L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 131, July 23, 2001
Buying a Book
by Chuck Bridgeland
Special to TLE
Imagine buying a book.
Most people really don't know what it takes to buy a book. TV shows make it seem like just about anybody can walk into a store, lay down money and walk out with a book. Not so.
To buy a new book you need to go through someone with a Federal Bookseller's License (ie, a bookstore). This license is administered by a federal agency known to be indifferent or hostile to private citizens' right to read.
De facto policy over the last few years has been to up the cost and trouble of keeping the license. The cost and hassle is squeezing small booksellers (the so-called kitchen table bookstore) out of business. It's not surprising that the total number of book dealers has fallen sharply over the last decade. A city of 200,000 people might have 2 or 3 good bookstores.
The last administration's Justice Department declared, in writing, in court, contrary to the plain reading of the First Ammendment and the best current scholarship, that the right to read is not an individual right, but was somehow a collective right of the states. The current Attorney General disagrees, but so far this has made little discernable difference.
Hardbacks you can buy anywhere, but you can't buy paperback books outside of your home state, and haven't been able to for over thirty years. (Remember when you could just order books through the mail? Pay your money, get your book and noone cared?) Purchases from Amazon have to go to your local FBL holder ("click here for to find a local dealer"), who handles the recordkeeping paperwork and the background check and charges you for his time and trouble. Walmart and Kmart still sell some books, but not many and not very interesting books. You go there for a cook book or a car repair manual. They will special order, but don't even think about ordering philosophy books. The clerk will walk your purchase out to your car, and make sure you stow it in the trunk.
There's a patchwork of laws in different states and cities relating to book sales and ownership, transportation and where and what you can read. You're supposed to know them all for everywhere you travel, and woe to you bigtime if you screw up and get caught. If you're lucky your book just gets confiscated.
You have to pay a $200 tax to the abovementioned agency to buy a book with an index. That's $200 per book, by the way. That's if your state lets you have an indexed book at all. Books with indexes haven't actually been published for other than official use for years.
Vocal publicity hungry book banners get all foamy-mouthed about cheap romance novels. Book enthusiasts (aka "book nuts") generally hold mass market paperbacks in contempt (they tend to fall apart after minimal use), but do admit that revenue challenged individuals often can't afford better. Restrictive laws have driven prices up. Nothing physically smaller than the paperback edition of Atlas Shrugged can legally be imported.
Book shows are the latest boogie-man. Legislation is pending that's supposed to "close the book show loophole" by raising the legal stakes so high that noone will want to run a book show.
People under 18 can have hardcover books, but only if their parents buy them for them, and are present when they are read. Some states and cities now require that books be kept locked away from vulnerable young minds ("for the children"). The Founding Fathers universally favored reading books. Even so, the reading of books, once widespread in schools, has been in steep decline since the 1960s, especially in big city schools.
They say that there's a big black market in illicit books. They say "straw purchasers" buy books in the states where the rules are lax and sell books privately in restrictive states. They say this is a Big Problem. You're a nice law-abiding kind of guy. You don't have those sorts of connections, and don't personally have a clue where to get a black market book if you needed one.
Comic books are regarded as "mostly harmless". They are largely unregulated though you're still likely to get hassled by the cop on the scene.
Do you live in New York City, Chicago, DeeCee? Forget it. The powers that be would never let an ordinary peon like you buy a book. You need to be somebody or know somebody. Politicians and their "associates", movie actors, rich and famous people have no trouble getting books, though they don't advertise it. You may as well just watch TV.
Notwithstanding all this, United Statesians love their books. It is
estimated that 3/5 of the world's books in private hands belong to
Some of you saw where this was going from the first paragraph. For the everybody else, a mental excercise: in paragraph 4 above, where it says "First Ammendment", replace it with "Second Ammendment". In all paragraphs above, replace "book" with "gun". Understand the analogy. Make appropriate semantic adjustments (cheap romance novel == "Saturday Night Special", etc.). Read it again. It's an exact description of the United States that gun owners inhabit. Some of us already live in a police state.
Compare what you do to exercise one of your First Amendment rights (freedom of the press, and by extension, freedom to buy books, posses them and read them) with what a gun owner goes through to exercise Second Amendment rights (RKBA, and by extension, the right to actually buy, possess, bear and use personal arms).
The right to keep and bear arms is a right that is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, right up just behind freedom of religion, press and assembly. The best current scholarship affirms that this was not intended as a "collective right". (We'll ignore for now the questionable validity of that concept.) The Bill of Rights promises that this right specifically "shall not be infringed."
What? Guns are dangerous and books aren't? You can meet God in a book. Or Ayn Rand. There ain't nothing more dangerous than that.