Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 479, August 3, 2008

"If it weren't for those of us who insist on
the perfect, there'd never be any good."

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Letters We Get, Already
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

As many of my readers are aware, I write a lot of articles for a civil rights organization called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. I do this not because I'm Jewish (I'm not—you don't have to be to join JPFO), but because JPFO takes the most principled stance on Second Amendment issues of any gun group today, and because its founder, Aaron Zelman, may be the bravest, most decent man I've ever known.

Go take a peek at

Now and then, JPFO gets e-mail from folks who say I've inspired, informed, or offended them. It's always nice to hear from people in the first two categories, but those who fall into the last are most fun.

Recently, I wrote an article for JPFO I called "Popgun Parade", in which I recorded my somewhat jaundiced opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in District of Columbia vs. Heller. I accomplished this by attacking a decision by the Second Amendment Foundation, aided by Smith & Wesson, to celebrate the massive egg the court laid with the issuance of a special commemorative revolver. As is the custom at JPFO, my essay was preceded by "teaser" I called "An Airweight for Airheads".

You can see them both at:

JPFO received an unusual number of responses to my article, all but two of which were very positive and even congratulatory. It was enough to warm the cockles of an old columnist's heart. (According to Wikipedia, "The phrase 'warm the cockles of one's heart' refer[s] to the ventricles of the heart [Latin: cochleae cordis]"). Two of the responses were not so cockle-warming, and require some kind of an answer.

The first, from a Scott Murphy at (go ahead and write to him if you want) states his disagreement with my article and with JPFO's generally negative view of Heller. He refers to Alan Gura, who ramrodded the case, and to a video Gura made explaining his "strategy".

I looked Gura up on Wikipedia, too. For a lawyer, he seems like a decent guy. For a lawyer. But I tend to judge things by the results they generate, and what Heller has generated is a finding that the government has a legitimate power to regulate the individual right to own and carry weapons, the very right that supposedly protects us from government.

This is exactly like a fox working security at a chicken concert. Or a pack of coyotes watching over a herd of lambs. Or a bunch of white guys running the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is unimaginably more dangerous—it will do us vastly more damage—than the notion the court struck down (the proponents of which have always known was garbage anyway) that the Second Amendment protects a purely collective right.

Get it?

One step forward.

Two steps back.

Call it the Dred Scott Shuffle.

Then our correspondent Murphy does something I've seen a hundred times before, and which never fails to irritate me. He blandly asserts, "Basically American culture is not ready for anything more than what we got in Heller. We turned the tide. And won a battle. And we have been largely losing the war. Now we have momentum on our side."

Where to start? To begin with, every sentence in that paragraph is wrong. How does he know what American culture is ready for? Did he take a poll? Is he telepathic? Is he judging the whole country by what he hears from his mother, his shoe salesman, his brother-in-law? Who told him what American culture is ready for, and how the hell do they know?

The Supreme Court consists of nine human beings separated from mainstream American culture by their legal education, their profession as lawyers, their elite position as judges, their august membership on the Supreme Court, and, for the most part, their advanced age and wealth. The fact that they're not ready to acknowledge the mandate of the Second Amendment says absolutely nothing about their fellow citizens.

I do suspect that it tells us something about our correspondent Murphy, though. He complains that, by correctly identifying the dangers inherent in the Heller decision, JPFO and I "are trying to take defeat from the jaws of victory". (The verb is actually "snatch" but I figure he's too shy to use it.) He even adds that sorry old saw—a great favorite of Newt Gingrich as his 1994 Republican Revolution began to disintegrate around him—"The perfect is the enemy of the good."

In fact, Voltaire said it first. But get this and get it straight: if it weren't for those of us who insist on the perfect, there'd never be any good. I'll say it again so you'll remember it: if it weren't for those of us who insist on the perfect, there'd never be any good.

The moderates, gradualists, and incrementalists of the world, the cowards, poltroons, and yellowbellies, in short, the very kind in charge of the Libertarian Party at the moment, would be content with what we have now—especially if they were offered the illusion that Heller provides that things were getting better—and they would sit still and do nothing as humanity slid backward into the mire of devolution.

It is my job, and the job of Aaron Zelman and groups like JPFO to demand that people do what's right, right now. Justice delayed is justice denied. We are the radicals, the fundamentalists, of liberty. We push on the inside of the envelope so that the pale, pasty middle of the roaders can slide their craven asses into the space we've made for them.

For this, of course, the incrementalists, gradualists, and moderates, sneer at us, and gleefully inform us that we're never going to get what we demand. They'd rather be defeated with us by our common enemies than to see us proven right and triumph. We're highly annoying and embarrassing to them, reminders of what they might have been if they'd been blessed with vertebrae, intestines, and testicles. To us, they are no more than ideological parasites who would give up the side in a chicken-livered heartbeat, and they have nothing to say that can inform us.

The issue here is individual liberty, not style and grace, not politeness and niceness, and their strategy has failed to get it back. The irony is that I'm not suggesting we shoot anybody or blow anything up—I never have; my entire career has been dedicated to avoiding that sort of thing—but that we simply tell the truth, call a thing by its proper name, distinguish friend from foe, and favor from enemy action.

"...I [am] sick of the pro-rights people constantly fighting each other," Murphy concludes with some passion. "We are fragmented and they (presumably meaning the many enemies of liberty) are united and that is why they are winning. NRA, SAF, JPFO, GOA etc. are all needed.

But what happens if one or more of those groups, one or more of the leaders of the freedom movement is just plain flatly wrong? What happens if whatever they are doing actually damages the cause in which we fight? Are we supposed to keep our mouths shut for the sake of unity? Sorry, that's not what I signed on for. What I signed on for is freedom.

Unity merely for unity's sake is a Yankee idea. And where I come from—that is, where I attended high school—Yankee's only half a word.

Our next contestant is one Barry Lerner at who characterizes my "exposition" as "stirring, indeed, but a bit overheated." He makes a familiar assertion that "Any right carries certain reasonable limitations. Consider the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, and the famous prohibition against falsely crying 'fire' in a crowded theater. Or libel. Or divulging trade secrets."

Okay, let's consider all that, shall we? This business of rights being inseparable from limitations ("responsibilities" is the way it's often expressed) is shabby, shopworn conservative blather—I have never heard it supported by anything but bluster and threats of physical force—an accurate translation of which is, "Okay, okay, we admit that these are your rights, but please don't ever exercise them!"

The trouble—for friend Lerner and everybody like him—is that rights are inherent in human nature. We're all born possessing them, without precondition. Responsibilities are voluntary, lest we are all slaves.

There is no prohibition against shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, falsely or otherwise. (I once shouted "theater" in a crowded firehouse, just so I could say I had.) It was a wisecrack, off the record, by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was more deservedly famous for writing bad poetry about molluscs, and carries no legal weight.

Many ethical theorists—all of them libertarian—believe that the prohibition against libel is an unacceptable limitation on free speech, especially in an age where you can flash the truth around the world in a few seconds. What was all that about sticks and stones and words?

As for trade secrets, that isn't a matter of the law, but of contract between private parties, a very different thing, indeed. Although since corporations are actually an arm of the government, they should be held down by the same Constitutional chains that the government is supposed to be bound by. This is something that needs discussing, but I don't believe Lerner will like it any way it turns out.

Next, he says, "The same amendment's guarantee of religious freedom does not extend to oddball practices like animal sacrifice or smoking illegal substances." Oh, why not? Some individuals think baptism and Communion are oddball practices. Circumcision certainly is, and I got the knife myself in a Catholic hospital, when I was too young to defend myself. How about the use of prayer wheels? Burning incense? Suttee (look it up) and seppuko? Oh, and I forgot: polygamy?

I personally believe all religious practices—all religions, for that matter—are equally crazy, and that nothing any of them do is as destructive of the human spirit as the thoroughly evil (but highly respectable) concept of Original Sin. But the First Amendment is the First Amendment, and you have as much right to rub purple dye into your belly button and squawk like a mutilated rooster under the full moon as I have to do nothing of the sort. I would fight and kill and die for that principle, and that includes each and every one of the "oddball practices" Lerner is apparently happy to see illegally suppressed.

More or less in conclusion, Lerner, asserts that, "No right is absolute and therefore is subject to reasonable limitation, the definition of the word [reasonable] being left to the courts, as the Supreme Court correctly noted. Yes, that's inconvenient, but so is democracy."

To which I say, statist post-Lincolnian fiddle-faddle. Any right that isn't absolute—especially the right to the physical means to defend oneself against the government—that can be regulated or limited in any way by the government, is a contradiction. It is a government-granted privilege, not a right, and therefore utterly meaningless.

Moreover, as Winston Churchill himself might have said—if he'd ever crawled out of the whiskey bottle—"Democracy may be a terrible form of government, but it's still a terrible form of government". While the U.S. Constitution created a democratically operated government, the fundamental purpose of the Bill of Rights was to defend us from that democracy and any "inconveniences" it may whimsically inflict on us.

In "Popgun Parade", I had some fun with the Second Amendment Foundation's choice—appropriate, I called it—of Smith & Wesson's puniest revolver, a tiny .38, to commemorate the Heller decision. Lerner's parting shot is "there's nothing wrong with a hollow point .38 +P+."

There's nothing wrong with .38 Special except that miscreants often don't stop threatening you and fall down when you shoot them with it. The same kind of thing happens with 9mm, because they're both pocket pistol cartridges, unfit for uniform service and reliable self-defense. That's why even the vast majority of policemen in this country have abandoned them both in favor of the cartridge I call .40 Liberty.

Exactly as we have to abandon losing strategy and tactics, give up moderatism, gradualism, and incrementalism—there's simply no time left for any of that—and turn, instead, to something that actually works.

Or would you rather be a slave?

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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