A safe society needs speed limits and …

A safe society needs speed limits and …


Imagine a highly industrialized country today with broad highways but without speed limits. It has quality cars, trucks and motorcycles just as we do in the U.S. It also has coffee, chocolate and every other caffeinated edible we have to stimulate the heart rate behind the wheel. But it has no speed limit. Drivers routinely hit 135 miles per hour on the open road without any police interference. Of course, it has the expected carnage that goes with speeding, but people do not press their legislators to impose sensible restraint to make it safer for everybody. Why? Because the people there are used to this practice, even with all the fatalities and injuries it means, but more because they would largely resent Big Government meddling with a traditional freedom they enjoy and refuse to see curtailed. You probably would not want to go there, perhaps on the kind of package tours I used to run as fundraisers for the parishes I served. You would hesitate to cross a street. What kind of a vacation would that be?

Until a few years ago, Germany had no speed limits even on their famed autobahn, an excellently maintained turnpike network making for excellent travel. Germany was and is the economic power house of the European Union, highly sophisticated both in lifestyle and in engineering. German vehicles are sold here and do quite well. But then things changed. For whatever reason, Germans decided that they would have to bite the bullet and tolerate police-enforced maximums on the roads, infuriating as it was to submit to a cherished freedom being plucked from them. They must have thought we Americans were babies for our slow-motion travel and our sissy allowance of government intervention where it does not belong. It eased the pain that car casualties immediately fell, but still it hurt.

Now imagine another highly industrialized country with few limits on handgun possession. Cherished since the days when the Second Amendment was written in the late 18th century to equip the local police, called the militia, it gave people the right to have handguns. Not just muskets but handguns were necessary for public safety and wellbeing, as the conventional wisdom saw it. Besides the police, this enlightened land permitted hunters, target shooters, collectors, criminals, the ill and people in general to carry such guns, and without much government interference. Some complained about the infringement of freedom when store owners ran a background check on buyers. Some states made the comical law to allow a person one handgun purchase a month. But at gun shows, where a great percentage of guns are acquired, no such government interference was required.

Consequently, in this land of 330 million, there are over 300 million handguns. Each day there are 88 handgun deaths, so many that the media do not try to keep up with the routine daily slaughter. The media report only mass killings, after which there is the expected hand-wringing and the broken-record wailing about the decline of civility. Then, people resume the customary wild-West shoot-outs, glad that they do not have a meddling Big Brother government making them check their guns at the saloon door.

Remember the annoyance at the Secret Service security for Pope Francis in Philadelphia? When he visited Brazil, crowds two and three times ours turned out but with half the security. Brazil does not allow handgun possession. Instead the many magnetometer stations on the Ben Franklin Parkway were so overwhelmed that thousands of ticketholders who had arrived hours early never got to their seats at all. Other nations as developed as us long ago outlawed civilian handgun possession and they have far fewer casualties. Only Yemen and America know better.

In Germany the claim for freedom to drive at any speed was more important than life and safety — until, that is, the nation said enough. Speed freedom is great, but safety rightly came to outrank it. Freedom from unnecessary interference of government is highly desirable, but safety should become our weightier claim. We may have persuaded ourselves that having a handgun is a good thing for personal protection, and such a thing is not negligible. But in other countries as developed as ours, the police do the protecting. And their work is much easier since handguns are outlawed and violent crime is much less. Since these things are so, the Second Amendment must be repealed despite angry emails to editors and legislators.