The phrase “the price of freedom” is often used when referring to the sacrifices of soldiers in battle to defend America’s freedoms. There is another price of freedom though. We paid it most recently in a very big way in Blacksburg, Virginia, but we have paid it many times previously, as well.
Some news outlets reported the Virgnia Tech shooting as the “worst mass murder in U.S. history." It was the most deadly school shooting in U.S. history, but certainly not the most deadly mass murder, and the distinction does matter in the context I am raising it.
The Jawa Report notes the Virginia Tech rampage was not only not the worst mass murder, it was not even the second, or third or fourth worst, but followed the 9/11 attacks (2,998 deaths), the Oklahoma City bombing (168 deaths), the HappyLand arson of 1990 (87 deaths) and the Bath, Michigan school bombing of 1927 (45 deaths), all claiming more lives than the Virginia Tech shootings (32 deaths).
One thing all these horrible murders have in common is that they were possible, at least in part, due to the fact that we have an open and free society. After the shooting at the Virginia Tech campus, and after any such horrific crime, one instinctive reaction is to want to do something in response to prevent it from ever happening again. In all the cases listed above, because the sites of the crimes were public places such as schools, office buildings, and night clubs, any such measure would include some sacrifice of our freedom. That sacrifice could be relatively unnoticeable, like installing more security cameras and instituting new security response procedures, or it could be more obvious and intrusive such as installing metal detectors and changing gun laws. Some changes might actually make us safer, while others could only provide the illusion of safety and, in fact, make us less safe.
This is the balancing act that goes on in a free democracy between the want and need to be secure and the desire to live in a free and open society.
My reminder above that this most recent shooting was not the most deadly mass murder in U.S. history was provided because I wanted to make the point that even all the lessons we have learned from previous, even more deadly incidents have not been able to prevent all such future attacks. Hopefully some of the measures taken following them have done some good, but as long as we live in freedom, we will be open to the threat of violence.