|Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.|
by Vin Suprynowicz
JULY 23, 2000
'That scared the crap out of me,
On Monday, May 22, Sandra Suter was standing in the check-out line of the Wal-Mart in Spring Hill, Fla. when she saw several store employees wrestling with a knife-wielding man.
The employees had apprehended 50-year-old Willie J. Redding of Brookville — reported by the St. Petersburg Times to have previous convictions for selling drugs and dealing in stolen property — attempting to steal a VCR.
Dropping his loot, Redding pulled a small blade and lunged, cutting two employees, according to a Hernando County sheriff's report.
"Drop the knife! Drop the knife!" one of the bleeding employees was yelling.
Mrs. Suter, a 53-year-old grandmother, reacted as she had been trained.
"I have a concealed weapons permit," she announced as she walked up to the armed assailant and presented the .40-caliber pistol she keeps in her purse. "Either drop the knife, or I'll shoot you."
Getting smart in a hurry, Mr. Redding surrendered, was jailed, and gained release the next day on $3,000 bond.
"I just did what I thought was right," Grandma Suter told Jamie Malernee of the St. Petersburg Times. "It was the first time I've ever had to pull my gun other than at the firing range."
Suter's husband and grown children are calling the 5-foot-3 homemaker "a hero," reporter Malernee admits.
But then the Times story goes on:
"Spokesmen for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and Wal-Mart advise civilians not to get involved in such situations. 'We want to keep our stores a pleasant place to shop, so we would never encourage our customers to arm themselves,' said Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams. ...
"Shopper Lorinda Smith, who was in the candy aisle during the confrontation, said Tuesday that she was more frightened by Suter's gun then the man's knife.
" "That scared the c—- out of me, that someone could have a gun in the store," said Smith of Hernando Beach. 'This one lady was in there with her children and when she saw (the gun) she was like, "Get on the ground! Get on the ground!" If I was there with my kids, I would have had a heart attack.' "
Frightened at the sight of a responsible fellow citizen — a five-foot-three grandmother — using a legally licensed handgun to stop a crime without even firing a shot.
Think about that. Would the ladies have been frightened if uniformed policemen had shown up and brandished guns in the process of arresting three-time loser Willie Redding? Of course not — even though, statistically, police officers accidentally shoot the wrong person in far more cases than do citizens with legally issued concealed-carry permits.
"NRA officials did not return phone calls," reporter Malernee continues. "Kim Mariani, spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., said Suter's actions, while brave, could have hurt someone.
" 'God forbid something went wrong," Mariani said. "It just escalates the situation, and a lot of times it's unnecessary.' "
Reporter Jamie Malernee has clearly done what she thought was her job, calling all parties who might be expected to comment on the incident. (We'll leave aside for the moment the fact that the NRA, which endorsed the gun control bills of 1934 and 1968 and the Brady Bill, actually comprises a larger gun control advocacy group than Handgun Control — that placing a call to Gun Owners of America or JPFO might have been more appropriate in any search for "balance.")
But clearly, the formulaic structure of this story — even though it's admirably complete — seeks to "balance" any implication that the carrying and use of firearms by law-abiding citizens is natural or proper.
I believe something important is going on, here.
# # #
On May 31, I sent out a syndicated column consisting of a proposed list of 15 generic questions for this year's political candidates.
My fourth question was: "Are residents of our state free to engage in any business they choose? Is operating any local business for profit a privilege, for which a citizen should apply for a permit, paying a fee or tax?"
Mike Davis, a Republican candidate for the 14th Assembly district here in Las Vegas, a self-avowed NRA member and "just an ordinary guy, a business owner, and a father," replied:
"Of course you have the right to go into business. My wife and I did. I just don't think the process of obtaining a license is so onerous."
I wrote back:
Hi, Mike — a right is a thing you can do without filing an application, getting a license, or paying a fee. Your statement is akin to saying "Of course you have a right to attend the church or temple of your choice. I just don't think the process of filing your application, paying your fee, and waiting for your 'Freedom of Religion License' is so onerous."
Do I really have to point out to you that the courts have held — will always hold — that once you "voluntarily subject yourself to such a regulatory regimen," the regulatory agency has the discretion to unilaterally change its rules, canceling your license or permit at any time? Didn't the DEA take away (Las Vegas general practitioner) Dr. Dietrich Stoermer's permit to write prescriptions, after he'd been unanimously acquitted of "writing too many pain-killer prescriptions" at trial?
This is what we call "converting a right into a privilege," and it's why the Supreme Court ruled as recently as 1944 — not that anyone pays attention, any more — that things are either rights or privileges; they can't be both. If you endorse business licensing, you are saying there is no right to open a business.
My fourteenth question in that May 31 essay was:
Is the war on drugs succeeding? Can it succeed? Should all drugs be legalized? If not, why not?
Mr. Davis the Republican candidate replied:
"A majority of voters believe the War on Drugs is necessary, and that the current penalties for possession or sale of illegal substances are not excessive or unfair. Yes, we have all heard the argument that Prohibition didn't work, but few are convinced that this is the same thing."
I wrote back:
A majority was once solidly in favor of burning witches and Jews at the stake, as well. I'm glad to see confirmed that our typical Republican politician, today, has no established principles concerning human rights which he feels obliged to apply to such an issue (adults don't even have a right to control what they put in their own bodies?), but would instead have gladly enforced Hitler's "race laws" — or the wise and compassionate rules of jurisprudence which prevailed under the Spanish Inquisition — so long as "A majority of voters believe the War on Jews is necessary, and that the current penalties are not excessive or unfair. Yes, we have all heard the argument that witches and Jews didn't really cause the plague or the Great Depression, but few are convinced that this is the same thing."
The Republican candidate replied:
"Is that called 'hyperbole'? ... Take a poll; the voters aren't ready to give up the fight. If I can paraphrase Jefferson, it is the duty of all citizens to subject themselves to the will of the majority."
My eleventh question in that May 31 essay was:
"If police serve a search warrant which does not list any firearms, but they find firearms in the house being searched, is it OK for them to seize the firearms anyway? Why or why not?"
Self-styled conservative candidate Mr. Davis replied:
"Are they legal weapons? During the search, were any arrests made?"
I wrote back:
Mike — given the need to deflect attention from an illegal search, police can always find something to arrest someone for, even if it's as gossamer thin a fall-back as "child neglect (dirty home)," "resisting arrest," or overdue library books.
The Fourth Amendment says our right to be secure in our houses, papers, and effects "shall not be violated," and that the only warrants which shall be valid are those which "particularly describe the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
It's now routine for cops to acquire a one-size-fits-all drug warrant, break into a home with a battering ram, find few or no drugs, but seize all the firearms found there. (As a matter of fact, if they find no drugs, they're all the more likely to make a point of seizing the weapons, to justify their raid retroactively and put the victim on the defensive. See Waco, where the BATF only got federal military equipment by claiming David Koresh had a "suspected methamphetamine lab" in his church.)
Obviously, they then proceed to claim all the seized weapons are "illegal" (what else would they say?) The burden of proof is then on the property owner — who has probably suffered thousands of dollars worth of damage to his home, lost his job, and had his bank account levied to boot — to hire a lawyer and go to court at his own expense, attempting to prove those firearms aren't illegal.
(As a matter of fact, none of the weapons found in the church at Waco were illegal. But the government still has every one of them, seven years later. And how would you like to try and prove your Chinese SKS was imported before 1987, and thus has a legal bayonet? Got the original importation invoice?)
This is what you endorse, Mike, by declining to stick with the Bill of Rights, which requires us all to simply answer "No; they may not seize any firearms not listed on the warrant. Any such seizure would be chargeable as larceny."
Manicuring the current system along its edges, proposing no return to Constitutional rule (let alone underlying human liberties) unless it commands "majority support," is nothing but a recipe for continuing on the same toboggan ride to tyranny.
The fifth question in my May 31 quiz was: "Do residents of this state have a right to buy and keep machine guns? Why or why not?"
Candidate Davis, the self-styled Republican NRA member, replied:
"18 USC 922 prohibits the possession or sale of a machine gun."
I wrote back:
This is clearly untrue, MIke. I know many Nevadans who own perfectly legal machine guns. You can go rent and shoot one at the Gun Store on East Tropicana, any day of the week. (They even advertise in the yellow pages, under "Guns.") Don't you wonder why the owners have never been raided and arrested? All federal law requires is that one pay a $200 tax to the BATF — a tax payment which must, curiously, be accompanied by a set of fingerprints. (If this doesn't "infringe" the right to keep and bear arms, are you folks planning to start fingerprinting us for our "Freedom of religion licenses," soon? Our "Freedom of the press licenses"?)
Candidate Davis replied:
"I thought automatic weapons had been banned. ... at least that was the info I got from BATF. As a card-carrying member of the NRA, I'm all for protecting your 2nd amendment rights. I don't own a gun myself, however. Since your obviously in favor of private ownership of machine guns, why don't you extend your argument to the constitutionally-protected right to carry a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile?
# # #
I believe enough relevant data is now on the table to form a hypothesis.
When prominent daily newspapers can get away with lecturing us that firearms properly used by law-abiding citizens to stop crimes and prevent injuries are "more frightening than a criminal's knife," when even self-styled Republican NRA-member politicians in once-fairly-libertarian Nevada can ridicule the Second Amendment, sarcastically asking me "Why don't you extend your argument to the constitutionally-protected right to carry a ... shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile?" we have lost.
In the battle between freedom and bondage, the forces of freedom have lost. A century of wall-to-wall collectivist propaganda in the government youth camps ("public schools") has finally done its job.
In the past, for a hundred thousand years and into the beginning of this century, it was well understood that the education of boys past the age of 12 was best undertaken by older men, who would take the lads out into the woods and fields and teach them the courage, the cooperation, the concentration and the skills necessary to become hunters, warriors, craftsmen, artisans, and fathers.
It is no coincidence that today most of our high school valedictorians are little girls. I bear no grudge against the ladies gaining access to college and career, but what has happened in recent decades is that our mommified socialist welfare camps now treat male adolesence as a de facto disease, dosing up nearly half of those suffering this newly diagnosed "testosterone poisoning" with various mind-numbing nostrums, from Ritalin to Luvox to Prozac, primarily to get them to sit still and stop causing trouble, though each of these is acknowledged by its manufacturer to cause dementia, mania, and/or hallucinated voices in a statistically significant percentage of users.
Add this to the new presumption that an arrest for "child abuse" is appropriate for any father who keeps guns in the home; pulls his kids out of school for hunting trips; physically disciplines his kids; or uses psychoactive drugs in his religious observances (yes, even Indians.) Then, when a small percentage of these effectively fatherless government-manufactured young morons and maniacs finally respond by shooting up those responsible for their chemical castration, the circle is closed when the Katie Couric Lapdog Press blames ... who?
The school nurse with her experimental chemical sedatives? No, no, no. We blame the evil spirits supposedly resident in those symbols of male independence, power, and freedom, the dark power of that inanimate but totemic object of wood and steel ... the gun!
What is our understanding of the difference between freedom and bondage, and what do we imagine are the prevailing conditions that bring large numbers of people into either state?
The founding fathers of this nation made a close study of the Roman republic, and the way that government degenerated into despicable tyranny. They attempted to craft for us a system which would prevent the concentration of powers into a central government — a "new caesar" — warning us that it was vital that the military power be retained in the hands of a citizen militia (Roman citizens could initially be identified by the fact that they, and they alone, wore swords), rather than in any mercenary "special militia" or standing legion owing personal loyalty to their general or the current caesar — like today's BATF, FBI, or National Guard.
By the time Rome fell, tax rates were so high that farmers were literally selling their daughters into prostitution to meet the onerous levies that supported the decadent court. In the provinces, the 5th century's torrent of Huns and Visigoths were probably widely greeted in much the same way the Ukraine initially welcome Hitler's troops as liberators in 1941, figuring nothing could be worse than Joe Stalin.
Then descended upon the western world the appropriately named Dark Ages, with their stultifying codes of political and religious orthodoxy, enforced by the inquisitor and the stake.
Freedom of religion, or of the press? Even minor variance from the one accepted faith would get you burned after your tongue was torn out, and peasant literacy was itself grounds for suspicion of sorcery — priests graciously provided by the landed class would read you anything you needed to know out of the Bible.
Property rights? The medieval serf worked his master's land and lived in his master's cottage entirely at the baron's whim. The master of the castle could even descend and impregnate the peasant's wife on the peasant's wedding day, if the urge struck m'lord.
Because for a thousand years, no village of peasants with their scythes and pitchforks could stand up to a mere handful of the helicopter gunships of that time, the mounted knight in his coat of mail.
Only the landed gentry could afford a warhorse and a suit of armor. Let even three or four of these medieval equivalents of the Abrams tank enter your village, and the peasant's only hope was to drop to one knee and plead for his life. Take the cattle, take our daughters, use them as you will ...
Why did this ever change? Do you think it's because the guys in charge just got tired of having it all their way?
Of course not. This changed in the mid-1400s, at Crecy and Agincourt, when mere English commoners found they could destroy the cream of the French aristocracy — drowning thousands of armored noble knight in the mud beneath their own toppled horses — by dint of one simple, technological advance: the Welsh longbow, an inexpensive weapon best deployed by large gangs of anonymous peasants.
The French considered this so barbarous they threatened to cut off the index and middle fingers of any English archers they caught, rendering them incapable of using their dreaded bows. The Brits responded by defiantly waving these two fingers in the air — or sometimes just one of them.
Far from banning them from bearing arms, by the 16th century English law actually required commoners to practice their archery at least one weekend per month, to remain ready should the king need them. Suddenly — coincidentally? — the "rights of Englishmen" began to be interpreted to mean the rights of commoners under the law, not just the rights of nobles, as envisioned in the Magna Carta of 1215.
This new state of affairs reflected the new reality of the field of battle, where commoners could and did dictate terms to defeated monarchs — even going so far as to behead the King of England in 1649.
Can you imagine that? They cut off his head.
# # #
Of course, some lessons take a little time to sink in. Marching south from Lake Champlain to the Hudson in the early autumn of 1777, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne sent out mercenary Hessian scouting parties to demand fodder for his horses from the local peasantry.
The New York farmers watched the brilliantly-uniformed Hessians walk into their farmyards demanding free food for the general's army ... and shot them dead, sometimes wiping out entire detachments to a man.
This was unheard of in continental Europe, where most peasants were still expected to know their place.
But things only got worse for Burgoyne's army, its morale sapped by the heat, the humidity, the sudden storms, the bugs and the venomous snakes of what Americans now consider the "resort district" of Glens Falls and Lake George. (Thank goodness these wimps didn't find themselves in North Florida — the Yankees would probably have ended up owning Devon, Somerset, and half of Wales.)
As the exhausted army and its overladen baggage wagons emerged from the woods and climbed toward the open lands around Saratoga, a few isolated bands of Yankee farmers in homespun took up position behind the trees, and began "firing on the officers' persons."
I have always loved that quotation from Johnny Burgoyne's journal. The words so succinctly capture the outrage and incredulity of a dying class. British officers knew they ran the risk of being struck, along with their men, by un-aimed volley fire. But to have enemy peasants — commoners — purposely take aim at an officer's person, using a Pennsylvania or Kentucky rifle which by an outlandish historical accident proved to be more accurate than the standard-issue British Brown Bess musket ... well, it was unthinkable.
Students of American history know it was the leadership of Gen. Benedict Arnold of Connecticut — rising again and again despite his wounds to lead from the front as his horse was shot from under him — that turned the tide of battle at Saratoga, the turning point of the Revolutionary War, the battle that brought in France as America's ally and thus sealed Cornwallis' eventual fate.
But few recall the first question that occurred to both King Louis and King George when news of Burgoyne's surrender in October of '77 reached the European courts:
Who in hell had Burgoyne surrendered to ? Washington and the entire Continental Army — excepting the aforementioned Gen. Arnold and a handful of other officers in fancy coats — were in Philadelphia, withdrawing before the successful (but finally meaningless) siege of Gen. Howe.
The answer — inconceivable to the kind of European mind that ordered the band to play "The World Turned Upside Down" at Yorktown in 1781 — was that Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne had surrendered an entire British army to the American militia, to nothing but a gang of New York and New England farmers .
Is there a "control sample" that tends to confirm my thesis for why commoners in America (and, to a lesser extent and until recently, places like Australia and Western Europe) managed to throw off the chains of feudal tyranny and become far more "free" in the centuries after 1500 — with all the advantages of economic, scientific, and technological progress with which we're so familiar ... even if we've forgotten how they were won?
Yes, I think so. After toying with imported European firearms in the late 1500s, the shoguns of Japan banned the instruments entirely. In fact, under the decree of the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), issued on the 8th day of the seventh month, Tensho 16, "The people of the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other types of arms. The possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection of taxes and dues, and tends to foment uprisings."
So, artificially and in an almost ideally isolated experiment, while commoners gained increasing rights in direct proportion to their importance and strength on the battlefields of the rest of the world in the next 250 years, Japan remained (until Commodore Perry brought this experiment to a crashing close in 1853) one of the few places in the world where the peasant remained in absolute feudal subservience — their very lives forfeit at a whim — to the hereditary aristocracy, with their war-horses and their deadly steel and lacquered leather armor.
Even today, the Japanese are so far behind the curve that brought the western world the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights that the average Japanese "salaryman" happily tolerates annual, unannounced "courtesy police inspections" of his home to make sure he's "protected" from the danger of owning self-defense weapons, and considers it perfectly routine and even desirable that suspects frequently "commit suicide" by "jumping" out of high windows while under police interrogation, thus sparing their famililes further embarrassment.
Commoners "presumed innocent till proven guilty"? Not in a land where the people have no guns.
# # #
We are gathered now to inquire: Is America about to enter a new era of freedom, or a new era of bondage?
Using "well-regulated" as an 18th century synonym for "well-practiced," for "oiled up and ready to go" (English grandfather clocks are stamped "regulated" after they've been determined to keep the proper time; an English gunsmith "regulates" a double rifle by making sure both barrels will hit the same target with the same load) — pose yourself this question of the day:
Suppose the president of the United States got fed up tomorrow with some band of recalcitrant rebels operating in your city. For our purposes (as well as for his), it doesn't matter whether he chooses to condemn these folks as drug dealers, home schoolers, child abusers, tax resisters, or obstreperous gun nuts who refuse to turn in their "murderous, paramilitary" arms as ordered.
The president orders the National Guard and the FBI's thousand-strong, black-shirted paramilitary "Hostage Rescue Team" into your city to clean out the pockets of "antisocial, bandit resistance" under an emergency decree of martial law.
Quick: With the weapons you have on hand, and the degree of organization currently maintained between yourself and your neighbors (envisioned by our founding fathers as members along with you of your local militia), is your ability and likelihood to resist this unconstitutional incursion on your liberties by a few thousand professional soldiers armed with tanks, helicopter gunships, and fully-automatic M-16 rifles more closely akin to the condition of the citizen farmers who met General Burgoyne at Saratoga, armed with weapons better than the standard British army issue musket — that is to say, of a "well-regulated militia, necessary to the security of a free state," whose right to keep and bear military style arms (like the householders of today's free and peaceful Switzerland, each expected to keep a fully-automatic machine gun in the closet) has never been "infringed"?
Or would your circumstance be more closely akin to that of those medieval peasants we were discussing, whose only chance of survival was found in laying down their scythes and pitchforks, dropping to their knees, and begging the king's soldiers for mercy?
Now: Given your answer, are the citizens and elected "people's representatives" of this nation today crying out that, in order to be prepared to defend their liberties as they are expected to under the Constitution, they need to enter on a crash course of manufacturing and acquiring — in civilian hands, without any government license, permit, tax, registration, or paperwork — rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades, shoulder-launched heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, heavy mortars, and fully-automatic machine guns by the millions?
Or are Wal-Mart customers now reliably reported ululating that they are "more frightened by a fellow citizen's gun than a robber's knife," while Republican members of the NRA now running for state Assembly in once-Libertarian Nevada ask me with sneering sarcasm, "Since your obviously in favor of private ownership of machine guns, why don't you extend your argument to the constitutionally-protected right to carry a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile?"
# # #
I do not sit down today to write a call to arms. I am 50 years old, and I believe I have learned a few things.
I do not see in 96 percent of the population of this nation today the slightest hint of the smoldering fire of lust for liberty that burst forth to illuminate our ancestors' struggles in 1775 or 1861.
Yes, the final battle of a 70-year campaign is about to be joined. But I believe it is my duty to the truth to report that this battle is, for all practical purposes, already lost.
When they are done registering all Americans' firearms — rendering them expensive and hard to acquire and embarrassing to carry, arresting those who refuse to store pistol and magazine and ammunition locked in separate safes in separate rooms until their worth to defend us against jackbooted SWAT teams busting down our doors in the middle of the night is reduced to nil — when they finally get around to sending out the notices (oh, whoops, they've already done so in England, in Australia, in Staten Island, and now in California) that we have to turn in the most "dangerous" ones, first the deadly semi-auto "assault rifles" with their flash hiders and bayonet lugs, then the "cheap Saturday Night Specials" that "can only be used for crime," then the dangerous long-range scoped "sniper" rifles ...
Yes, then I suspect a few pockets of resistance will then flame up, too late, in the rural South and the inland West.
For a time, a few regional IRS offices will burn, and the army and the other increasingly indistinguishable federal police forces will get a chance to practice the urban deployment and cauterization they've been busy practicing.
But I'm sorry, I don't think it's going to look very much like the Second (or is it now the Third?) American Revolution ... especially as covered by our current lapdog, collectivist press.
Instead, I figure it's going to take the federals about as long to clean us out as it took the British Army to stamp out the last traces of Highland culture after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 — after which our descendents can look forward to a couple centuries of the same kind of "liberty" the old-time Scots could tell you about, banned from even wearing their tartans or speaking their native tongue in public.
If I am not an old man yet, I soon will be. I am 50 and sometimes my back hurts. Glory in war is a young man's dream. I harbor no illusions about the "romance" of scampering about in the hills, sleeping on rocks or snow, dodging the gunships for as many days or weeks as I'd be likely to last before I either surrendered to the first enemy smart enough to offer me a hot bowl of soup and a shower, or else managed to take a few with me in a glorious suicidal charge against some meaningless rural roadblock ... precisely the way the real-life Crocodile Dundee died, last year — newly banned rifle in hand — in North Australia.
But frankly, what I now pray daily is that I may find the courage to somehow contrive to lie among the fallen by the time our Great Disarmament — now underway since 1934 — is finally done.
Because after it's over, a kind of "peace" will indeed descend on this land ... broken only by occasional paroxysms of cryptic violence, unintelligible to the common class whose funerals will be dismissed as "light collateral damage," as the armies of the various warlords vie for control in Washington City.
(Fans of "democracy" needn't worry — I'm sure they'll continue the tradition of requiring the unarmed peasants to vote every four years to confirm the legitimacy of whatever warlord is currently in power.)
All the beauty pageant contestants are taught to wish for "world peace." But in fact, freedom and progress have ever developed only in lands of ongoing struggle — albeit shot and shell can usually be supplanted, between pirate suppression raids, by the "creative destruction" of healthy commercial trade and competition: war under a different guise.
But that's not the kind of robust, chaotic, pluralistic "peace" the victim disarmament gang have in mind. No, their vision of a peaceful world has been common to Caesar, to Stalin, to Hitler and Mao: a world at peace ... because no peasant dares rise from his knees as they ride past.
We used to wish each other health and long life. Join with me instead, now, in wishing that we do not survive to see the culmination of this new Pax Americana.
I've already seen enough.
This essay was prepared for the new "Doing Freedom!" web site.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the
Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Philosophy of Government
23 jul 2000