Jonah Goldberg: Good sense and gun control

2013-01-23T04:15:00Z Jonah Goldberg: Good sense and gun controlJONAH GOLDBERG | National Review Online madison.com
January 23, 2013 4:15 am  • 

In the early 1980s, transit officials in Washington couldn't figure out why traffic on the Beltway would grind to a near halt every day around the exact same time. The usual explanations didn't fit.

Then it was discovered that a single driver was to blame. Every day on his drive to work, this commuter would plant himself in the left lane and set his cruise control to 55 mph, the posted speed limit, forcing those behind him to merge right, and you can imagine the effects.

To his credit, this driver came forward in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post. The man's name was John O. Nestor. He explained that the left lane was great — less traffic, less merging — why not ride it into work every day? Besides, he wrote, "Why should I inconvenience myself for someone who wants to speed?"

He achieved immortality by being transformed into a Dickensian-sounding verb: "Nestoring," defined as an absolute adherence to the rules, regardless of the larger consequences.

Fittingly, Nestor was a regulator at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Virtually no drug was worth the risk, according to Nestor. The FDA transferred him out of the cardio-renal-pulmonary unit to some bureaucratic backwater because he "had approved no new chemical entities ... from 1968 to 1972, an experience that contrasted with the experience of every other medical [sic] modern nation and with the experience of other divisions of the FDA."

Of course, that made him a hero to activists like Ralph Nader, whose organization praised Nestor's "unassailable record of protecting the public from harmful drugs." (The Naderites helped Nestor in his lawsuit to get reinstated.)

And it's true: If you approve zero drugs, it's 100 percent guaranteed you will approve no harmful drugs. You'll also approve no helpful drugs. As we learn more about the human genome, it's more clear that what is a lifesaver for many might be a death sentence for a few. Most people can eat peanuts. A relative few of us cannot. The Nestor approach would be to ban peanuts for everyone to prevent anyone from being harmed.

That argument works better for peanuts than it does for new medicines. After all, peanuts rarely save anyone's life. Drugs, on the other hand, have the potential to work miracles for some patients. Nestor's tale has gained wide currency as an allegory about the shortcomings of the FDA and the drug industry. But I keep thinking about it in the context of the gun debate in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

For instance, it doesn't take a genius to realize James Holmes, the man charged in the shooting rampage at the Aurora, Colo., premiere of "The Dark Night Rises," was at least somewhat inspired by the Batman movies. The evil freak dyed his hair orange and called himself "The Joker."

But hundreds of millions of people saw one of the Batman movies. Let's imagine those movies are 100 percent to blame for the Aurora shooting. Even under that ridiculous assumption, something like 99.999999999 percent of consumers of those products were unharmed or unaffected. Similarly, the number of law-abiding gun owners dwarfs the number of mass murderers. And guns actually stop crimes.

The same problem exists on the mental health side of the equation. We all know people who fit the description of one of these shooters before they actually killed anyone. Loners, socially awkward. How many of those people turn into mass murderers? Not many. How do you propose weeding out the potential mass killers without mistreating the innocent?

President Obama has said that anything is worth it "if even one life can be saved." Citing Newtown in his inaugural address Monday, he said our journey as a nation will not be complete until we know our children are "always safe from harm."

First, common sense tells us that's ridiculously impossible. Moreover, a Nestorite standard would not only do terrible violence to the First, Second and Fifth amendments, it would indisputably hold the freedom, health and happiness of the many hostage to the potentially bad actions of the few.


Jonah Goldberg writes for National Review Online; JonahsColumn@aol.com.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Dode-is-a-choad
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    Dode-is-a-choad - January 24, 2013 7:00 pm
    Wonderful!
  2. Tricolor Dog
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    Tricolor Dog - January 24, 2013 9:22 am
    Wow - replied twice to the one comment I posted without addressing any of the relevant issues that I pointed out....except the one trolling comment I made about Goldberg's radical right wing mom. Except that point is true, as well. Apples don't fall too far from the tree, and as I pointed out, the right's answer to gun violence is absolutely nothing. Glad we agree on something.
  3. cedillon
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    cedillon - January 23, 2013 8:01 pm
    Decriminalizing all guns is easy to do too so do you think we should do that?

    What popular models are you talking about? If most "shooters" prefer black colored guns should we ban black guns? Maybe require them to all be pink?

    Before I support a move to further limit a Constitutional right (that I don't take advantage of btw) I need to see facts justifying doing so. If you assert an assault "style" is part of the problem I want to hear the number of shootings that won't occur and lives that won't be lost because the shooters can't get their preferred "style" of weapon.
  4. Dode
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    Dode - January 23, 2013 4:25 pm
    "We all know people who fit the description of one of these shooters before they actually killed anyone." I think the editorial board at CT fits the description. Divorced from reality, looking for someone else to blame for their problems all the time, depending on government for the solution and never getting help. Yup, don't let anyone at CT get their hands on any kind of weapon.
  5. scorp
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    scorp - January 23, 2013 3:14 pm
    We should campaign to make Madison a "gun free zone".Then instead of attracting only the welfare crowd from Chicago , we can graduate to 5 gun killings a day by importing the crazies from Chicago, which is already effectively a gun free zone. Then we can be really safe because the bad guys could NOT have guns in Madison because WE SAY SO! Thus, we stop those people with concealed permits from having all those gunfights in the streets of Madison.Such example would surely stop the gang violence which permeates Chicago. NO GUN ZONES WORK ,ask the kids in NH.
  6. ABDGRFN
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    ABDGRFN - January 23, 2013 1:29 pm
    Dog.........you brought the guys mom into the conversation. Really!!!
    Perhaps he is right, and you just don't agree with him. Maybe it's time you move out of your moms basement.

    Lee Sherman once said Madison is 35 square miles surrounded by reality
  7. ABDGRFN
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    ABDGRFN - January 23, 2013 11:53 am
    Dog..................you bring the guys mom into the conversation??? Why, because he is right and you don't agree with him.
    Really??

    Time for you to come up out of your moms basement.
  8. Tricolor Dog
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    Tricolor Dog - January 23, 2013 9:57 am
    So, Jonah Goldberg and his right wing solution to gun violence is absolutely nothing. What's new about that? The bottom line is that background checks for all gun sales isn't that hard to implement and it should be done. Redefining the term "assault" rifle is easy to do and include the popular models of these shooters. If you want to own one, get an ATF permit and jump through those hoops. Every illegal gun started as a legal gun and apparently wound up in the wrong hands, for whatever reasons. We know what some of those reasons are - time to act on those reasons, not pooh pooh a partial solution to a multifaceted problem. BTW Goldberg - your Mom is quite the gem.
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