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L. Neil Smith's
Number 518, May 10, 2009

"Don't Tread On Me"

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That Every Arm Be Manned
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

When I was just getting interested in firearms again (I had burned out on paper-punching with a .22 rifle as a kid, and it took a while for me to notice the wonderful world of pistols and revolvers) there was criminal case that attracted national attention for a little while.

Somewhere in the midwest, a farmer had two houses on his land. One of them—the one that he and his family did not live in—was near a well-travelled road, and frequently subject to break-ins and vandalism.

He couldn't watch the unused house all the time, so the farmer set up a shotgun inside, so that if someone opened the front door without taking certain precautions, the gun would go off, injuring or killing them.

When someone did end up being injured or killed (I don't remember the details) the farmer was convicted. It appears that the law regards it as criminally irresponsible to set a loaded weapon up, unattended by a human being. It took some deep thought on my part (I was in my early 20s), but eventually I came to agree. No one values or supports the right to property more than I do, but there are certain things that right will not allow you to do, even on your own turf. You can't beat people up, or enslave them, or kill them. And setting up a trap with a self-actuating 12-gauge falls into that same general area, as well.

For at least a couple of decades, corporations have been trying to build robots for police and military use, tasks like sneaking up and spying on the badguys, sniffing out and disarming bombs, that sort of thing. They may even be able to drag in a water line and put out a fire. The devices, as you might expect under technocapitalism, seem to get better and better, and by now may even have actually saved some lives.

An ominous corner has recently been turned, however, that may make us want to stop and reconsider what we regard as progress. In certain circumstances, I understand, the cute little robots are starting to be armed. It makes me think about the Tom Selleck movie Runaway, which teaches us that it's all fun and games until the robot picks up a .357 Magnum.

And perhaps that there are fewer steps than we might imagine between those cute little robot policemen and the Terminator (or Gort).

Mr. Asimov, where are your Three Laws now?

Much the same kind of thing is going on in the air right now, and not just over the countries whose peace and freedom we are enhancing by dropping bombs on them. What began as pure surveillance drones, intended to give us a peek at what the enemy is up to without risking an actual human pilot has now been turned into something altogether different.

A couple of somethings, actually.

For one thing, these nasty little warcraft are now being used to spy on civilians here at home. There appears to be a reason Robert Borke claimed there is no Constitutional right to privacy. Most people remain unaware that the Obamanistas, illegally employing the Census Bureau, are busy obtaining GPS fixes for each and every residence in America. All the better to send the drones in, little Red State voters.

The capper is that overseas, these same drones are now routinely dropping bombs and shooting rockets at people the government doesn't like. With the 1876 Posse Comitatus law as close to a dead letter as George W. Bush could make it, and Barack Obama continuing to mash a pillow down on its face, how long will it be before those armed drones start being used against "gangs" and "domestic terrorists" here at home?

I was listening to torture talk radio this morning, some perfect idiot attempting to justify the use of "harsh measures" to extract information from captive individuals who are bound and helpless. In the end, I was so sickened by it that I had to turn it off. But it confirmed my observation that for all their blather about God and the eternal verities, right wing socialists drift in the political wind, invariably embracing the very outrages they condemned a generation ago.

I was in my late teens and early twenties, at the height of social events like the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, when conservatives were railing against the New Left's concept of "situational ethics". Being a "student of Ayn Rand" (boy, did she ever peg conservatism right) I agreed with that particular right wing railing, little suspecting that 40 years later, it was conservatives who would become the champions of the idea that—in politics above all else—the end justifies the means.

It's important to recall that no matter how much we hate, loathe, and despise the current Marxism, it was conservatives, for the most part, who brought it crashing down on us. They invented despicable, ridiculous Orwellian ideas like "illegal combatants". They wrote and passed the USA Patriot Act. They put the Posse Comitatus through the shredder. It was Bush dismissing the Constitution as a mere scrap of paper.

Unlike the Limboids, I would love to see them all tried for war crimes.

Wouldn't you?

In any case, those of us who love liberty have a lot of cleaning up ahead. A good place to begin might be a law (like the Founding Fathers, I feel free to propose laws that only apply to government) absolutely banning the police or military use of armed robots and drones.

When they come, let them do it in person.

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 more than 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 is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on What Libertarians Believe with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels.


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