activities. Taxpayers pay more so the NRA can pay nothing toward governance of all the issues that arise from guns.

"Please note that the National Rifle Association and its affiliates include both charitable 501(c)(3) and non-charitable 501(c)(4) giving opportunities. Gifts to 501(c)(3) entities are tax-deductible to the extend allowable by law. Gifts to 501(c)(4) entities are not deductible as charitable contributions."

I find it disgusting favoritism toward anti-social political bullies.

The NRA is running up a huge tab for all the money it costs to deal with their "products" social effects.

One more observation

I have frequently suggested that one problem with the conservative/Republican mindset is that it doesn't really believe in democracy on a very basic level. You can actually see a hostility of sorts towards the idea of democracy when you look at some of these pro gun arguments. On a basic level what gun supporters are arguing is that they're afraid to give up their guns because they either don't trust democratic institutions, or they already consider themselves to be victims of oppression by virtue of citizenship in a liberal democracy. This irrational fear that the majority will take away all the guns is actually a fear of democracy itself. There's no other way to characterize people who thinks that votes are more dangerous than guns.

And what's the resolution anyways? The minority with the guns enforces their will over the majority by threat of violence? If I don't like your vote I'll shoot you? This is a mechanism of freedom?

Obviously we could expect that putting people with this mentality in charge of policy and government would not end well, and it hasn't. This is why the biggest challenges to our democratic institutions have always emerged during Republican administrations since Eisenhower.

Very good commentary

Well done discussion Paul and others, but, we always end up in the same place, "You can lead a man to knowledge but you can't make them think" Despite the NRA's narrative we do not come out of the womb packing a 9mm. Love thy brother as thy self is a long way from hold your ground! Curious what does a civilized society look like in NRA land? Does packing 24-7-365 indicate a civilized or barbaric society?

Alls I know is...

In the movies the sheriff always cleans up the town by making everyone turn their guns in... even in the movies made in the 40s and 50s. Is it just Hollywood or is it common sense?


First, I own multiple firearms, both hand guns and long guns. I know how to use them, and I’m a fair shot. I don’t own an AR-15, or an AK-47, but I’ve fired both types at a range. If you like to shoot – and that’s a very important “if” – they’re fun to shoot.

At a range.

Lost in much of the debate over firearms ownership and use, including this current, extended commentary, is the purpose for which guns were invented, and for which they’re used.

They were invented to kill.

Sometimes to maim, but mostly to kill. Using them for “sport” is still using them to kill, but in a context that our society, and many societies, regard as “sporting.” No one asks deer, ducks, and other game animals how they feel about this sport. There are quite logical reasons why a semi-auto shoulder arm is preferable to a single-shot one in combat. Those reasons have led to the development of fully automatic weapons, which kill and maim more, and do it more quickly, also in a combat context.

Whether the creature “receiving” the bullet or pellets is human or some other animal doesn’t negate the most elemental fact that killing or crippling is why the gun was invented in the first place. Reading any of the many gun magazines will simply reinforce that observation. They’re not generally marketed by their manufacturers for their attractiveness, though a certain testosterone-drenched macho fetish is often invoked. They’re marketed in terms of “self-defense” and effectiveness. Effectiveness at what? Why, at killing and maiming, of course. It’s the **threat** of that killing and maiming that fuels much of the advertising, whether the appeal is to protect yourself from that “bad guy with a gun” by having one yourself or to intimidate someone else you perceive as dangerous by using your possession of a gun as a threat in itself.

Several minor art forms can be practiced in the production of a firearm, from intricate wood carving to elaborate metal engraving, to the use of exotic metals and finishes. I’ve made guns from kits and parts, so I’ve practiced, at the novice level, some of those things, including the wood carving, metal engraving, finishing, etc.

None of those art forms negate the reason why the gun exists in the first place.

The 2nd Amendment is among the most poorly-written, perhaps intentionally-vague, parts of the American Constitution. The notion propogated by some gun enthusiasts that armed citizens need the right to own a gun in order to defend themselves against tyranny reflects a level of paranoia that itself suggests a need for professional help and a level of delusion that needs examination. When I lived in Colorado, a decade ago, there was an organization that called itself the “Tyranny Response Team,” made up of people who liked to call themselves “conservatives,” who apparently believed, in all sincerity, that 30 or 40 middle-aged men using small arms could mount a credible defense of liberty against a United States Army determined to oppress them.

Think about the assumptions underlying that notion.

This is already too long, so I’ll just say that Paul Udstrand’s critique of Ole Johnson’s (and others’) assertions seems to me the best one: “These arguments aren’t just specious, they are obviously, transparently, and almost comically specious.”


The tipping point is upon us.