Walter Mitty's Second Amendment

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Once
upon a time, there was a people who inhabited a majestic land under
an all-powerful government. Now this government had the resources
to control practically every aspect of human existence; hundreds
of thousands of “public servants” could access the most personal
details of every citizen’s life because everyone was issued a number
at birth with which the government would track him throughout his
life. No one could even work in gainful employment without this
number.

True,
the government left certain domains of individual action largely
free, particularly matters concerning speech and sex. These activities
posed no real threat to the state. When not used to entertain and
divert, the power of speech was used principally to clamor for more
or better goods from the state, or for “reforms” to make the state
work “better,” thereby entrenching the people’s dependency. And
insofar as sex was concerned, well, the people’s behavior in this
area also really had no effect on the scope of state power. In fact,
the rulers noted that people’s preoccupation with matters of sexual
morality – whether premarital, teenage pregnancy, adultery,
divorce, homosexuality or general “who’s zooming who” – diverted
the people’s attention from the fact that they were, for economic
and all other intents and purposes, slaves.

Slaves,
though, who labored under the illusion that they were free. The
people were a simple lot, politically speaking, and readily mistook
the ability to give free reign to their appetites as the essence
of “personal freedom.”

In
that fruitful land, the state took about 50 percent of everything
the people earned through numerous forms of taxation, up from about
25 percent only a generation earlier. However, this boastful people,
who believed themselves to be the freest on earth, retained the
right to keep and bear arms. Tens of millions of them possessed
firearms – just in case their government became tyrannical
and enslaved them.

In
that land, an astronomical number of regulations, filling more than
96,000 pages in the government’s “code of regulations,” were promulgated
by persons who were not elected by the people. The regulators often
developed close relationships with the businesses they regulated,
and work in “agencies” that had the power both to make law –
and to enforce it.

The
agencies were not established by the government’s constitution,
and their existence violated that instrument’s principle of separation
of powers. Yet the people retained the right to keep and bear arms.
Just in case their government, some day, ceased to be a “government
of the people.”

In
that land, the constitution contemplated that the people would be
governed by two separate levels of government – “national”
and “local.” Matters that concerned the people most intimately –
health, education, welfare, crime, and the environment – were
to be left almost exclusively to the local level, so that those
who made and enforced the laws lived close to the people who were
subject to the laws, and felt their effects.

So
that different people who had different ideas about such things
would not be subject to a “one size fits all” standard that would
apply if the national government dealt with such matters. Competition
among different localities for people, who could move freely from
one place to another, would act as a reality check on the passage
of unnecessary or unwise laws.

But
in a time of great crisis called the Great Economic Downturn, the
people and their leaders clamored for “national solutions to national
problems,” and the constitution was “interpreted” by the Majestic
Court to permit the national government to pass laws regulating
practically everything that had been reserved for the localities.

Now
the people had the pleasure of being governed by not one, but two
beneficent governments with two sets of laws regulating the same
things. Now the people could be prosecuted by not one, but two governments
for the same activities and conduct. Still this fiercely independent
people retained the right to keep and bear arms. Just in case their
government, some day, no longer secured the blessings of liberty
to themselves or their posterity.

In
that fair land, property owners could be held liable under the nation’s
environmental legislation for the cleanup costs associated with
toxic chemicals, even if the owners had not caused the problem.
Another set of laws provided for asset forfeiture and permitted
government agencies to confiscate property without first establishing
guilt.

Yet
the people retained the right to keep and bear arms. Just in case
their government denied them due process by holding them liable
for things that were not their fault. (The Majestic Court had long
ago determined that “due process” did not prevent government from
imposing liability on people who were not at fault. “Due process,"
it turned out, meant little more than that a law had been passed
in accordance with established procedures. You know, it was actually
voted on, passed by a majority and signed by the president. If it
met those standards, it didn’t much matter what the law actually
did.)

Oh
well, the people had little real cause to worry. After all, those
laws hardly ever affected anyone that they knew. Certainly not the
people who mattered most of all: the country’s favorite celebrities
and sports teams, who so occupied the people’s attention. And how
bad could it be if it had not yet been the subject of a Movie of
the Week, telling them what to think and how to feel about it?

In
that wide-open land, the police often established roadblocks to
check that the people’s papers were in order. The police –
armed agents of the rulers – used these occasions to ask the
occupants whether they were carrying weapons or drugs. Sometimes
the police would ask to search the vehicles, and the occupants –
not knowing whether they could say no and wanting to prove that
they were good guys by cooperating – would permit it.

The
Majestic Court had pronounced these roadblocks and searches lawful
on the novel theory, unknown to the country’s Founding Forebears,
that so long as the police were doing this to everyone equally,
it didn’t violate anyone’s rights in particular.

The
roadblocks sometimes caused annoying delays, but these lovers of
the open road took it in stride. After all, they retained their
right to keep and bear arms. Just in case their government, some
day, engaged in unreasonable searches and seizures. In that bustling
land, the choice of how to develop property was heavily regulated
by local governments that often demanded fees or concessions for
the privilege. That is, when the development was not prohibited
outright by national “moistland” regulations that had no foundation
in statutory or constitutional law.

Even
home owners often required permission to simply build an addition
to their homes, or to erect a tool shed on their so-called private
property. And so it seemed that “private property” became, not a
system protecting individual liberty, but a system which, while
providing the illusion of ownership, actually just allocated and
assigned government-mandated burdens and responsibilities.

Still,
this mightily productive people believed themselves to live in the
most capitalistic society on earth, a society dedicated to the protection
of private property. And so they retained the right to keep and
bear arms. Just in case their government ever sought to deprive
them of their property without just compensation.

Besides,
the people had little cause for alarm. Far from worrying about government
control of their property, the more immediate problem was: what
to buy next?

The
people were a simple lot, politically speaking, and readily mistook
the ability to acquire an endless assortment of consumer goods as
the essence of personal freedom.

The
enlightened rulers of this great land did not seek to deprive the
people of their right to bear arms. Unlike tyrants of the past,
they had learned that it was not necessary to disarm the masses.
The people proved time and time again that they were willing accomplices
to the ever-expanding authority of the government, enslaved by their
own desire for safety, security and welfare.

The
people could have their guns. What did the rulers care? They already
possessed the complete obedience that they required.

In
fact, in their more Machiavellian moments, the rulers could be heard
to admit that permitting the people the right to keep and bear arms
was a marvelous tool of social control, for it provided the people
with the illusion of freedom.

The
people, among the most highly regulated on earth, told themselves
that they were free because they retained the means of revolt. Just
in case things ever got really bad. No one, however, seemed to have
too clear an idea what “really bad” really meant. The people accepted
the fact that their government no longer even remotely resembled
the plan set forth in their original constitution. And the people’s
values no longer remotely resembled those of their Founding Forebears.
The people, in their navet, really believed that the means of
revolt were to be found in a piece of inanimate metal! Really it
was laughable. And pathetic.

No,
the rulers knew that the people could safely be trusted with arms.
The government educated their children, provided for their retirement
in old age, bequeathed assistance if they lost their jobs, mandated
that they receive health care, and even doled out food and shelter
if they were poor.

The
government was the very air the people breathed from childhood to
the grave. Few could imagine, let alone desire, any other kind of
world.

To
the extent that the people paid any attention to their system of
government, the great mass spent their days simply clamoring for
more or better “programs," more “rational” regulations, in short,
more of the same. The only thing that really upset them was waste,
fraud, or abuse of the existing programs. Such shenanigans brought
forth vehement protests demanding that the government provide their
services more efficiently, dammit!

The
nation’s stirring national anthem, adopted long ago by men who fought
for their liberty, ended by posing a question, in hopes of keeping
the spirit of liberty alive. Did the flag still fly, it asked, over
the land of the free? Unfortunately, few considered that the answer
to that question might really be no, for they had long since lost
an understanding of what freedom really is.

No,
in this land “freedom” had become something dark, frightening, and
dangerous. The people lived in mortal terror that somewhere, sometime,
some individual might make a decision or embark upon a course of
action that was not first approved by some government official.

Security
was far more preferable. How could anyone be truly free if he were
not first safe and protected?

Now
we must say goodbye to this fair country whose government toiled
tirelessly to create the safety, fairness and luxury that all demanded,
and that everyone knew could be created by passing just the right
laws. Through it all, the people vigorously safeguarded their tradition
of firearms ownership.

But
they never knew – and never learned – that preserving
a tradition and a way of life is not the same as preserving liberty.
And they never knew – and never learned – that it’s not
about guns.

October
18, 2004

Jeff
Snyder [send
him mail
]
is an attorney who works in Manhattan. He is the author of
Nation
of Cowards — Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control
, which examines
the American character as revealed by the gun control debate. His
website is here. This
article originally appeared in American Handgunner, Sep/Oct
1997.

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