It’s time to double down in defense of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, in defense of the personal liberties that make our country so extraordinary. So this is my New Year’s Resolution.
I am going to buy a gun.
Maybe this sounds almost trivial coming from a committed libertarian. Big government types love to characterize us small government types as hunkered down in our basements, armed to the teeth, waiting for the End of Days, and clinging to our guns … Not me. I’ve never felt particularly compelled to own a gun, although I have shot plenty of them over the years.
Now, I feel a responsibility.
I have spent a lifetime learning about, organizing a community around, and mobilizing in defense of, the non-negotiable right of each one of us to be left alone by government; free as long as we don’t hurt other people, or take their stuff. If you’re reading this, you likely have plenty of battle scars and deeply-held commitments just like mine. Together we have done so much in defense of Liberty.
But it’s just not good enough any more. I am particularly worried that we will lose what makes America so exceptional, as politicians grab more of our liberties from us in the name of “security.” Hillary Clinton is going after First Amendment speech and encryption. “Neo-Conservatives” like Senator Lindsey Graham think that the Fourth Amendment is antiquated; that your right to be secure in your person, home, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, no longer applies. Bipartisan congressional collusion has empowered an unaccountable mass surveillance state, and the Legislative Branch has abdicated its responsibility to authorize war, shifting ever more power to the Executive Branch.
And the President of the United States, who swore an oath of office to defend and protect the Constitution, shows open distain for its key provisions protecting our liberties, particularly the Second Amendment. Barack Obama seems to genuinely believe that he can staunch the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism simply by taking away the right of every law-abiding American to own a weapon — the right to defend yourself from attack from those who would want to hurt you and your family.
If you want to understand what’s at stake, take a look at the French government’s response since terrorists brutally murdered so many innocents inside the Bataclan Theater last November. “Imagine a Bush or Obama administration unchecked by the Bill of Rights or by Article 5 — which sets the bar high for altering the Constitution — and you'll begin to understand the situation in France today,” writes Matt Welch in the Los Angeles Times. He continues:
“After the November attacks, the French government approved extraordinary measures constraining civil liberties. To extend these measures permanently in the constitution, all the government requires is a three-fifths majority when Parliament meets again in February. France's current state of emergency is already a doozy — warrantless searches, preemptive house arrests (more than 300 so far, without any convictions or involvement by a judge), plus the authority to shut down websites … To this illiberal list, Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Dec. 23 added a controversial new item: the ability to strip French citizenship from dual nationals ‘who have been sentenced by a judge for committing crimes against the nation …’”
“What, exactly,” Welch asks, “is a crime against the nation?” One can imagine future *crimes* that have nothing to do with real acts of terrorism — or crime for that matter — a “constitutional” blank slate for some future tyrant to further centralize control.
In France, it is virtually impossible to legally obtain a gun.
The natural, inexorable tendency of governments to grab power from the citizenry is exacerbated during times of crisis by the political imperative to “do something.” I have no doubt that some of this authority-grabbing is done with the best of intentions — “to make us safe,” as more than one of the presidential candidates have recently put it. Leftists prefer to grab guns, and NeoCons prefer to grab your metadata and your due process, but the urge for control seems to infect almost everyone in a position of power.
But in defending the homeland from a decentralized, and increasingly homegrown, threat, more centralized power has a bad track record. All of the unconstitutional expansions of the surveillance state implemented since 9/11 failed to identify, let alone stop, jihadists Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik from gunning down fourteen innocent coworkers in a meticulously planned act of terror. “The governmental failure at San Bernardino,” writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, “was the confluence of a state government with antipathy and animosity toward the natural right of self-defense and a federal government attempting to devour far more data than it can handle.”
The fundamental challenge faced by increasingly centralized federal law enforcement apparatus was anticipated by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom in their 2007 book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. Starfish organizations decentralize information and decision-making, and are leaderless in the sense that there is no central command center or bureaucracy that dictates things from the top down. A terrorist network fits the model, driven by a radical ideology that holds it together. Cut off an arm of a starfish, the analogy goes, and you don’t kill the organization, you just make it stronger by creating more starfish organizations.
How do we defeat a leaderless movement that has tapped into the power of decentralized information and decision-making? Is there a more potent, shared set of values that bind us as a community? Doesn’t this all remind you of the genius of America and the shared values enshrined in our Constitution? Why not double down on the Bill of Rights as a first response to terrorism?
It seems to me that our essential liberties are least pliable during times of crisis.
So, I’m going to buy a gun. I want to be prepared to defend myself and my family, and my community if necessary. I have been putting this off for years, but now it feels like free riding. Sure I have my excuses, because obtaining a gun in the District of Columbia where I live is particularly, purposefully, difficult.
But that’s not good enough anymore. Here’s more from Judge Napolitano:
“Can the civilian use of guns keep us safe? Of course it can. The police simply cannot be everywhere. Anything that diminishes the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel environment of no-gun zones is an improvement over the carnage we have witnessed in them.”
If you don’t own a gun, you should consider joining me. It used to be our choice. Now it feels like a responsibility.
What does it say about our current political leaders when a lawful act, protected by the Constitution, feels like an act of civil disobedience?