T
H
E

L
I
B
E
R
T
A
R
I
A
N

E
N
T
E
R
P
R
I
S
E


I
s
s
u
e

35


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 35, January 15, 1998

Guns, Crime and Freedom by Wayne LaPierre: Part One

Book Review by Paul Birch
paul@paulbirch.force9.net

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and the English Bill of Rights 1688 (which itself restates the common law right to bear arms and which has never been repealed).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 law ...
         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 this.
         #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.


The Libertarian Enterpise and many of its readers and contributors are deeply indebted to the constant good will and energetic assistance of Alan Wendt alan@ezlink.com of EZLink, our internet service provider, as well as a tireless and deeply-principled Libertarian. If you live along the Colorado front range, you should consider switching to EZLink. If you don't, give Alan a holiday jingle anyway at (970) 482-0807, or send him e-mail to thank him for making The Libertarian Enterprise and so much more possible.


Next to advance to the next article, or
Previous to return to the previous article, or
Table of Contents to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 35, January 15, 1998.