How much liberty is too much?


I think most of us agree that our government should play a major role in protecting us. Certainly, government has a job to do in protecting us from others. The military is established and maintained primarily to protect us from foreign invaders. Police and other law enforcement are there to protect citizens from one another. Regulatory agencies exist to protect people from unsafe food, medicines and business practices. However, it is fair to question how much of the government’s resources should be devoted to protecting us from ourselves. How much freedom is too much?

I do not follow motorsports very much. However, I recently became aware of an annual competitive motorcycle race on a small island nestled between the UK and Ireland. The race is called the Isle of Man TT, and it is one of the deadliest races in sport.

The race dates back to 1911, and at least one person has died competing in the race every year it has been held except for 1982. Five people died competing this year including both a father and son. Two individuals were so severely maimed that racer Olivier Lavorel was incorrectly announced as deceased when, in fact, he survived in critical condition and four days later they realized their mistake announcing Frenchman Cesar Chanal as deceased instead.

Having read about this race, this competition that courts death, I have to wonder why it still goes on. Certainly, many sports are dangerous. NFL players die much earlier than the rest of us, despite generally being wealthier and more physically fit. Downhill skiers, boxers, surfers and bull riders all risk dying when they compete. However, I have never read of a competition that nearly guarantees fatalities the way this race does, and it makes me wonder, when should we protect ourselves from ourselves?

The athletes in the Isle of Man TT are well aware of the risks associated with the race, and they choose to compete anyway. My natural inclination when considering almost any government interference is to tell them to stay off my lawn. I like to think that, so long as they are not stepping on my toes, citizens should be free to dance as they will, even on the edge of a cliff.

I have friends who would consider this issue at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. To some, protecting us from ourselves is just an ordinary extension of government’s natural role, and it betters society as a whole to have a safer population. There are costs to society when individuals put themselves at risk. Hospitals must care for the injured or try to save the dying. Children may grow up without parents. As such, government seeking to mitigate these societal costs can make sense.

I also find the point salient as it applies to recent gun laws passed in Ohio. On June 13, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a law that reduced the amount of training needed for teachers to carry firearms in “gun-free” school zones from 700 hours to about 24 hours. That same day, a previously passed law went into effect which allows all citizens in Ohio to carry concealed firearms without a permit, without any firearms training and without a background check.

These laws expand personal liberty, and, at least on their face, do not directly impact the rights of others. Only the use of the firearm will directly affect others, but choosing to carry a deadly weapon without training is unquestionably a risky choice. Our government has now afforded us the opportunity to assume this risk.

Perhaps those European racers should be protected from themselves. In the absence of such protection, they choose to race and die every year. In Ohio, we can now choose to conceal firearms on our person and in our automobiles without government interference. It remains to be seen whether we should have been protected from ourselves.

John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.

John Judkins Contributing columnist Judkins Contributing columnist

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