You can’t regulate crazy

Adam Bates Policy Analyst, Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice
Font Size:

As our perpetually jerked-knee news machine continues to rhetorically lynch everyone from tea partiers to Trekkies for the horrible shooting in a Colorado movie theater last night, maybe it’s time to ask ourselves whether there are some problems for which there is simply no tangible solution. What if there are some people who, to quote a famous and soon-to-be-demonized movie franchise, “just want to watch the world burn”?

Over the next several weeks, thousands of hours of air time and innumerable articles will be devoted to placing the blame for this attack at the feet of this or that organization/ideology. Lost in that parade of indictments, however, will be many important questions, chief among them whether there’s anyone (beyond the shooter) to blame in the first place. Why must we assume, without any debate at all, that this wasn’t simply the act of a deranged person willing to throw his life away to extinguish the lives of others? Why is the proposition that we can’t police every action every moment of every day so alarming to so many?

Why can’t we accept that millions of people watch violent movies and aren’t violent, that millions play “Grand Theft Auto” and don’t kill police officers, that millions own guns and don’t murder, that millions attend political rallies and don’t blow anything up, that millions exist without having politically tinged morality crammed down their throats and still lead moral lives? Why is this “99% of Nazis wore socks, ergo ban socks” breed of “logic” loudest in America precisely when it’s most dangerous?

I would love nothing more than to believe that this is simply something humans do. I’d like to believe that this is not another chapter out of the American authoritarian handbook on how to take power from the people and put it in the hands of the government. Unfortunately, though, I’m reminded that only 11 months ago Norway, faced with an even bigger body count in a similar attack, chose to respond much differently. Anders Breivik, armed with a rifle and a bomb, killed 77 people and injured 319 more. To this day, there have been no major legal changes in Norway. Those with guns got to keep them, those with movies got to watch them, and those with video games got to play them. And, against the prognostications of the alarmists, Norway endured.

I sympathize with those who say that now is not the time for libertarian soapboxing, that we should have the decency to allow those affected to grieve before the hyenas and vultures begin demagoguing. Unfortunately, the nature of our media and political system does not allow the luxury of such decency. Before the smoke had cleared from the theater, people from across the political spectrum were queuing up to legitimize their opinions with the blood of the dead. With the marshaled forces of authoritarianism drawing bullseyes on movies, video games, political protesters, comic books, gun rights, the “lack of Judeo-Christian values,” and every other liberty under the sun, the cost of silence is too much to bear.

I don’t know how to answer the problems posed by the James Holmeses and Anders Breiviks of the world (maybe there is no answer), but I do know that we can’t keep them from burning the world by regulating it into a less appealing target.

Adam Bates received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Miami (FL) in 2007, and a J.D. and M.A. in Middle Eastern & North African Studies from the University of Michigan in 2011.