Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 645, November 20, 2011

"Someone used to say we have two political parties in
this country, the Evil Party and the Stupid Party."

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Déjà vu all over again
by Chris Claypoole

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I was flipping channels the other night and saw an old episode of Have Gun—Will Travel on the Encore Westerns channel. This episode was titled, "The Five Books of Owen Deaver", which was originally shown 4/26/1958. The five books of the title were the municipal code of Philadelphia, which Owen brought back to Three Winds, a Wyoming cow town. His recently deceased father had been the sheriff of Three Winds, whose people then elected Owen to that office. Owen was determined to enforce Philadelphia laws in Three Winds, with all the zeal of a True Believer. Owen believed that if he just enforced the Philadelphia municipal code vigorously enough, everyone would become Owen's definition of law-abiding. No guns in town (except for the sheriff), proprietors couldn't leave their establishments unless they locked up, no rowdy behavior by cow hands that had just been paid, etc.

Paladin was a friend of Owen's father, and traveled to Three Winds to check things out. Shortly after arriving, Paladin saved Owen's life from a pair of low-lifes who had come to town to scope out the opportunity for their gang. Paladin tried to explain to Owen that preventing honest people from having a means of defense from the criminals who would ignore his Philadelphia ideals was foolish. The words he used could have been used, nearly verbatim, by any of us who have read El Neil's essays on the topic of victim disarmament. In 1958, however, I would bet that most viewers agreed with Paladin, and thought that Owen was a well-meaning but out-of-touch young man that lacked wisdom.

I will submit that we have come full circle, to the United States of 2011, where most people (at least, those outside of Philadelphia and other major metropolitan areas) will agree that anti-gun laws have negative consequences. Criminals don't obey them, any more than they obey laws against theft, rape, or murder. But, from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s (very roughly), a working majority of Americans seemed to believe (certainly not "think") that good behavior could be legislated.

Like Owen Deaver, many people that have, shall we say, less experience with the real world believe that other men can be morally improved. Many academics fit this category. In their isolation from contrary opinion, with tenure to protect them and a position of some power, they seem to believe themselves the perfect candidates for Plato's philosopher kings, if only they were put in charge. Owen articulated this very thought, that he could force the townsfolk to be more like his idealized vision of how good people should behave.

Others project their own essential honesty and regard for traditional, evolved law (as opposed to legislative fiat) onto everyone else, and assume that if all good people agree that guns are bad and no one should own them, then gun violence would end. These people are constantly surprised by that small minority of humans who are beasts: amoral creatures with no regard for the property or lives of anyone else.

When these two groups, and others influenced by similar lines of (un) reasoning, were manipulated by unscrupulous politicians (yes, I know that is redundant, but it sounds so good when I read it aloud) in that roughly 30-year interregnum, the United States experienced a contagion of anti-gun laws. Those laws built on older anti-gun ordinances, many of which were enacted to prevent blacks in Jim Crow states from self-defense. Just like in football, if a play works well once, keep running it until the other team stops it, then try another play. And "work" those laws did. Large areas of the country became fertile fields for predators who knew that the odds of a potential victim fighting back were slim.

And then, starting in Florida, sanity began to return on the subject of guns. The high crime rates during those years (caused only partly by anti-gun laws) were one impetus; others were a backlash against the rapidly (and rabidly) growing power of government on all levels and a return to the wisdom of a more self-reliant time and philosophy. Now there is H.R. 822, the "National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011". It's not perfect; I think I can speak for nearly all the readers here when I aver that there should be no restrictions on the carrying of firearms, openly or concealed, except on private property where the owner had decreed against it. Of course, I have the right to shun such an individual, too.

And, right on schedule, some nut-burger has taken some shots at the White House. Horrors! There was a tapping on the (ballistic glass) window! There oughta be a law! Wait . . . what? There is a law? Oh, never mind, I pretend to hear the gun-grabbers continue, let's pass another law against the eeevul guns. Except that this time, regardless of how many more fragile minds are pushed into spectacular stunts with guns, no matter how many guns "walk" into the Mexican drug war (created by the U.S. government in the first place), it's not going to work this time. A brief retrospective on the last sixteen years can be found at this post at the blog, view from the porch.

In the old television show, Owen (with some scolding from his mother), comes to his senses, lets Paladin out of jail to help him in a shootout with the gang, and realizes that you cannot impose universally unpopular laws on people. To do so, as Paladin points out, makes one a tyrant. Which is a lesson that our elected "representatives" have yet to learn. Of course, I don't think that most legislators, and certainly not Congress, have any idealistic notions about perfecting the citizenry. And while they are similar in undeserved egotism to most academics, I think that nearly all of them just like to push other folks around. Which makes them tyrants, doesn't it?

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