I think most of us agree that our government should play a major role in protecting us. Certainly, the government has a job to do to protect us from others. The military is established and maintained primarily to protect us from foreign invaders. The police and other law enforcement agencies are there to protect citizens from each other. Regulatory bodies exist to protect people from unsafe foods, drugs and business practices. However, it is fair to ask how much government resources should be devoted to protecting us from ourselves. How much freedom is too much?
I’m not much into motorsport. 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 the sport.
The race dates back to 1911 and at least one person has died competing in the race every year except 1982. Five people have died competing this year, including a father and son. Two people were so badly maimed that runner Olivier Lavorel was wrongly announced as dead when in fact he survived in critical condition and four days later they realized their mistake by announcing that Frenchman Cesar Chanal died instead.
After reading articles about this race, this competition that courts death, I wonder why it still continues. Certainly, many sports are dangerous. NFL players die much earlier than the rest of us, despite being generally wealthier and in better physical shape. Alpine skiers, boxers, surfers and bull riders all risk death when they compete. However, I have never heard of a competition that almost guarantees fatalities like this race does, and that makes me wonder, when should we protect ourselves from ourselves?
Isle of Man TT athletes are well aware of the risks associated with racing, and they choose to compete anyway. My natural inclination, given almost all government interference, is to tell them to stay away from my lawn. I like to think that, as long as they don’t step on my toes, citizens should be free to dance as they please, even at the edge of a cliff.
I have friends who would view this question at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. For some, protecting ourselves from ourselves is just an ordinary extension of the natural role of government, and it improves society as a whole to have a safer population. There are costs to society when individuals put themselves at risk. Hospitals must treat the injured or try to save the dying. Children can 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 legislation that reduced the training time needed for teachers to carry guns in “gun-free” school zones from 700 hours to about 24 hours. . On the same day, a previously passed law went into effect that allows all citizens of Ohio to carry concealed firearms without a license, without any firearms training and without background checks.
These laws expand personal freedom and, at least on their face, do not directly affect the rights of others. Only the use of firearms will directly affect others, but choosing to carry a lethal weapon without training is unquestionably a risky choice. Our government has now given us the opportunity to assume this risk.
Maybe these European riders should be protected from themselves. Without such protection, they choose to run and die every year. In Ohio, we can now choose to conceal firearms on us and in our automobiles without government interference. Whether we should have been protected from ourselves remains to be seen.
John Judkins is an attorney from Greenfield.
John Judkins Contributing Columnist