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Why I'm Questioning the U.S. Approach to Freedom

I always try to make these blog posts interesting, entertaining and fun to read. Today is a little different.



A Korean friend recently shared with me her concerns about her upcoming move to the United States. “Is it really dangerous there?” she asked. “Does everyone have a gun?” Phil and I have fielded lots of questions about the anti-Asian bias attacks in the United States. This was a broader concern.


I explained that the United States is a huge and diverse country. While parts are dangerous, many areas are safe and enjoyable places to live. While parts are racist, others are tolerant and welcoming to newcomers. “You’ll be living in a beautiful university town,” I said. “You will be fine.”


Then I went home and read about the latest mass shooting in the United States. And I felt guilty about misleading her.


In South Korea you can walk down any street, at any hour, in any neighborhood and know that you will emerge safely. You don’t clutch your purse at a mall or a restaurant or outdoor concert. I’ve only seen one metal detector since we arrived here, and that was at the U.S. Embassy.


In 2019, 10 people died of gun injuries in South Korea; that same year 38,300 died in the United States.


It turns out that South Korea has some of the strictest gun laws of all developed nations. Koreans are allowed to own guns; sporting and hunting gun licenses are issued by the government. But guns must be stored at local police stations. People who fail to follow the laws face fines of $30,000–$150,000 and 3 to 15 years in prison.


The system here is certainly imperfect. There are signs pointing to CCTV cameras everywhere. (I don’t know if there are more cameras than in the United States or if they are just better marked.) There is also a stringent anti-defamation law. People can be charged with defamation even when they are telling the truth. The punishment is most severe when it involves online defamation. This means you aren’t allowed to insult someone or accuse them, even when you have evidence on your side. It definitely helps maintain decorum, but it also keeps powerful people in power, and it constrains their critics.


However, public safety makes the pursuit of happiness much easier. Phil and I have had our share of challenges and mishaps. There was the time we took a trip out of town, got stranded in a rural area and couldn’t figure out how to call a cab. But because we always feel safe, it feels like an adventure not a threat.


For all of America’s emphasis on constitutionally protected personal freedom, we haven’t given ourselves the freedom to feel safe. And that seems like an essential human right to me.

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