Donald Berwick, the Pro-Gun Control Lobby, and Paternalism

Q: What do Donald Berwick and gun control advocates have in common?

A: Both distrust ordinary Americans' ability to exercise individual rationality and responsibility. Instead, they believe that the government should restrict our freedoms for our own good. And if they have their way, we'll end up paying the price.

Dr. Donald Berwick is President Obama's newly appointed head of Medicare and an unabashed supporter of socialized medicine. He has repeatedly praised the British National Health Service as a model for the United States to emulate.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a selection of Berwick's public statements on health policy. Two in particular stand out because they are such naked attacks on the efficacy of individual choice and rationality:

1) I cannot believe that the individual health care consumer can enforce through choice the proper configurations of a system as massive and complex as health care. That is for leaders to do.

2) The unaided human mind, and the acts of the individual, cannot assure excellence. Health care is a system, and its performance is a systemic property.

Hence, Berwick has explicitly called for doctors to relinquish their "clinician autonomy" and instead follow standardized government treatment guidelines. Patients should forgo using their "unaided human minds" and instead let their "leaders" decide what kind of medical care they should receive.

Many gun control advocates display a similar disdain for the rationality of ordinary Americans. This can be seen most clearly whenever a state considers allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms.

In 1987, the state of Florida started granting concealed weapons permits to residents on a "shall issue" basis, meaning that anyone who met standard training requirements and who passed a criminal background check would be granted a permit. Prior to that, most states gave broad discretion to local sheriffs and police chiefs to grant (or deny) such permits for any reason they wished. In practice, this often meant that only those who were politically connected (or who had made significant contributions to the sheriff's re-election campaign) were granted a permit.

As Florida considered this reform, gun control advocates argued that allowing ordinary civilians to carry firearms would turn peaceful towns into "Dodge Cities." Blood would run in the streets, they claimed. Yet nothing of the sort has happened, either in Florida or in the numerous other states that have since adopted similar laws.

As Howard Nemerov and others have shown, states that allow citizens to carry firearms are safer than states that don't. An armed citizenry deters crime.

Equally important, armed citizens do not get into shootouts over trivial disagreements, such as who arrived first at the best parking spot at the local grocery store. Instead, the millions of ordinary armed Americans across the country have exercised the proper rationality, restraint, and responsibility that comes with carrying an instrument of deadly force.

But despite over 20 years of statistics showing that Americans can and do responsibly exercise their Second Amendment rights, this has not stopped gun control advocates from raising the same fallacious "Dodge City" argument every time a new state considers allowing honest citizens to carry concealed weapons.

A similar phenomenon occurred in the recent national health care debate. Despite decades of statistics showing that patients in Canada and Great Britain suffer greater mortality from cancer and other serious diseases than U.S. patients, this has not stopped men like Berwick from advocating the adoption of the same failing socialized health system here in the United States.

So why do the health care and the gun control statists persist in their wrong views despite the evidence to the contrary? As writer Ayn Rand once noted, "the trouble is not in the nonsense they accept, but in what makes them accept it." In this case, the statists are driven by a fundamentally flawed view of human nature.