In his recent diary here, Professor Mark Alexander chose to use a quote uttered by his opponent, Senator Nia Gill, when she tried to justify her lack of support on the limitation of ammunition magazine size as part of the gun safety debate.
Gill said, “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
According to the Google machine, this quote is attributable to Voltaire, a French philosopher who plagiarized the idea from Italian sages.
As an engineer, who was trained to always look for the optimum solution to a problem and has worked in the corporate world for over four decades, I often heard my bosses invoke this quote in order to meet cost, schedule, or performance on a myriad of projects.
Despite the way the Tea Party views the world, the world is not black and white. We can strive for perfection while realizing that we will never get there. We will never be able to eliminate all accidental or criminal gun murders, but does Senator Gill’s use of Voltaire’s line mean we are doing enough? How close to perfection can we come?
Let’s take a look at another area, where we have come very close to perfection: America’s commercial aviation system. Thanks to investment in upgrades to our air traffic control system, strict ongoing training for flight crews, and other government regulations, a person could fly every day for 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash. If the fatality rate for air travel were the same as the fatality rate for gun owners, people would be enraged and demand action.
We should take the same tack with gun safety. There’s no logical or legal reason we need 15-round magazines. Heck, even 10 is too much. When the Second Amendment was crafted, shooters had to reload after each shot. As we heard from the Newtown parents this week in Trenton, some of their kids would still be alive today if the terrorist had not had easy access to high-capacity magazines. Maybe he could have obtained them illegally, but why make it easy for him?
It’s up to our leaders like Senator Gill to work toward perfection while being willing to accept a reasonable compromise. After sitting through the Newtown parents’ press conference, I can only conclude that the abandonment of the magazine size limitation is not such a compromise.
While the perfect may be the enemy of the good, without striving for perfection we are settling for mediocrity. Is that what we elect our leaders for?