In the end, the show of force looked more like a show of fear – a case where American exceptionalism was merely our exceptional paranoid obsession with security. The troop buildup was a giant money suck, taking dollars away from the common good, and it was absolutely a restriction on one of the freedoms that Americans have come to cherish the most – freedom of movement. I can’t help but think the whole experience made us look like a weak nation to vistors from other lands.
Of course, while 9/11 will always be cited as the justification for this over-the-top protection of “the homeland,” the only possible real justification for checkpoints is not so much al-Qaeda as the fact that America is a nation awash in guns, the bulk of them legal. Personally, I prefer the right to move freely from place to place over the right to pack heat. Because this weekend made it clear that the United States is a place that can’t easily handle both at the same time.
A friendly police state is still a police state. This is the political issue that I have shifted most dramatically on in my lifetime. When I was a young man, I was something close to a gun-rights absolutist; but now I no longer believe that there is any Constitutional right to individual gun ownership, nor that widespread gun ownership is a good thing, socially or morally. I changed my mind about the Constitution by reading; I changed my mind about the social and moral status of gun ownership by listening to gun-rights advocates. They alienated me from their position in ways their opponents never could have.