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'One life' justification not always practical

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: February 11, 2013
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When Newtown went from being a news story about a mass murder to a political story about gun control, President Barack Obama tried to justify new laws on the basis of saving “just one life.” We heard the same thing regarding a state agency's termination of a “safe schools” hotline contract.

The “just one life” theme is oft-repeated on a variety of issues. We've done our share of it. But government can't do everything on the basis of saving “just one life.” Society has to choose its spending priorities; the state Department of Education chose to stop funding the contract.

“No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe,” Obama said Feb. 4 in campaigning for gun control laws. “But if there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try.” A day or two later, a Jenks Public Schools spokeswoman expressed her disagreement with the education department's decision: “My response to them is, if it saves one life, it's worth it.”

The Tulsa World said the hotline averaged 617 calls per year over a 12-year period. The cost for this in fiscal 2011 alone was $256,667. Using the 12-year average, each call cost the taxpayers $416. And no one can say for certain whether “just one life” was saved as a result of this spending.

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