L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 302, January 16, 2005
"We now return you to your regularly scheduled agitation."
The Constitution Is A Gun
Exclusive to TLE
Imagine you bought a gun. The most expensive custom self-defense weapon possiblewith all the bells and whistles you could only dream of mounted on it and with the best gunsmith in the world working on it. Now, imagine that, when the worst happens and you are attacked, you would not have the willpower needed to use it. Would that gun save you? It is likely that when it would be over, you would be lying there dead, clutching the most expensive paperweight in the world in your cold, dead fingers.
It is a well-known truth among gun enthusiasts and self-defense experts that a gunor any other weaponis only as effective as your will to use it. Abandon that, and the most advanced weapon in the world is worth no more than the steel and plastic and wood it is made of. And yet, surprisingly, few people understand that the principle also applies elsewheremost importantly, in the fight for your Constitutional rights.
The sad truth is that the oppressive majority of Constitutional "activists"if the word yet appliesare not "active" at all. Consider: there over 450,000 members in Gun Owners of America (a "hardcore" pro-Second Amendment] organization). Those members faithfully donate money to the GOA, which, in turn gives the money to various lobbyists (interestingly, the GOA spends more money on lobbyists in absolute numbers than the NRA. On the other hand, half the GOA lobbying money gets paid to people named Pratt). Similarly, the NRAwhich admittedly is a "softer" group than the GOAnumbers over four million people, and spends equally staggering amounts of money on defending the Constitution (lobbying is just one part of the NRA's list of priorities). So what happened? Why are we almost continuously losing our rights?
This is not, by any means, a criticism of the GOA, the NRA, or any other groups. This an attempt to ask a key question: what went wrong? Because it is evident to anybody who is watching that something is amiss. If everything would be fine, people would not be sitting in prison because a piece of steel they owned was an inch too short.
To add oil to the proverbial fire, I will remind my readers of a truth with which many are doubtlessly familiar. Namely, that, under the Constitution, the jury retains the right of jury nullificationthe right to judge not only the facts, but the law in question, and to acquit the defendant when a law is unconstitutional or unjustly applied to him (additional information on the subject may be found at www.fija.org). To do that is, in fact, the civic duty of the juror. What would happen if jurors refused to convict people under laws such as NYC's Sullivan Act? What would happen if DA's across the nation knew that, if they want to have their good conviction percentageand they dothey had better not bring people to trial on charges that their rifle's barrel is just 15 7/8" long instead of the full sixteen inches? We know the answer: gun control would be dead.
Admittedly, jury nullification is just one example. The Constitution provides many ways of defending your rightsfrom the First Amendment's pickets and marches, to the 5th Amendment's appeal process, to the 6th Amendment's jury nullification. But the fact - and the problem isthey are not getting used. As supporters of the Bill of Rights, we much prefer to just mail $25 to one group or another and just expect then to protect our rights for us. That is just not going to happenif it was possible, it would have happened already.
A person who expects people to defend his rights is like a person who has no functioning immune system. The hospital staff can put him into a clean and sterile room, and wear hermetic suits when talking to him. For a while, they may be able to protect himbut when the smallest spore of the faintest illness gets into the sealed room, the patient will die, and not even the best doctors on the planet will save him.
Just like anything else that is importantwhether your safety, your health, or anything else important in your life, your freedom needs your participation. Ask an expert, and they will tell you that the biggest asset in politics is activistspeople ready to detach themselves from their chairs and do something about the matter. Jason Sorens, who teaches Political Science at Yale, founded the Free State Project on that very principle (you can find out about the Project at www.freestateproject.org). While certainly nobody can demand activism from you, remember, that the only person who you can truly rely to protect yourself in a gunfight is you. That is, after all, why people own guns. If you don't trust other people (the police) to protect your life, why do you trust others to protect your liberty when you don't?