L. Neil Smith's
An Armed Society Is ...
by Joel Simon
Exclusive to TLE
This is a portion of an e-mail I received during an internet argument sometime last year. I swear I'm not making it up. I didn't know what to say; this person's perceptions were so completely alien to mine it was like we weren't even the same species.
It took me back to an experience I'd had, just a couple of months earlier.
Many, many moons ago when my hair was only "thinning", I took a job in an unusually godforsaken chunk of wasteland in the Texas panhandle. My first morning in town I woke up in a broken down motel and looked out the dirty window at the dry, windblown, barren...oh, no adjective is sufficiently negative to describe this landscape. My mental state instantly shifted from cautious pessimism to full-blown suicidal depression. What in God's name had I been thinking of? What was I doing here?
I drove around this town in which I knew only one soul and wondered how I would get by. By chance I happened to drive behind the local rodeo ground to the area of some dilapidated tin buildings. I heard shotguns close by. Going to investigate, I went round the buildings and found an improbable but beautifully kept skeet range occupied by several prosperous-looking and heavily-armed gentlemen.
Aware that I was trespassing, that I was shabby and completely out of place, I began to retreat. But one man approached and asked if he could help me. He didn't ask it in the usual way that really means, "what are you doing here?" He asked it as if he might actually be willing to help if the request were reasonable. I said I had just followed the sound of the guns, and he asked if I wanted to join them. The suggestion was ridiculous to me, but he was serious. He offered me the loan of a shotgun. I recognized the gun from my reading on such things. It was worth more than my car.
After a couple of rounds of skeet they invited me to join them at a local restaurant. This was how I met the older and more respectable core of my entire group of friends for the next five years. These people gradually became the standard by which I judged all others, and the frightening, barren landscape revealed itself as open, uncluttered and liberating.
Now, there's something I have to say about this town. This was a place where total strangers nodded and said "hi" when you passed them on the street. Where many or most homes were unlocked at night. Where women did not fear men - at least not as much as men feared them. Where street crime was virtually unknown. In fact, police in a nearby city kept informal statistics on the life expectancy - not the career length, the life expectancy - of an imported midwestern mugger.
I was born in Detroit. I just wasn't used to this sort of thing.
I worked in a dealership there. Once (just out of nosiness) I quietly did a little survey, looking in the glove box or under the driver's seat of every car I worked on for a week or two. I came up with a handgun about 33% of the time. An unknown but large minority of the people were armed at all times. I was once invited to the home of some friends for dinner after we had met somewhere else. When we went inside, he pulled an autopistol out of an IWB holster and put it on a shelf near the door. She rummaged around in her purse, found a .44 snubby and put it on the shelf. I looked at the shelf for a moment, trying to decide the polite thing to do. Then I pulled out my .45 and put it on the shelf with the rest. Nobody said a word about it; it wasn't remarkable enough to mention. But it reminded me of line from a novel I'd recently read: "I will defend this house, and those in it, as if they were my own."
I left that town far too casually.
Fast forward almost 20 years. Battered by some very bad things that had happened, I impulsively packed a bag and drove halfway across the country to what I'd come to remember as the best place in the world. I knew it was a fool's errand. I firmly believed I would return more depressed than before; that everything I remembered would be gone or would prove to be not the way I remembered at all.
The place I'd worked, the places I liked to hang out, all seemed to be gone. The town had clearly seen some hard economic times. But the High Plains that had once intimidated me still made me want to stand straight and breathe deep. The crude oil stench from the wells was still the familiar, friendly smell of home.
On an impulse I drove out to the rodeo ground at the east of town. The same leaning tin buildings were still there, including the one that had turned out to be a pistol range for the local shooting club. I expected to find it abandoned, but there were two cars outside. As I approached, a man happened to step outside and I rolled down my window to speak with him. In the course of the conversation he asked me if I wanted to come inside and "shoot some." I had some extra ammo but no earmuffs, but he lent me some plugs and we shot up some targets together. And he was well acquainted with a good friend of mine, and directed me as to how I could contact him.
And so at the very spot on which I had been welcomed to the town decades ago, I was welcomed back in the exact same manner after many wandering years.
Afterward I walked downtown for a while and thought about Heinlein's Dictum, that an armed society is a polite society. He was right as far as he went, but he didn't go far enough. The statement implies that armed people are polite because they are afraid of each other, and that's wrong.
An armed society is a friendly society. The people there can afford to be friendly, because they have nothing to fear from each other.
I don't know whether to be contemptuous or pitying toward the poor creature that sent me that e-mail. I do know that it's sad that a person would be so unthinkingly fearful of people like the ones who live in the best place in the world.
Is America becoming a police state? Friends of liberty need to know.
Some say the U.S. is already a police state. Others watch the news for signs that their country is about to cross an indefinable line. Since September 11, 2001, the question has become more urgent. When do roving wiretaps, random checkpoints, mysterious "detentions," and military tribunals cross over from being emergency measures to being the tools of a government permanently and irrevocably out of control?
The State vs. the People examines these crucial issues. But first, it answers this fundamental question: "What is a police state?"
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