4473: One Form to Fool Them All

What Is Form 4473?

Anyone who has purchased a firearm from a licensed dealer in the recent past has had to fill out a Form 4473. It’s a form issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) for use by Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders. Every transfer from an FFL holder to a purchaser generates one of these forms, and it stays on file for a minimum of 20 years. A thumbnail of the first page of the form is shown below. It links to the official PDF form at the BATFE website.

Form 4473 Page 1

“Gun control” advocates will point to the use of this form (and the associated National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS) as a positive step. They’ll say that it prevents the wrong people from getting guns without violating the Second Amendment.

How Are We Being Fooled?

The claims of “gun control” advocates are dead wrong on both fronts, and more. First of all, requiring a form and a background check from every purchaser does not prevent unsuitable people from getting guns. Criminals will find sellers elsewhere, or they will steal guns from lawful owners.

Secondly, Form 4473 is a blatant violation of the Second Amendment. It is an infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens to keep and bear arms, implemented by an agency that was originally a division of the Treasury. Some might argue that the federal government does not have the authority to regulate the weapons trade in the United States in the first place, and that “shall not be infringed” does not leave any room for interpretation.

But it gets worse. Any time a customer fills out Form 4473 according to the instructions, that person is also facing a violation of another constitutionally recognized right, this time under the Fifth Amendment: “No person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Border Patrol agents reads the Miranda rights to a Mexican national arrested for transporting drugs.Form 4473 is a thinly veiled circumvention of the same right that spawned the Miranda warning and the concept of “taking the Fifth” in court. In the process of supposedly making sure that criminals can’t buy guns, the federal government requires that the purchaser answer the following yes-or-no questions and swear to the veracity of the answers via signature:

11.a. Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form? Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you.

b. Are you under indictment or information in any court for a felony, or any other crime, for which the judge could imprison you for more than one year?

c. Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or any other crime, for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation?

d. Are you a fugitive from justice?

e. Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?

f. Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective (which includes a determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that you are a danger to yourself or to others or are incompetent to manage you own affairs) OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?

g. Have you been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions?

h. Are you subject to a court order restraining you from harassing, stalking, or threatening your child or an intimate partner or child of such partner’?

i. Have you ever been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence?

j. Have you ever renounced your United States citizenship?

k. Are you an alien illegally in the United States?

l. Are you a nonimmigrant alien?

This is precisely the kind of compulsion prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. In order to exercise the right to keep and bear arms, the BATFE requires that a person waive the right described in the self-incrimination clause by legally affirming answers to an on-paper interrogation. If the customer refuses to act as a witness against himself, he is denied his right to acquire a weapon—deprived of liberty—in violation of the due-process clause.

Some might argue that the self-incrimination clause does not apply here because the purchaser is not involved in an active criminal case. It’s true that the purchase of a gun is not a criminal case, but a sworn, signed statement is a legal weapon that can only come back to harm a person. It is evidence for a potential future criminal case, like statements made to a police officer before any suspicion has arisen.

When the police arrest someone, even if the arrested person is not yet formally charged with anything, he still has the right to remain silent. Why? Because anything he says, especially if he says it to a police officer, can and probably will be used against him in court. That’s why the Miranda warning is phrased that way—to make people aware that the information they are sharing may be used as part of a criminal case against them, right now or at any time in the future.

Witness Taking OathFilling out a Form 4473 is the legal equivalent of walking into a court and filing an affidavit against oneself. If the honest answer to 11.a is “Yes,” and the honest answer to 11.b through 11.l is “No,” it’s hard to think of it as filing anything against oneself, as none of the answers are actually incriminating. But that’s not relevant to the right described in the Fifth Amendment, which is “compelled to be a witness against himself.” Guilt or lack of guilt has no bearing on the situation.

Neither the police, nor the courts, nor the many tentacles of the federal government may compel a person to act as a witness against himself. It is an egregious violation of civil rights if a police officer, for example, refuses to let someone travel freely without answering questions about his activities. It is such a violation that the person’s statements may be inadmissible in court. In the case of Form 4473, the BATFE not only compels a person to be a witness against himself, but does so by threatening to withhold the person’s right to arm himself.

The Constitution explicitly prohibits the federal government from doing all of these things—compelling a person to be a witness against himself, depriving a person of any right without due process of law, and infringing on a person’s right to keep and bear arms. It’s all there in black and white.

But Isn’t That the Background Check?

Form 4473 is not the background check that is performed prior to a firearm transfer. That takes place after a 4473 is filled out, typically on the phone. The information NICS uses to determine whether the FFL may proceed is independent of the answers on the form. When a purchaser fills out the form, what he is doing is providing sworn answers to a preliminary set of questions. There are clear “right” and “wrong” answers to these questions, if the purchaser wants to acquire the firearm; any other answers will stop the transfer from happening.

It’s a sort of trap, the same kind of trap a police officer might spring during a traffic stop. For example, if an officer asks a person if he has anything illegal in his car, the person has three options: say yes, say no, or remain silent. Either of the first two options amounts to the person acting as a witness against himself. The third option is what sets the police encounter apart from Form 4473. The person has the option to remain silent, and the police officer cannot (lawfully) respond by depriving the person of life, liberty, or property.

Traffic Stop

The BATFE, on the other hand, claims the authority to make an FFL refuse a transfer if the purchaser will not complete and sign Form 4473. However, the background check could be performed to exactly the same degree without the answers to any of those questions or the purchaser’s signature. The form is extraneous to the background check. It is a bald attempt to make purchasers of firearms waive their Fifth Amendment rights in order to exercise their Second Amendment rights. (For anyone with a deeper interest in the Constitution, this arguably amounts to a violation of the Ninth Amendment’s provision that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”)

Is There a Solution?

Of course, it’s not unreasonable to want some level of security, especially when it comes to a potentially lethal object like a firearm. Gun owners should understand this; owning a gun involves the duty of being its steward. Responsible gun owners don’t let just anyone handle their guns, and it follows that they should appreciate the idea of not letting just anyone put his hands on a gun.

ATF FFL CheckThat said, the federal government is explicitly forbidden from being a gatekeeper between the people and any arms they may want to keep or bear. The pre-recorded message on NICS telling a firearms dealer whether to proceed with a sale or not is no less of a violation than if the government were to ban a particular religion or outlaw discussion of certain topics. It cannot stand.

However, there is a middle ground. Most everyone agrees that any FFL ought to be informed that his potential customer is a convicted violent felon, a known drug abuser, severely mentally ill, or otherwise ill-suited to own a firearm. These are things that might not be readily apparent in the course of a brief encounter in a gun shop, but the dealer should know about them if possible. NICS already has this information, as do the state authorities that are sometimes used for this purpose.

The solution is for the government to simply provide this information to the FFL rather than making the decision for him. The dealer would still collect the customer’s basic information on a form, but that form would not include a section that requires the purchaser to act as a witness against himself. Then the usual NICS call would take place, except that the result would not be a command about whether to proceed. It would be a list of reasons why the dealer may not want to proceed with the transfer, if there are any.

Greg Ebert Gun DealerThe dealer would then be free to make the choice of whether to proceed. He was informed of the purchaser’s background prior to approving the transfer, so he cannot feign ignorance, and he acts at his own risk. If he knowingly sells a gun to an unsuitable person who then uses it in a crime, the dealer can be held responsible via loss of licensing, civil penalties, and/or criminal liability as appropriate. This level of accountability would deter dealers from selling guns to unsuitable people, while still conveying all of the important information and removing the decision from the hands of the government. Taking this power away from the government also ensures that it can never be used as an instrument of abuse, such as denying the right to arms due to nonpayment of taxes or political blacklisting.

Overall, there is no valid reason why completing Form 4473 as it exists should be required of prospective firearm purchasers. Each purchaser’s suitability can be and is already determined in other ways, none of which necessitate the providing of sworn statements that could be used in a criminal case against that person. Removing those questions and leaving the decision to the dealer would not plunge the firearms trade into lawlessness. In fact, it would do the opposite, preserving the ability of citizens to exercise all of their rights, rather than forcing them to choose which rights to waive.

You Need Something to Care About

I spent a good portion of my teenage years, and even some of my young-adult years, dealing with what some clinicians would call depression. A certain doctor prescribed me two different medications for it during my first years of high school. Thankfully, both medications gave me terrible side effects, and I had to stop taking them.

Why am I thankful, you ask? Because I was so turned off by the experience that I never took another prescription antidepressant again for the rest of my life. I won’t touch them at all, and I plead with anyone thinking about taking them to consider another option. The reason is simple: unless you have a bona fide mental illness, which the vast majority of people do not have, all they do is make you feel artificially, temporarily good at the expense of feeling genuinely good in the long term.

What I needed, I have come to realize, is not something that would make me feel good, but something to feel good about. I didn’t need something to make me oblivious to my rut, but something real to get me out of it. That’s what it was—not clinical depression or some other illness over which I had no control, but a rut, created by years and years of feeling useless. I had few Trained Monkeyuseful skills, and among the few I had, I barely used any of them. Every job I’d had was a daily regimen of repetitive tasks that a machine or a trained monkey could have done sufficiently—collecting money, slapping together prefabricated sandwiches, carrying boxes, counting things, and so on. The rest of my time was spent “relaxing” and spending the money I’d earned.

As a result, I had nothing to keep me tethered to this world. Sure, I have a family, but it’s not as if I earned my family. They’ve been around since the beginning, and their existence or well-being doesn’t depend on me in any meaningful way. It might be different if I had children, but I don’t.

What eventually got me out of the rut was the realization that I can use my hands and my brain to be productive in whatever way I choose. The more I choose to be productive in that way, the better I will get at it, and the more good I can do for myself and others. And this wasn’t some meaningless, theoretical epiphany I had while sitting in a coffee shop and writing sad poetry. It happened while I was becoming more content with my life because I was doing things that made me care about living.

Spider PlantThese things I was doing weren’t all that special, either. I wasn’t saving the world one oily duck at a time or slow-roasting Sally Struthers to feed starving children. One of the first things was very simple: taking care of houseplants that people had left to die. As tasks go, taking care of plants is not very demanding. Make sure the plant looks healthy and is in an appropriate container. Arrange it near a window or other source of consistent sunlight. Water it on a regular schedule, and occasionally add plant food or another source of nutrition. The entire routine averaged about a half-hour each week.

That half-hour each week made a remarkable difference in my life. In most of the jobs I’d had, if I quit, another trained monkey could be immediately summoned to step into my place. I was as replaceable as a light bulb, perhaps even more so. On the other hand, I was responsible for those plants. If I quit caring for them, they would die. Their existence depended on my ability and willingness to continue caring for them. I was proud of how good they looked, and I wanted to keep them looking that way.

Around the same time as I started growing houseplants, I also got my first job doing something that didn’t make me feel like a trained monkey—proofreading for a publishing company. It was an enormous breakthrough for me. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t replaceable; there were plenty of other proofreaders, but they and I were doing something a lot more complex than pushing buttons and pulling levers for eight hours a day.

From there, I took off. I met people from all over the business and made my way into a specialized niche for which my growing skill set was very well suited. I got there because I took the time to assess my talents and work at them until I was good enough to use them professionally.

More importantly, though, I found what I had been missing all those years. I actually cared about what I was doing, whether it was fine-tuning educational materials or making sure my plants weren’t withering. What I was doing may not have mattered in a saving-the-world kind of way, but it mattered to me. I kept caring for the plants because it was important to me. I didn’t spend every day at work wishing I could tell off my boss and storm out the door; I spent them trying to complete work I could be proud of. I felt useful, and it’s really difficult to feel depressed and useful at the same time.

Generally, when people feel depressed, unless it’s because of a genuine dysfunction in their hormone systems, it’s not really depression they’re feeling. It’s easy to associate the feeling with depression because it’s similar to the feelings that come along with grief—most notably that you can’t do anything about it. You feel impotent. Helpless. Useless.

Lazy Kid on CouchYou feel that way when people die because you literally can’t do anything about it. But in the rest of life, that’s seldom the case; you feel that way because of constant inaction. You become stagnant and lack purpose. Fortunately, though, you can do something about that: be useful. Give yourself something to care about. It doesn’t have to be anything super-important, and in fact, it’s best to start small. Pick a talent you know you have or a skill you’re interested in building, and make a habit out of spending at least a half-hour a week doing something related to it—not thinking about it, not planning it, but doing it.

And I don’t mean going online and click-click-clicking your way to some pointless array of green pixels that you can pretend is a farm. Make a list of your talents, pick one that appeals to you in that moment, and use it to create something or meaningfully help someone. Don’t overthink it or come up with excuses to stall; just do it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do better if your first, second, or twentieth attempt is a flop.

It could be something as simple as this article in front of you; if it helps even one person feel good in the long term, it was well worth all of the thought and keystrokes I put into it. Through my own effort, I will have created something positive that wouldn’t exist without me. Even if no one who reads it gains anything from it, or no one reads it at all, it will have been worthwhile because I can use the experience to write a better article in the future.

That is the one thing that seems missing in many people’s lives, and the most major barrier to natural, non-drug-induced happiness. Many people spend so much of their time chasing subsistence money that they think that’s all there is to life—pushing buttons, pulling levers, and collecting paychecks until they die. Uselessness is one of the most depressing feelings in the world, and there is really only one solution to it: be productive.

[Kudos to David Wong at Cracked.com for inspiring me to write this via his article, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, which I highly recommend.]

Secret. Murder. Panels.

In a wonderful piece published by Reuters this evening, we come to learn that “a secretive panel of senior government officials” is responsible for placing people—U.S. citizens included—on a “kill or capture” list.

Let me spell that out for you: The government of the United States of America, steward of freedom, fairness, and democracy, now includes a secret murder panel. A small number of unidentified officials who do not have the authority to do so under any law whatsoever meet in secret, off the public record, to conspire to use the government’s resources to commit acts of violence against anyone, including U.S. citizens.

It doesn’t get a lot clearer than that, folks. I’m going to hesitate to say that “the government” is claiming this or that authority, though. This isn’t about the government. It’s not about division of power or constitutional limits.

This is a conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder, and to do so through abuse of the power of the government.

One of the basic pillars of a society bound by law is that it is unacceptable to murder human beings. No idea is more constant across all cultures, religions, and legal regimes then the prohibition on killing people. No crime is punished more severely than the taking of a life without valid, proven reason why it was necessary.

Over the years, many people have disagreed on what constitutes validity, proof, and other concepts, and out of this problem were created formalized court systems. These institutions bear the burden of deciding how to define the proper and judicious application of punishment for crime. They are the final authority on matters of criminality and civil conflict.

The courts are where Anwar al-Awlaki’s fate should have been decided. There are procedures for convicting people of crimes in absentia, and they certainly apply when the urgency of judgment overrides the fleeing defendant’s right to be present at trial. If he truly had committed crimes against the United States, he would likely be convicted and sentenced quickly. If his crimes were serious enough, the court could order his death or capture and empower someone to enforce it.

The word of a room full of secretive men is not a substitute for the court’s judgment. It is a crime on the same level as anything al-Awlaki could have been concocting. If a cabal of private citizens were to conspire to do the same thing in the same way, those people would be criminals under the law of any country. The conspirators’ involvement in the government does not make the secret murder panels any more acceptable. In fact, it makes their acts even more criminal. These individuals need to be brought to light and made accountable for their crimes.

This cannot stand. No secret murder panels. Not in my country.

I Won’t Shoot You / Don’t Be a Horse

I live in New Hampshire, and it is much easier to buy a firearm here than in most other states. There are no state laws limiting the purchase of any type of gun. The only real laws are these:

1. A person must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a long gun.
2. A person must be at least 21 years of age to purchase a handgun.

The federal government does, however, allege authority to impose firearms restrictions in the state of New Hampshire, so there are other hoops to jump through. There are special licenses and requirements for automatic and selective-fire guns, explosive devices, and other miscellaneous items. Purchase of any firearm from a federal licensee requires undergoing an “instant” background check.

But by and large, providing you’re not mentally unstable or a criminal, it is easy to get a gun here. There are even laws that bypass the federal licensing system by allowing firearms transactions without paperwork between certain parties. It’s also easy to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun—again, if you’re clean. There are no fingerprints taken or other criminal-handling procedures inflicted on the applicant. The issuing authority (usually local police) must respond to your application within 14 days with either a brand-new license or a damn good reason why you can’t have it. The fee is $10 for residents. That’s ten dollars, not a typo.

There are also no laws telling gun owners how to store their property. If you want to lock up your guns, do it. If not, don’t. Despite this, it’s common practice to lock up guns anyway, and to keep ammo separate. People who own guns tend to be quite aware of the potential for misuse or devastating accidents, not to mention that they can be pretty expensive. But no one has to tell them to do it.

Keeping and bearing arms here is a right that you have to forfeit by your actions, not a privilege that is contingent on the actions of others. The carry license is a sort of convenience, a way to simplify innocent encounters between the police and lawful gun-toters. The laws keep guns out of the hands of unsupervised children because that’s common sense. If there were no federal laws, the state would still work to keep known criminals from acquiring guns because, again, it’s common sense.

But overall, adults are treated like adults when it comes to firearms. In fact, adults are treated like adults in general. It makes sense in a state with “LIVE FREE OR DIE” emblazoned on every license plate. We aren’t required by law to buy any kind of insurance, not even for driving. No one has to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. The state doesn’t tax our income so that it can justify making our decisions for us. The state only ever attempts to make safety decisions for children, because they’re children and they can’t be expected to responsibly make those decisions yet. Until they’re 18, they have to wear seat belts and refrain from playing the lottery. After that, it’s up to them.

Personally, my decisions lean toward those that are mandated in other states. I have driver’s insurance because it is the right decision for me. I wear a seat belt whenever I’m in a car because I want to. If I were to get a motorcycle, I would probably wear a helmet out of pants-shitting fear. On the other hand, I don’t have health insurance because, without an employer subsidy, it’s an extremely bad deal. It’s the better decision for me to not make that purchase, and I have the freedom to do so.

I also have a pistol/revolver license, and on any given day I might choose to carry a loaded gun on my person or in my vehicle. With the laws the way they are, I could have any number of guns that invoke any number of media buzzwords—semi-automatic handgun, assault rifle, hollow-point ammunition, pistol grip, high-caliber rounds, extended magazines! Any day of the week, I could be standing in line next to you with a pistol and 48 rounds on my hip.

I might have all of that and more, but I won’t shoot you, ever. I promise. My promise goes back to the original idea of the social contract. I’m an adult and you’re an adult, and we solemnly agree not to do each other harm or to interfere in each other’s affairs. Unless your actions urgently force me to do it, I will not shoot or even point a gun at you. I also won’t force you to wear a seat belt or put away your cell phone while you’re driving (even if it makes me grit my teeth). In return, all I ask is that you respect my rights and my decisions the way I respect yours.

This is the ideal from which the United States grew. Freedom does come with risks, but it is exactly in our dealing with these risks that we grow to be mature, useful people. The best among us are allowed to flourish when their lives are left in their own hands, and the worst among us will fail anyway. But when we are deprived of freedom and the risks that go with it, all of us never really grow up. We assume we need permission for almost everything. Our confidence is stunted, and our minds develop around the idea of seeking approval rather than improving ourselves and achieving things. We become the opposite of free; we become dependent.

Free people say “yes” or “no” by their own choice, and they act of their own will. They don’t wait for orders and say “okay” to every request. They don’t defer their judgment and their decisions to well-dressed know-it-alls a thousand miles away. Dependent people need that bubble, that insulation from themselves. They agree to be put in social handcuffs for what they perceive to be their own good, and they consider a safety net a good deal at any cost (and anyway, they can’t say no).

The United States was partly designed as a sort of experiment, but not an experiment to see if democracy works. Citizens get to vote, but the system of government itself is a constitutional republic. It exists to safeguard our freedom and to govern within strict limitations so that we can become strong and independent. That, more than anything else, is the material purpose behind the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and every other revolutionary founding document of this country. The founders did not want their victory to go to waste on a nation of weak, dependent children who would only lose it all back.

When the government acts outside of its restrictions and betrays the purpose of freedom, that nation of weak, dependent people comes to life. We may feel safer, but in reality we are more vulnerable the less free we are. We grow into lives of perpetual servitude, constantly seeking out employers instead of ever doing anything for ourselves. We depend on others for everything we need to survive. Our skill sets become a list of traits that are desirable in slaves: works hard, speaks politely, has a positive attitude, doesn’t challenge authority, follows directions well, and so on. We never really demand anything, so we end up with whatever we are willing to accept to sell ourselves out. What we get is generation after generation of people that are indistinguishable at a distance from herds of livestock.

That is why freedom is worth defending—because it makes us strong, and its absence makes us weak. It gives us opportunities to learn and keeps us from developing into ignorant, helpless animals that would die without a master. Freedom is the difference between a man and the horse he rides. Every time we give up some of our liberty, we are getting on all fours and inviting anyone to mount us. We are proclaiming ourselves weak and in need of a master. And there is always someone ready to take up the offer.

Being a good citizen does not mean following the orders of men who want to make us their horses. Our country will never be better off because its people declared themselves beasts undeserving of liberty. Our best people earn honor by remaining steadfast while everyone else’s knees quiver. And they are remembered far longer and more fondly than their horses.

The Ten Years Hate

There is so much to say, and so much that has already been said.

Winston’s diaphragm was constricted. He could never see the face of Goldstein without a painful mixture of emotions. It was a lean Jewish face, with a great fuzzy aureole of white hair and a small goatee beard—a clever face, and yet somehow inherently despicable, with a kind of senile silliness in the long thin nose, near the end of which a pair of spectacles was perched. It resembled the face of a sheep, and the voice, too, had a sheep-like quality. Goldstein was delivering his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party—an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it. He was abusing Big Brother, he was denouncing the dictatorship of the Party, he was demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Eurasia, he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the revolution had been betrayed—and all this in rapid polysyllabic speech which was a sort of parody of the habitual style of the orators of the Party, and even contained Newspeak words: more Newspeak words, indeed, than any Party member would normally use in real life. And all the while, lest one should be in any doubt as to the reality which Goldstein’s specious claptrap covered, behind his head on the telescreen there marched the endless columns of the Eurasian army—row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swam up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar. The dull rhythmic tramp of the soldiers’ boots formed the background to Goldstein’s bleating voice.

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were—in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State. The Brotherhood, its name was supposed to be. There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book. But one knew of such things only through vague rumours. Neither the Brotherhood nor the book was a subject that any ordinary Party member would mention if there was a way of avoiding it.

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O’Brien’s heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out ‘Swine! Swine! Swine!’ and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein’s nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

Thus, at one moment Winston’s hatred was not turned against Goldstein at all, but, on the contrary, against Big Brother, the Party, and the Thought Police; and at such moments his heart went out to the lonely, derided heretic on the screen, sole guardian of truth and sanity in a world of lies. And yet the very next instant he was at one with the people about him, and all that was said of Goldstein seemed to him to be true. At those moments his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector, standing like a rock against the hordes of Asia, and Goldstein, in spite of his isolation, his helplessness, and the doubt that hung about his very existence, seemed like some sinister enchanter, capable by the mere power of his voice of wrecking the structure of civilization.

It was even possible, at moments, to switch one’s hatred this way or that by a voluntary act. Suddenly, by the sort of violent effort with which one wrenches one’s head away from the pillow in a nightmare, Winston succeeded in transferring his hatred from the face on the screen to the dark-haired girl behind him. Vivid, beautiful hallucinations flashed through his mind. He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax. Better than before, moreover, he realized why it was that he hated her. He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweet supple waist, which seemed to ask you to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity.

The Hate rose to its climax. The voice of Goldstein had become an actual sheep’s bleat, and for an instant the face changed into that of a sheep. Then the sheep-face melted into the figure of a Eurasian soldier who seemed to be advancing, huge and terrible, his sub-machine gun roaring, and seeming to spring out of the surface of the screen, so that some of the people in the front row actually flinched backwards in their seats. But in the same moment, drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, the hostile figure melted into the face of Big Brother, black-haired, black-moustachio’d, full of power and mysterious calm, and so vast that it almost filled up the screen. Nobody heard what Big Brother was saying. It was merely a few words of encouragement, the sort of words that are uttered in the din of battle, not distinguishable individually but restoring confidence by the fact of being spoken. Then the face of Big Brother faded away again, and instead the three slogans of the Party stood out in bold capitals:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

—George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In All Honesty: Obama’s Libya Speech

On the evening of March 28, 2011, President Barack Obama preempted countless episodes of Jeopardy! all over the country to speak about the military action he recently authorized in Libya. The speech was as impassioned and eloquent as we should expect from the president of a major world power as he effectively seals the deal on World War III.

Of course, that also means that it was more persuasive than informative, in traditional political style. Obama is exceptionally good at this—some might even call him a “natural”—and the speech was indeed a work of verbal art, one that deserves to be analyzed.

It begins with a typical, boilerplate-type introduction, including the royal we and the obligatory half-hearted kowtowing to the military. Then it gets interesting.

For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.

It is hard to say which generations he’s speaking about here. The United States government has, in recent decades, been responsible for more war and oppression than any other individual nation, with no apparent regard for the risks or costs. The country has virtually no international credibility and is on the verge of insolvency because of financial recklessness, much of it due to excessive military funding. There has been little reluctance to use force, as long as it is under the right circumstances.

This alleged “responsibility to act” is a pretty selective one. Atrocities have unfolded all over the world, but the ruling elements of the United States have only seen it fit to act on a few of them. Looking more closely at the times when action was taken reveals an unsurprising pattern. In every instance, there is a politically convenient or arguable cause for action in a place where there is strategic value and/or an abundance of nonrenewable energy resources.

For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant – Moammar Gaddafi. He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world.

Barack Obama has presided over the implementation of some of the most freedom-quashing and exploitative actions the United States has seen since the Civil Rights Era. In only two years in office, he has already given the nod to forced X-rays and sexual assault at airports, promoted and signed a law that robs Americans of the decision of whether to purchase medical insurance, and looted the taxpayers’ futures for the benefit of his benefactors. He has continued and supported all manner of Bush-era policies that he denounced while campaigning, including torture, and has declined to even look into the crimes of his predecessor’s regime. He hardly stands on sufficient moral high ground to make judgment in such matters.

In the face of the world’s condemnation, Gaddafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people. Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misratah was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.

With the possible exception of sexual assault on journalists, the exact things described here happened in Gaza at the hands of Israel just as Obama was entering office. However, he launched no military or even political action against Israel. In fact, he has continued to approve the subsidizing of its violent, apartheid-inflicting government with billions of tax dollars, even after his mild request to cease settlement construction was met with sneering defiance.

One cannot claim such acts as a cause for intervention when one signs off on funding the same acts in other places.

At my direction, America led an effort with our allies at the United Nations Security Council to pass an historic Resolution that authorized a No Fly Zone to stop the regime’s attacks from the air, and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people.

A “No Fly Zone,” eh? Is that like the no-fly zones that blanketed Iraq for the better part of the 1990s, while the world was told horrifying (tall) tales about Saddam Hussein’s henchmen murdering incubated infants and committing other atrocities? This may just be the skepticism talking, but perhaps it is unwise to take all the stories about Libya at face value.

Those who seek to start wars very often lie to achieve their goals, and obviously someone was seeking a war here. There are uprisings and violent repression happening all over the Middle East right now, but only Libya was chosen to be invaded. The interest in this action was clearly not driven by concern for innocent citizens, or else like action would be taken all across Arabia and northern Africa.

Gaddafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

Obama is selling this war the same way that Bush sold the war in Iraq—using dubious anecdotes to build trepidation about a perceived threat. A politician is a politician is a politician. But, again, this same kind of threat lurks in many places where the U.S. armed forces are not sent to intervene, and the president is not permitted to take this kind of action without a proper act of Congress.

It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

That’s all well and good, Mr. President, but there is actually a process for that. When you want to send our men and women in uniform to war, you must seek a declaration of war from Congress. “Consulting the bipartisan leadership” is not a declaration of war, no matter how enthusiastic they were about it. You are not authorized as president to deploy U.S. troops otherwise, and it should not be necessary to inform you of this fact.

In this effort, the United States has not acted alone. Instead, we have been joined by a strong and growing coalition. This includes our closest allies – nations like the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey – all of whom have fought by our side for decades. And it includes Arab partners like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who have chosen to meet their responsibility to defend the Libyan people.

So, really, one could correctly call it a “coalition of the willing.” Neither a coalition nor a United Nations resolution is a substitute for proper exercise of war powers.

Moreover, we have accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations. I said that America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.

Does he expect anyone to believe that he launched an assault on Libya without having had operations on the ground in advance? And does he expect anyone to believe that he can be held to his word about keeping the U.S. involvement “limited”? The man saying this is the same man who pledged to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then decided that wasn’t such a great idea after he was inaugurated. Now the military support roles are being filled with contractors and mercenaries so that soldiers can be devoted to more front-line combat.

In addition to our NATO responsibilities, we will work with the international community to provide assistance to the people of Libya, who need food for the hungry and medical care for the wounded. We will safeguard the more than $33 billion that was frozen from the Gaddafi regime so that it is available to rebuild Libya. After all, this money does not belong to Gaddafi or to us – it belongs to the Libyan people, and we will make sure they receive it.

Bush said the same thing about Iraq’s oil. Somehow it worked out to mean that multinational companies get to suck all the oil out of Iraq and simultaneously suck American taxpayers dry with sweet government contracts. In that instance, it was the second-largest proven petroleum reserves in the world. In this instance, it’s $33 billion, slightly more than the cost of a month in Iraq. Obama must think the American people especially foolish to try to pass this off on them. This Libya debacle is going to be very expensive, and he knows it.

Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton will go to London, where she will meet with the Libyan opposition and consult with more than thirty nations. These discussions will focus on what kind of political effort is necessary to pressure Gaddafi, while also supporting a transition to the future that the Libyan people deserve. Because while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.

Despite the success of our efforts over the past week, I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya. Gaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. Moreover, even after Gaddafi does leave power, forty years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task. And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community, and – more importantly – a task for the Libyan people themselves.

It is not the place of the president of the United States, unilaterally or with the aid of other nations, to remove the leader of a sovereign nation without a declaration of war from Congress. It is not the place of any nation or coalition of nations to dictate the form or composition of another government either. This is the same “spreading democracy” nonsense that Bush peddled about his ventures into Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is no less wrong or arrogant coming from Obama about Libya.

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

See above. There is nothing wrong with acting on behalf of what’s right, but in this case it does require an act of Congress, and it seems awfully suspicious coming from a person who ignored and even approved funding for wrongs of the same magnitude elsewhere.

Moreover, America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful – yet fragile – transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security. So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.

Bush told the same alarmist story about Iraq, that allowing Hussein to remain in power would “destabilize” the region and empower ruthless dictators, thrusting the Middle East into a political Dark Age. Is it any truer when presented in the delicate prose of Obama?

Now, just as there are those who have argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Gaddafi and usher in a new government.

Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.

Pressuring a leader to leave power while his country is under siege and legions of soldiers stand at his borders is hardly “non-military means.” Bush gave Hussein the same kind of gun-to-the-head offer to leave office in 2003, right before he launched the invasion. It was an attempt to unseat a leader essentially through military force then, and it is the same thing now.

We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners as they’re in the lead to maintain the safety of civilians. We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gaddafi leaves power. It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Gaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power. But it should be clear to those around Gadaffi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on his side. With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be.

And so on, and so on, ad nauseam. It is a little boring to continually point out the parallels with Bush’s defense of the Iraq war, but they’re too numerous to ignore.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe. And no decision weighs on me more than when to deploy our men and women in uniform. I have made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests. That is why we are going after al Qaeda wherever they seek a foothold. That is why we continue to fight in Afghanistan, even as we have ended our combat mission in Iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops from that country.

It is not a power of the president to unilaterally make war, but perhaps it should be expected for such an astute student of Bush to believe otherwise. The worldwide war on the ill-defined and discriminately applied label of “terrorism,” brought to life during the collective trauma that followed a national tragedy, is not a proper justification for further military action. Americans elected Obama because they expected him to end policies like this, not continue and expand them.

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

However, when led by men like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the U.S. will only answer that call under certain conditions and against certain adversaries. Gaddafi has the extreme misfortune of ruling a country that is both wealthy with oil and strategically important, so Obama has answered the call this time. But in Bahrain? Yemen? The Congo? Anywhere that is inconvenient and doesn’t serve strategic or resource needs? Nope.

That’s the kind of leadership we have shown in Libya. Of course, even when we act as part of a coalition, the risks of any military action will be high. Those risks were realized when one of our planes malfunctioned over Libya. Yet when one of our airmen parachuted to the ground, in a country whose leader has so often demonized the United States – in a region that has such a difficult history with our country – this American did not find enemies. Instead, he was met by people who embraced him. One young Libyan who came to his aid said, “We are your friends. We are so grateful to these men who are protecting the skies.”

One might even say that he was greeted as a liberator, á la Operation Iraqi Freedom.

My fellow Americans, I know that at a time of upheaval overseas – when the news is filled with conflict and change – it can be tempting to turn away from the world. And as I have said before, our strength abroad is anchored in our strength at home. That must always be our North Star – the ability of our people to reach their potential, to make wise choices with our resources, to enlarge the prosperity that serves as a wellspring of our power, and to live the values that we hold so dear.

But let us also remember that for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe. We have done so because we know that our own future is safer and brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity. Tonight, let us give thanks for the Americans who are serving through these trying times, and the coalition that is carrying our effort forward; and let us look to the future with confidence and hope not only for our own country, but for all those yearning for freedom around the world. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Again, it is unclear to which generations he is referring, but whoever wrote the speech did a good job of tidily tying its introduction to its conclusion. It is a very well-written speech deserving praise on the grounds of its structure and phrasing alone, a speech worthy of being called a presidential oration. But that doesn’t change the slanted message it presents, nor does it excuse such warmongering by the very man who was carried to the White House under banners of peace, honesty, and change.

This kind of interventionism is the opposite of peace and honesty, and it is no change from the politics that voters rejected when they elected the “Yes We Can” president. It is the same product in a different box, the only substantial difference being that Obama didn’t make the mistake of allowing the issue to become a prolonged topic of public debate before he acted. Bravo.

Honest men taking urgent measures to do the right thing do not offer slews of varied reasons why people should approve their actions. They do not bounce all over the spectrum rationalizing what they did. The reasons are simple and compelling, and they are consistent with previous behavior on similar occasions. Obama’s justification address for his incursion into Libya’s sovereignty is not composed of words of an honest man. America is being taken for a ride, again.

[Thanks to the Wall Street Journal blog Washington Wire for the text of the speech.]

Bill Cooper and the Nine-Eleven Coverage That Should Have Been

I’m about to ask you to do something.

It’s not a favor for me; it’s a favor for you. There are some radio broadcasts you really should hear. You should have heard them a long time ago, but that’s neither here nor there. I just learned of them in the past year, and now I’m presenting them to you.

The reason this is a favor (as opposed to a simple “Here, check this out”) is because the broadcasts comprise over 10 hours of audio, some of which is less than exciting. It’s a lot to listen to, but it’s also a lot more interesting than your usual iPod playlist.

On June 28, 2001, a man named Bill Cooper made a broadcast in which he predicted that a major incident would soon be blamed on Usama bin Laden. Cooper was the author of the cult favorite book Behold a Pale Horse and host of the radio show Hour of the Time, well-known for his research and commentary on UFOs and a secret government program called Majesty-12. The relevant part of his broadcast from June 28 is reproduced in the video below, 0:59–2:46. (The rest of the broadcast is mostly about the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, and is available here.)

About two a a half months later, on September 11, 2001, Cooper made his longest single broadcast, and one of his last. He was on the air from morning until night, and again for an hour each on the 12th and 13th. Recordings of those broadcasts are available in MP3 format via the links below:

Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 1)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 2)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 3)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 4)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 5)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 6)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 7)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 8)
Hour of the Time, 9/11/01 (part 9)

Hour of the Time, 9/12/01

Hour of the Time, 9/13/01

Cooper hosted a handful of other episodes of Hour of the Time in the following months. Then, on November 6, 2001, he was shot to death at his home in Eagar, Arizona, in an altercation with Apache County deputies enforcing a warrant. His death was predictably subject to a great deal of scrutiny from his fans, who were already aware that he had sent his family into hiding out of fear for their safety.

Regardless of how you feel about Cooper’s brusque style of conducting his broadcast, his unusual history in UFO and other “conspiracy” studies, or the cause of his death, you have to recognize after listening to these broadcasts that he was onto something. Nearly all of the assertions that he made regarding September 11, 2001 turned out to have a basis in fact, notably:

  • The Twin Towers could not possibly have been destroyed by the means explained in official reports, but appear to have been taken down using explosives, as Cooper noted right away. The same goes for World Trade Center 7.
  • Usama bin Laden was immediately blamed, despite lack of proof of his guilt.
  • The attacks were used without hesitation to demonize Islam and initiate unnecessary foreign wars.
  • In the aftermath of the attacks, a permanent “war on freedom” was initiated, and measures were taken to curtail constitutional rights and alter public policy in extreme ways.

Those who count themselves among the “nine-eleven truth” crowd may feel especially shocked by many of Cooper’s statements—not because they’re surprising, but because they are in line with the results of many years of research on the topic. A mere few hours after the first plane crashed, Cooper was already hot on the trail and talking about it in ways that few dared. His frankness and candidness put to shame all the mainstream news outlets that turned into official mouthpieces as soon as it became taboo to do otherwise. His broadcast is what the world should have heard in place of the commercial-free flurry of propaganda that dominated mass communication.

While most of us were being traumatized by televised mass murder on a loop, Cooper was on shortwave telling people to remain calm and to try to observe the situation for what it was. Listening to his words now is eerie, especially knowing what happened to him, but his account of that day is an important piece of the puzzle that everyone should hear.

[Thanks to “shure” at http://s1.zetaboards.com/pumpitout/topic/2039262/1 for the links to the MP3s.]

You Should Have a Gun

You should have a gun. You really should.

Politicians and news personalities and other talking heads will often tell you that you shouldn’t have a gun. They’ll tell you that guns don’t need to be useful beyond the narrow scope of hunting and personal defense. They’ll tell you that the Second Amendment must have limits so that criminals and maniacs and terrorists can’t have high-capacity magazines and machine guns.

But hunting and self-defense are two secondary reasons why the government isn’t permitted to infringe on your right, as an American citizen, to bear arms. In fact, let’s review the exact text of the Second Amendment right now:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

It doesn’t say anything about hunting. It doesn’t say anything about personal defense either. It contains two major parts: a justification of the right, and an unqualified declaration of the right.

The justification explains that the importance of this right is that it allows for local, organized defense (though nowhere does it restrict the right to this purpose). It is not referring to the National Guard of each state. It is referring to civilians maintaining the ability to organize themselves into effective military units if the need should arise.

The declaration does not specify what kind of arms, nor does it provide any room for exception to the rule. The word infringe does not include any connotation of flexibility. It means, “to encroach upon,” with its origins in a Latin word meaning “to damage, break off.” Any baby-step in the direction of restricting possession and carrying of arms of any kind is an infringement of the right.

It is not an oversight that the amendment was written this way. The founders of the United States were rebels and revolutionaries. Access to weapons is what allowed them to defend their country from the theft and oppression of George III.

It’s important to note here that monarchy was a very long-standing form of government as of the late 18th century. The founders were educated people who were facing massive disillusionment with a system that had been in place from time immemorial. The Second Amendment is a recognition that even the most trusted, powerful institutions around us can turn out be destructive elements that need to be stood down. They knew it could happen even in this well-considered arrangement they had created themselves.

That is why the people of the United States have a right—second only to free speech, free religion, free assembly, and redress of grievances—to own and to carry weapons of their choosing, with no limits. Everything from slingshots to missiles to laser rifles is forbidden to the government to restrict. And that right exists primarily so that we may defend ourselves against the government if it becomes necessary, with the same level of force that the government can employ.

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past few decades, there’s no way you could not have noticed the government’s complete impunity in its actions. There’s no way you could not have noticed that, year after year, it looks a lot more like a permanent ruling class than any kind of democracy. There’s no way you could not have noticed that something has gone awry with the founders’ great experiment.

Governments cannot be trusted to correct themselves once they’ve gone bad. Human history does not contain many examples of that. Governing bodies exist to last indefinitely, so that’s what they do—preserve the structure of rule. Sometimes, when they’re acting badly enough, that preservation can take some really ugly forms. It can kill and destroy with an unimaginable ferocity. Human history is filled with examples of this.

Unarmed citizens command no authority and present potential government thugs no deterrent to abuse. Armed citizens represent a power to be reckoned with; any large-scale assault upon them risks running into effective resistance.

No one is saying you should keep an automatic rifle loaded under your bed, ready and waiting to be brought into battle. There’s no call to attack the government. There’s no need to join a militia if you don’t want to.

But you should have a gun, and you should learn to use, store, and maintain it properly. You should assert and protect your and your fellow citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. And you should never forget why.

[Many thanks to Merriam-Webster Online and the Online Etymology Dictionary for help with the “infringe” paragraph.]

Why Do We Just Accept Things?

A couple days ago, I came across the photo below, taken from a wall in New York City. Under it was the caption, “Think about it, if only for a second.” So I did.

Photo by Andy Asimakis (2011)

I thought about it for several seconds. Then I went back to the photo and thought about it some more.

The things that we human beings will accept are absolutely amazing. On many occasions, large groups of people have managed to accept things that make people today think they must have been stupid or cowards. And people today accept things that, in the future, our descendants will probably regard the same way.

Acceptance is not all bad, of course. The world isn’t all roses and sunshine; humans do need to adapt, and before that can happen, we need to accept and absorb what is around us. No doubt, there have been some humans who had too much of a tendency to not accept the things around them, and they probably didn’t make much of a contribution to our gene pool.

But when it comes to our social environment, over-acceptingness can be a major point of weakness, and even a fatal flaw. “Doormat” is a pretty apt metaphor for one who consistently accepts too much. “Sheep” is another. Vast numbers of people have knowingly been led to horrible fates simply because they nodded their heads and submitted at the wrong moment. Those same people didn’t have much to contribute to the human gene pool.

Even for lesser situations than life-or-death, many people lack some mechanism that allows them to say “No” and to alter things when circumstances become unacceptable. So many times in our lives, especially for those of us in the lower socioeconomic tiers, we just say “Okay” and put up with whatever obstacle or injustice is put in our path.

Higher taxes? “Okay.” Big rent increase? “Okay.” Kicked out of one’s own home? “Okay.” That magic word okay lets us continue on the path of least resistance, even if it leads somewhere worse than the other path, where we’d have to say “No” and maybe fight our way through. Being obedient reduces conflict.

However, being obedient can often amount to surrendering our freedom. That’s what we are doing when someone tries to force something objectionable on us, and we just let it happen. Were we acting freely, we would not allow that objectionable thing, but we instead permit someone else to take control over our behavior. When there is an immediate threat to our safety or our lives, it makes some sense, but it happens much more often than that.

This supine attitude is behind nearly every successful infringement of our freedom. We just try to be good, obedient people, and it can easily result in some person or institution taking advantage of us—just like humans learned long ago to use shouting and the pounding of horse hooves to direct herds of livestock. We assume that the safe option is always the correct one, the option that will preserve our freedom and our security.

That is why we just accept things. Whether by conditioning or some innate quality, we lean toward the option that seems like it will keep us safe and free in the immediate situation, even if it won’t in the long term.

Is there a lesson in this? Maybe. Some people are just inherently cowards, and their responses will always be to accept the immediately safe choice, no matter the long-term consequences. But the majority of people fall somewhere between “coward” and “rebel without a cause,” and their responses can be guided with a little bit of foresight and will power.

Refusing to accept something—that is, resisting—often has the potential to land us in hot water. However, many of us need to learn and understand that taking the chance of landing in hot water is always better than foolishly sitting in warm, comfortable water while it is being boiled. Sometimes the correct option, the one that will keep us safe and free, is to resist.