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