First Do No Harm

J. Wesley Casteen
6 min readMay 25, 2022


A doctor friend, who practices in a major urban area, asked me a question, which almost certainly was asked perhaps millions of times yesterday: How can we stop school shootings? It is a fair question, but it presumes that such shootings can be stopped definitively and necessarily should (at any and all costs).

My first response to his question was to say, “Stop publicizing such shootings.” That is not to say that such shootings are not tragic or even newsworthy. However, what is the purpose of 24/7 news coverage for days, weeks, and months on end? Is it to punish the perpetrator? In this instance, as in many others, he is already dead. Is it to make sense of a senseless act? What rationality or reason can be attributed to an individual, who began his killing spree by shooting his own grandmother?

Dr. Thomas Sowell recommends asking three (3) questions, when addressing any such issue, and I will paraphrase those questions:

· What are the (“less desirable”) existing or viable alternatives to the sought-after ideal, which itself may not be achievable?

· What are the costs and sacrifices required either to achieve the desired objective or to effect incremental improvement from the status quo or over other viable alternatives?

· Will the costs incurred and sacrifices endured assure success in achieving the objective, and what hard evidence is available to support that supposition?

Some may define the “ideal” as no deaths … ever. Is that truly “ideal”? Most persons could agree upon avoiding or decreasing premature deaths, but death itself is an inevitable fact of life. Even if life could be extended indefinitely, such efforts likely come with high prices, and one must consider the quality of life. In extending the quantity of life generally, it is quite possible that we decrease its quality. Life itself is a balancing act between risk and reward. Without risk, there is likely no appreciable reward. Would a risk-free life be a life truly worth living?

Everyone likely agrees that the murder of children is senseless and that their premature deaths are horrific and tragic. Therefore, should our stated goal and express objective be ZERO premature deaths for children (or all persons)? At what costs? Tens of Billions of Dollars in new safety equipment, protection protocols, and medical treatments? What about the elimination of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution? What about elimination of automobiles, pools, etc.? Upon whose shoulders must the additional costs and resulting sacrifices fall? Who establishes “reasonableness” and as applied to whom (to themselves or to all others)? How much autonomy, liberty, and freedom must persons and peoples be willing to surrender or abandon in return for promises of “safety” and “security”? Who would guarantee such promises and enforce such expectations?

Of course, there are some, who would argue that the objective is to prevent a recurrence of “mass shootings.” They likely would offer that the answer is more “reasonable” gun control regulations. What happens when the annual statistics bear out that “mass shooting” deaths are only a relatively small portion of annual deaths by firearm? In fact, more than half of such deaths are suicides (i.e. 2020–54% — 24,292). When the “reasonable” regulations fail to effect so much as a rounding adjustment on these statistics, what next? Increasingly “less reasonable” regulations?

A caged animal is relatively safe. It is likely well fed and may live a life of leisure. Nevertheless, it is exceedingly less free. In taming the beast, we eliminate its desire and appreciation for freedom. Is that an improvement (for whom … man or beast)? Some persons may covet a perpetual state of comfort and leisure, but is that the most productive state for us as individuals or the most effective environment for human beings generally?

I would argue that perfect safety is impossible, and incremental security often comes at a high price, including great individual costs and sacrifices. History demonstrates to us that government offers illusions of safety and false promises of security. My fear is that we are to be made “safe” from all but the state and “secure” from all but government.

Gun violence is a symptom. It is the manifestation of larger problems and issues. Guns are the instrumentality, but they are not the cause. The “cause” relates to persons, who do not value human life, including their own. In the course of the discussion thread, my friend’s responses were somewhat surprising given his penchant for liberal thinking and “progressive” ideas. In summary, he offered:

It is the internet generation: The nuclear family has dissolved. Traditional support systems and institutions are gone. There is no respect for parents or other persons generally. Individuals grow up with a sense of entitlement, without personal responsibility, and in a culture of victimhood.

When society does not afford persons power and control over their own lives, individuals ultimately strike back or act out in ways that allow opportunities to regain a feeling of power and sense of control, even if fleeting and ultimately self-destructive. When government acts in loco parentis and infantilizes the populace, the certain results are a pronounced lack of personal responsibility and a pervasive culture of victimhood. Playing into those mindsets is not going to improve those mindsets. Political minions are not motivated to decrease the dependence upon the state. An increasingly dependent populace provides the source for vicarious power, and that power allows access to the position, prestige, and profit, which are coveted by the political classes.

Those, who believe that the answer is more government control and less personal responsibility, are going to be in for a rude awakening. Increased government control would be counterproductive to say the least. In dependence, the people are made less capable and less responsible, and the scope and power of the state expand to fill the resulting vacuum. As power trends toward absolute, so does the certainty for corruption, and with corruption come abuse, oppression, and tyranny. To paraphrase Jordan Peterson, “If you fear strong men, wait until you discover what weak men are capable of doing.”

Unmitigated evil is easy to recognize and to oppose; however, our species is naturally inclined toward “selfishness.” How many of the elderly did Governor Cuomo “kill” in an effort to protect the public from Covid-19? How many innocents have been killed by Presidents over the last hundred years in the name of “National Security”? How many tens of millions have “well-intentioned” governments and would-be revolutionaries killed over the same period? What is to be said of society when killing a viable child is deemed by some to be worthy of a “constitutional right”? Among all of these tragedies, which is the greater tragedy or loss? Can we possibly condemn one and not all?

The “ideal” is inconsistent with our singular but imperfect reality. Even if we could approximate the ideal, it would come at great costs and almost certainly with unintended consequences. Most persons are entirely supportive of expending costs and imposing sacrifices, so long as they are to be borne by others. Such persons often deem as necessarily “moral” and “just” actions or behaviors, which benefit them personally.

We abhor manifest evil, but we fear such evil not because it is rare or unique. We fear such evil because it is indicative of the baser traits and bestial natures of our species. We fear it because all of us are capable of similar evils under certain circumstances. Crushing such evil in others, temporarily satisfies our sense of justice. It assuages our own sense of guilt. We take comfort in knowing that we are not “them.” In the shadow of their unbridled depravity, we seem normal almost exemplary by comparison. However, retaliations and retributions do not fix the problem.

The root of the problem is not in a limited number of horrific events. The fundamental problem is defined within our personal attitudes and derived from our individual behaviors. Seemingly insurmountable societal problems arise from hundreds, thousands, and millions of seemingly small and relatively insignificant things in our daily lives. Such problems relate to how we treat others, and how we value ourselves over those others. They relate to how we are inclined to “take” from others without consideration or reference to our personal contributions.

The greater challenge is in fixing those things — in fixing ourselves. The harder task is addressing our own lives; therefore, we are more likely to point fingers and to devote considerable time and vast resources to correcting the behaviors of others, who we deem more “damaged,” threatening, or harmful than ourselves.



J. Wesley Casteen