L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 35, January 15, 1998
Guns, Crime and Freedom by Wayne LaPierre: Part One
Book Review by Paul Birch
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Heaven preserve us from our friends! Although most of what this
NRA chief executive officer and chief national spokesman says in
defence of gun ownership is sound enough, he gives far too much ground
to the opposition and ends up proposing hypocritical "get tough"
measures that would destroy many of the very liberties that the right
to bear arms is meant to protect.
America's Founding Fathers, as LaPierre ably demonstrates,
believed in the individual ownership of weapons for self-defence
(especially against the government, although this he fails to
emphasise). "The Bill of Rights does not grant rights to the people
... it is a list of inalienable rights endowed in man by his
Creator ... " (p21). Indeed. He might also have added that the
American Bill of Rights descends from English common law and the
English Bill of Rights 1688 (which itself restates the common law
right to bear arms and which has never been repealed). Contrary to
his assertion in Chapter 18, it is just as unlawful for the British
government to ban firearms as for the American.
"The second amendment means what it says ... " (p12). How then can
LaPierre, without any apparent qualms, continue, "In 1993, the NRA
helped draft a bill ... prohibiting the possession of handguns by
juveniles except those under adult supervision engaged in hunting [or]
target shooting, or receiving instruction in the shooting sports"
(pp74-75)? How dare LaPierre deny children their Constitutional and
God-given right of self-defence! Would the Founding Fathers have done
so? Most assuredly not! They might, perhaps, have argued that boys
under the age of 13 should be able to purchase firearms only with the
permission of their parents (no deliberate exclusion of the opposite
sex -- it probably wouldn't have crossed their minds that girls might
like weapons too). And this is the most that we should argue, too.
LaPierre's treatment of statistics is not always greatly superior
to that which he condemns in his opponents. For example, the
accidental death statistics on page 63 may compare "apples to apples",
but give no indication of the relative number of apple trees. How
many motor vehicles or drivers are there? How many firearms and gun
owners are there?
But where LaPierre's colours really show is in Chapter 21 "Getting
Tough". His "elements for an effective criminal justice system" (why
not "a just legal system"?) violate numerous constitutional provisions
and fundamental principles of justice; public concern over crime is
made an excuse to introduce lawless measures paving the way towards a
totalitarian state. I do not object to his authoritarianism or
conservatism, but to his contempt for the rule of law. By all means
get tough on crime: let the felon be thrown into dungeon rank, let
the murderer be hanged and the robber scourged; but do not by one jot
or tittle depart from the principles of even justice and the common
Sorry, I'm getting carried away!
#1: " ... pretrial detention of dangerous defendants". And who
is to be given the authority to decide that an unconvicted defendant
is "dangerous" and must be locked up? In justice we should rather
say: no bail for a felony indictment whoever the defendant is. But
then we must also insist that prisoners on remand (presumed innocent)
be treated with all courtesy (like guests in a hotel); and that the
delay before trial be strictly limited to no more than (say) 30 days;
and that if they be found not guilty they should be fully compensated
for the time they have been incarcerated (for to imprison an innocent
man is an offence against him in justice, irrespective of who does the
imprisoning, or why). LaPierre gives no indication of understanding
#2: "Mandatory prison sentences ... for ... offenders ... ".
Most of this item is unobjectionable (assuming that prison is the
chosen form of retribution) but note again the emphasis on offenders
not offences. Whether prison is the best punishment is debatable (I
would say not, since it is costly and wasteful), but LaPierre's
"incontestable" consequence (that persons in jail can't create
additional victims) is in fact false: the public who have to pay for
the prison are ongoing victims; inmates commit numerous additional
offences inside; and most of all, when released they simply catch up
on the crimes they would otherwise have committed over the longer
period. This is not to say that prison does not work -- it does! --
but the deterrent effect of prison is a separate phenomenon.
#3: "Sentencing ... for actual conduct ... ". This seems to mean
(I can hardly believe LaPierre so corrupt as to want this) that if a
defendant has been found guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, of spitting
on the sidewalk, he can then be sentenced to life imprisonment for
armed robbery (a prima facie case having been made out that this is
what he was actually engaged on at the time) even though he has not
been proved guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, of the robbery (and may
not even have been charged with it)!
#4: "Life ... for third conviction for ... sexual assault ...
child abuse ... ". Leaving aside the dubious merits of crude and
disproportionate "three strikes you're out" statutes, this panders to
the current paranoia about sexual offences and child abuse, only a
tiny minority of such offences being serious enough to justify any
such approach. Shall we perhaps put a boy away for life for kissing a
girl in his class three times (and let's say he's 18 and she 17, since
that makes it both sexual harassment and child abuse!)? Of course,
I'm being absurd -- but bad laws are invariably used absurdly.
#5: "Death penalty for first degree murder ... ". At last,
something I can agree with! But what's this? "State laws should
require the jury to impose death ... ". No! No! No! In all
common-law countries, trial by jury is (and has been for a thousand
years) the cornerstone of liberty; its whole strength is the right and
duty of every juryman to render his verdict according to his own
conscience, irrespective of any instruction, threat, statute, edict or
demand. If the judge is wrong, so much the worse for the judge. If
the law (or what purports to be law) is wrong, so much the worse for
the law -- for the true law, the common law, must always be just, and
be seen to be just.
Drat, I'm getting flowery again.
#6: "Truth-in-sentencing ... to serve no less than 85% of
sentence ... ". Why does LaPierre keep shooting himself in the foot?
Yes, of course sentences should mean what they say. Exactly what they
say. Criminals should serve precisely 100% of their sentences; not
30%, not 50%, not 85%, but every last weary day! This is simple
justice. Parole is not justice -- it's social engineering. Criminals
are sent to jail to pay for a crime they have already committed; it is
irrelevant whether they repent or reform in jail -- the debt must
still be paid off and the punishment completed.
#7: "Prisons [no] better than poverty ... all prisoners to work".
I'd agree with this, so long as it is understood to apply to convicted
prisoners only. There is even an argument that prisons should be made
as horrible as possible, to maximise the deterrent effect per unit
cost (the just sentence is then correspondingly shorter).
#8: "Mandatory drug testing for convict[s] and ... on probation".
Provided that such testing is limited to the period under sentence,
and is explicitly provided by the trial judge as part of that
sentence, there seems no reason why this should be considered unjust
(whether is would do any actual good is another matter).
#9: "Computerised records ... ". Ow! A just legal system will
indeed use accurate records to assist it in delivering justice; but in
the present state of affairs I cannot but conclude that any growth in
the computerisation of records will inevitably be accompanied by
widespread and ever-greater abuse.
#10: "Victim and witness protection programs". Well, yes, but
these are no substitute for honest justice and strict enforcement.
Nor should they allow the making of anonymous accusations (which would
seriously jeopardise the rights of the accused).
#11: "Effective juvenile justice system ... ". LaPierre provides
a hodgepodge of ideas to please everyone, in a muddled and essentially
unprincipled approach: "early intervention strategies for at risk
youth ... emphasize discipline ... through programs that ... include
informal and formal restitution, arbitration, mandatory community and
public service, and boot camps ... juvenile offenders ... treated as
adults for serious offenses ... ". He fails to address the principle
that what matters is the offence, not the age of the offender, nor yet
the motive for the offence: the law is not there to dispense moral
condemnation, but to ensure that every offence is fully paid for
(insofar as is practicable). If it is necessary to consider a child
as less than fully responsible it will if anything be the most serious
offences for which it is held least accountable (since we learn
responsibility in small matters first); there is no justification
whatsoever for relieving juveniles of the burden of making full
restitution for their minor offences.
Nuts, I'm preaching again.
To Part II
Paul Birch reminds us that Guns, Crime and Freedom by Wayne LaPierre
was published in 1994 by Regnery Publishing, Washington.
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