THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 742, October 20, 2013
Only the Zero Aggression Principle, and
the freedom it generates, can save us from
the same oblivion that swallowed the Sumerians,
the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the ancient
Greeks, the Romans, and the British
California: Living Proof of the Slippery Slope of Rational Apathy
Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
"It started with a coffee date. Now I'm married with kids. How the heck did that happen?"
How indeed? Life sneaks up on us. Change occurs in tiny increments. Before you know it, the order of life has been inverted.
It's the same with the law. Aristotle knew what he was talking about when he wrote "Jealously maintain ... the spirit of obedience to law, more especially in small matters; for transgression creeps in unperceived and at last ruins the state, just as the constant recurrence of small expenses in time eats up a fortune."
The California slippery slope of anti-freedom legislation—whatever the political agenda—has been a model for the rest of the nation. This is the ceaseless, incremental strategy of the California gun control movement that continues to this day. On gun control, thankfully, the rest of the nation has mostly failed to follow. But here in the Golden State, the Golden Rule of gun control has always been to swipe freedoms one small step at a time. Over, and over, and over again.
The "slippery slope" is legal jargon for the decline of a rule or law once exceptions are made. It matters not if it is religious law, the Bill of Rights, or even the rules you make for yourself—the first step is one tiny "exception." Pass a law that chisels one corner off a right, and after a while another politician will want to lob off another corner. Soon, the cherished right ceases to exist—death of your right by incremental steps. California is now the poster child for gun control's inevitable civil rights mud slide into history's open grave.
Boiling Frogs in the Waters of Rational Apathy
Politicians love the piecemeal-dismemberment-of-your-rights strategy, because it works—unless met with blunt political force. Take the words of former Stockton, California Mayor Barbara Fass, who rallied for the state's "assault weapon" ban. "I think you have to do it a step at a time and I think that is what the NRA is most concerned about, is that it will happen one very small step at a time, so that by the time people have 'woken up' to what's happened, it's gone farther than what they feel the consensus of American citizens would be. But it does have to go one step at a time and the beginning is the banning of semi-assault military weapons."
Ponder the evil of that politicians' tactic for a moment. She publicly stated that in order to eventually pass laws that are not in the "consensus of American citizens," her ideological crew would have to enact one seemingly less controversial law first, then another, then another. She has an end game that goes beyond a subset of rifles. She admits that whatever her end objective is, it cannot be accomplished based on a candid policy debate with an informed citizenry because she already knows that it is not what the American people want. But she's smarter than us, and knows what we should want I suppose. So instead of being aboveboard, she swings one hammer at one chisel to knock one corner off your Second Amendment rights. How do you argue the merits of a particular proposal with politicians, when the proposal isn't really what they are proposing today?
Pathetically, this is a time dishonored California political tradition; appealing to the "rational apathy" of the public. Rational apathy is a simple concept: In this mad, hurried world of ours, most folks have apathy toward what is perceived as minor. If you do not own a so-called "assault weapon" then you are apathetic toward banning them because the perceived threat is small or the topic is too detailed to invest time in learning. Thus you may buy a politician's story—echoed by a non-critical media—about the criminal danger of "military assault weapons." You are not apathetic about freedom; you simply do not have the bandwidth to understand or appreciate why you should care at the moment. Politicians count on this.
Rational apathy is amplified by the human desire to belong, which often entails avoiding the appearance of being an extremist or just petty. If you have ever been to a San Francisco cocktail party (which may be a redundant phrase) and found yourself with the lone center-right political opinion, odds are you didn't speak up. The need to not be socially repugnant is basic sociability. This is why the very word "extremist" is lobbed ferociously in political squabbling. It is akin to calling someone racist, a label which by its very definition paints someone as outside social norms.
It is the small steps for which freedom and self-defense civil rights advocates must watch—small restrictions are the harbingers of longer term corruptions. Step A is tiny. So is Step B. Together with Step C, however, they are the end of a freedom. This is how it happened in California.
Believe it or not, most shooters are apathetic about gun control. An activist friend of mine in the San Francisco Bay Area once manned a table at the Chabot Rifle Range, a fine outdoor spot for recreational shooting including skeet. He was alerting gun owners to a pending "assault weapon" bill in the state legislature. When two fellows with obviously expensive skeet guns came close to the table, he engaged them—only to be rebuked. "They aren't coming for my guns," said one of these American citizens. True enough... then. But now they are.
California began life as a wide-open land of nearly libertarian freedom, except for immigrants who were constantly legislated against (the first slip down the slope). For example, California lacks a "keep and bear arms clause" in its Constitution because, as some period commentators admitted, local gun laws would only be enforced against Mexicans and Chinese.
Over time, incrementally, the basic right to arms has been eroded to the point of near meaninglessness. It started in 1923 with a one day waiting period for handguns (fifteen days currently) but this year Sacramento legislators are openly calling for confiscation of magazines and banning semi-automatic firearms, even .22 rifles. This earliest gun control in the State of Disaster—a one day waiting period for handgun purchases—required a handgun buyer (presumably just buyers at hardware stores) to wait one day before taking the firearm home. Though statistically this had no effect on gun violence, the California Legislature upped the waiting period to three days in 1955, then to five days in 1965 and later to 15 days in 1975. This is one small example of a slippery slope in action, whereby over the years every person in serious danger has been prohibited from acquiring effective tools for self-defense at the time they most need them.
A year after the first waiting period law, California switched to a "may issue" concealed carry state, whereby the local authorities may or may not issue you a CCW permit depending on how much you donated to the Sherriff's reelection fund (Google the shenanigans of Alameda County's "sheriff's posse" and how being a member increased your odds of getting a CCW ticket). Open carry was briefly disabled after racists reacted badly to Black Panthers openly carrying guns in Oakland, but was shut down completely just this year. First, concealed carry became optional (though not widely enforced against white people), then those loopholes were slowly locked down, followed by a ban on open carry of handguns in public, then all types of gun (hand guns and long guns) this year.
In the same year as California's spasm against concealed carry, the state started registering handguns sold at retail. In 1991, the law required transfers to go through dealers so all handguns, even in private party sales, would be registered (somebody forgot to notify street gangs, who are in perpetual non-compliance). Starting next year, the same applies to all long guns.
Oddly, California really accelerated their gun control program in the 1990s with the original Roberti-Roos "assault weapons" ban. While the rest of the nation has liberalized gun ownership, California turned the screws to the populace and the slippery slope started giving way entirely. In 1991 you had to visit a dealer to buy a gun from your uncle. In 1992 that was expanded if your uncle wanted to give you his old gun. New definitions of "assault weapons" came down in 1999 as did a law forbidding you to buy at retail more than one handgun a month. "Safety" certificate pre-qualifications barriers to buy a handgun were erected in 2003, open carry of was handguns banned in 2011 along with new registration of long guns, and open carry of everything was banned in 2013.
And that's not the bad news. In the queue this year are bills to:
Changing legislation is not lost on everyone, and triggers changes in the voting population. This in turn makes future incremental reductions in freedom possible.
California's demographics change with the laws. Older, more conservative people leave the state as traditional freedoms erode. People who do not hold the same values come into the state and thus the political demographics change further. For illustration sake (and these numbers are made-up) perhaps 60% of the state's population were ardently in favor of the Second Amendment in 1960. By the year 2000, many had left because their freedom was more valuable than Napa wine, coastal drives and watching the A's blow yet another pennant race. So by the year 2000, the percentage of California's population who strive to preserve gun owner rights fell to 50%, making new slippery slope legislation possible whereas before it was not.
This incremental devaluation of voter sentiment is critical in many places that devolve into chaos. Detroit is California's future. As people fled Mo Town and took their social and political values with them, Detroit spiraled into a dystopic criminal enterprise. As ardent Second Amendment supporters kiss California goodbye (or flip it off in the rear view mirror), it leaves a voter void that has to be filled. If filled with low information voters, more control becomes the norm and the slope gets slipperier.
The Big Mo
Political momentum is another slippery slope. When one or another group believes they have momentum, they press their advantage which increases their odds of success. Their opponents, staggered by shifting public sentiment, fail to fight effectively. Small changes that normally take decades to accumulate are piled on.
One reason this succeeds is because legislators avoid opposing politically powerful movements. Polls show that the NRA is considered a mainstream organization, and the drubbing voters gave gun banners in the year 2000 still resonates in Washington politics. Yet in the wake of recent tragedies, Sacramento politicians think they have the political momentum and do not see a strong enough backlash to avoid voting for new gun control laws.
Quit sliding, start climbing
It is up to you to dial the phone and tell them otherwise. Then pass the phone to your spouse, then your kids, then you neighbor. If the NRA is a mainstream organization, with a 57% approval rating by the general public, then you are the catalyst to make state legislators know that more gun control is a slope down which they will slide into unemployment.