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Hemanshu Nigam Headshot

Making "Perfect the Enemy of the Good" Kills Children

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Over two hundred years ago, French philosopher Voltaire wrote, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." While it may have been enlightening then, today it can drive our collective call to action.

With so many responding with their opinions about gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre, I write not as a person who grew up taking Exit 9 for Sandy Hook on Route 84 to visit close family friends in Newtown or as a federal or county prosecutor who handled numerous crimes against children cases from murder to rape including those that involved guns, or as a corporate executive who had to find solutions to some of the most challenging online and offline safety issues facing us in the digital century. Nor do I write as a consultant who helps large corporations find solutions to safety and security concerns facing their teen and child customers, nor as the son of a professor who handed down all the great characteristics of a teacher, and nor as the son of a mother who instilled the notion that knowledge must never be withheld from others.

I write as one who has spent a lifetime in all of these settings focusing on the facts to then use them to solve the relevant problems presented at the moment. The more I see the conversations happening today about what can be done to prevent a tragedy such as this from happening again, the more I realize that many are trying to find a perfect answer based on the false notion that the right to bear arms is equivalent to the right to live. The former is a right ordained by our collective society upon ourselves, the latter is a birthright. The right of a child to live and grow up to be an adult is a birthright. The right to bear arms is a right ordained to us on a piece of parchment. Nonetheless, as we are faced with this dichotomy, we can still find answers if our debate shifts from a focus on finding the perfect answer to gun control in the face of protecting a birthright, to one focused on solving for the majority -- much like everything else we do so naturally in our political society.

So many proposals are knocked down by a quick counter-attack focused on whether the solution is perfect -- that's not the perfect answer; a perfect solution won't stop murders or suicides, it won't stop these 'other' problems, it won't prevent this type of person, and it won't stop a person destined to get a gun. Each and every one of these challenges makes the perfect the enemy of the good and, therefore, prevents any action at all. And yet, without action, we cannot collect empirical evidence that will derive further improved action. Like so much in society, it is time to find solutions that are based on the imperfect so we can build towards the perfect even if we know we will never reach it. In doing so, we also take away any excuse not to compromise in the face of multiple imperfect options. Otherwise we leave a big hole in the ground, and this week that hole is being filled by the angelic bodies of those who had their birthright stolen.

Here are my simple add-on offerings without any attempts at perfection. Create legislation that:

Requires the following:
  • a mental wellness test before a gun permit can be obtained
  • a gun use and gun safety test before a gun can be purchased
  • a periodic and recurring mental wellness exam that must be passed for the permit to remain active
  • a gun use and gun safety continuing education program
  • bans guns that were originally created for military use, thus, to kill people
Allows for the following:
  • A gun recovery warrant to be issued that provides police authority to execute the warrant the moment a permitted gun possessor does not pass the periodic and recurring mental wellness test or fails to complete the gun use and gun safety continuing education requirements

Here is Senator Feinstein's proposal to ban assault weapons of the kind used at Sandy Hook and in other recent tragedies.

So today I write as an advocate for imperfection, for it is making perfect the enemy of the good that kills our children.