L. Neil Smith's
Number 135, August 20, 2001

I Digress ...

by John Sebastian

Special to TLE

... or How I Avoid Speaking on the Libertarian Position on the Second Amendment

Being asked to define the libertarian position on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution presents several difficulties. It is traditional for supporters of liberty, when asked to speak on the right to keep and bear arms, to quote at great length the wisdom of the founders of this nation.

Indeed, one could present an entire talk, consisting of nothing but citations from the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all the time waxing eloquent - not just on the right to keep and bear arms, but on the sacred obligation to do so.

I will not do this.

The reason this is usually done is to counter the argument that the Second Amendment means something other that what it says. This argument is so specious that one wonders if perhaps some virus or bacterial plague has consumed the reason of those who maintain it. That the argument is made at all demonstrates that the opponents of freedom are at best engaged in self-delusion, and lacking in the personal integrity to deal honestly - with themselves, at very least.

It is also a tradition for the proponents of freedom to quote crime statistics, demonstrating how often weapons (particularly firearms) in the hands of potential victims of private crime, act as a deterrent to such crime. That such an argument must even be made, says more about the definition of the opponents of freedom, than it does anything else. The very idea, that one must prove a person armed with a firearm is thereby a less attractive target to those with criminal intent, is so ridiculous that the only reasonable answer is to stare back with utter incredulity.

It leads one to wonder if the enemies of freedom have a real reason that they wish you to be unarmed?

Having now stated that I will not quote the founders, I hereby quote the Second Amendment.

"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 is the most sweeping of restrictions within the Constitution. SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED! is about as definite and uncompromising as it gets. Yet there are over 20,000 Federal, State and Local gun laws in this country; each and every one is a criminal act, perpetrated against the Constitution of these United States.

And, quoting the Constitution itself, within the Body (Article One, Section Ten) it states: "No state shall ... grant any title of nobility."

Now what, you may ask, does a "title of nobility" have to do with the Second Amendment?

A title of nobility is a grant of privileges from the "king." The most basic of those titles has historically been a grant of arms - literally, the right to keep and bear arms. Despite the fact that we must all kowtow to the petty nobility that has been granted arms by the state, the principle still stands; we do not grant titles of nobility in this nation. We all have the right (not just the grant) of arms.

The Tennessee Constitution states, in its Declaration of Rights:

Article I.

Section 1. That all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; for the advancement of these ends they have at all times, an unalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they think proper.

Section 26. That the citizens of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have the power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.

(Tennessee's Constitution also forbids monopolies, forfeitures, and the loaning of monies for private purposes without a referendum. One supposes word just simply has not yet reached Bell South, the various municipal governments, the sheriffs, the TBI, the local cable monopoly, the school monopoly and on and on. But I digress ...)

Jefferson suggested that we should tie down our governments "with the chains of constitutions." If he were here today, I would remind him, "Mr. Jefferson, constitutions are made of paper, and the chains that were to bind our governments have proved to be just that - made of paper." Words are only binding to the extent that they move the hearts and minds of the people who hear or read those words.

So, having sat through far too many platform debates on how many bullets one can put through the head of a pin, I refuse to talk about the Second Amendment, about guns, or about the libertarian position on the Second Amendment.

Indeed, there is no Libertarian USA guy to hold an opinion on the second amendment; in fact, there is no USA fellow who may think this or that. Nor is there even any identifiable person named either "the Tennessee Libertarian Party" or "the State of Tennessee" whom I could interrogate to discover what those opinions might be. So then how could I possibly speak in any real terms about "the libertarian position" on the Second Amendment? All of the above are legal fictions, only flesh and blood opinions matter.

I do care - and care deeply - that President George W. Bush, Libertarian Party Chair Jim Lark, Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist, and our own state party chair, Dr. Richard E. Pearl, Sr., do keep the promises they have made, to me and everyone else, concerning these rights and all other rights. But as I said, I am not going to talk about the Second Amendment or anyone's opinion on it, much less any amorphous group's attempt at consensus expressed by the written word.

The Second Amendment is a derivative right. That is, it is a logical and inescapable extension of a more primary right. Before the Second can be understood, that primary right must be examined and understood.

That primary right is the right to one's own life.

Assuming that you are not involved in an aggressive act against another, I believe and in my expectation every libertarian believes that you have a right not to have your life snuffed out by some other human agency.

While almost everyone would agree with this statement at first glance, a bit of examination will show that many, many people do not hold this as an absolute. To be sure, most people do hold this right as inviolate most of the time, or how would such a thing as humanity even exist? However, many who would claim to hold this to this dictum consistently often fail to realize that the policies they promote necessitate an abridgment of the right to ones life and for the pettiest of reasons. How many people, if you told them that zoning ordinances are enforced with the threat of death, would consider you to be anything but some sort of escaped inmate? Yet it is demonstrably so: All laws are enforced by force, and all exercises of force carry a lethal component, implied in their mandate. One has to wonder: How many of our so-called laws would have ever seen the light of day, if viewed in this their true light?

"Mow your grass, or we will shoot you dead!" is not the thought of a rational being. But it happens. (Ask Carl Dregas ... but you'll have to hold a séance.)

As with every right, there are essentially two possible positions: either one agrees that the claimed right is just that - a right, which may not be denied - or one believes that there simply is no such right. Under this latter position, the freedom so exercised may be denied, based solely on the whim of whatever power happens to be on top at the moment. These are the only two real positions on such an issue; there really is no middle ground, and therefore no room for any infringement.

The opposite of the belief that one owns one's own life, is the contention that some non-corporeal entity - the state, the church, the clan or the glee club - has the right to decide on what basis one should live and another should die. That is the unexamined position to which most people resort, by default, in seeking solutions to societal problems.

For those of us here in the United States, where the power of the State has been "restrained" when compared to the rest of the world, these may seem like extreme notions. But it is inherent to the very concept of government. Without the implied threat of force behind its edicts, a "government" would be just another company competing in the market offering goods and services.

From the viewpoint of a trained paleontologist, the State can be described as a predator/parasite that lives off its host, which one might call the body politic or society-at-large. Human societies and ideas evolve and compete with each other, so it seems almost inevitable that as the most successful large animal on the planet, we should have our own set of predators and parasites. We are of course our own predator/parasite.

One could look at our constitution as an attempt to control a virulent pest that one had given up on ever ridding oneself of altogether. And I do mean virulent. During the Twentieth Century, Death by Government was second only to death by aging (or the diseases of aging) as the number one killer of humanity. Government has become the Black Death of our time.

To illustrate this, I've developed a measuring tool I call the "Charlie Manson Weekend" (and its derivative, the "Charlie Manson Year"). If you recall, Charles Manson was the California Guru, leader of a commune, who used sex and drugs to brainwash several of his followers into committing seven brutal slaughters: the five murders known as the Tate Murders and two more (known as the Labianca Murders), all on one balmy California Saturday Night, August 9, 1969.

Some of you may not recall Manson; it was after all 1969 - and many brutal murderers have come and gone since. But Charlie's idea was that he (or rather his family, as they called themselves) would kill a number of people, preferably famous people, in a long drawn out and very bloody manner. The police would then blame black people, white people would rise up, and there would be a race war; that would ride the US of black folks, or some such nonsense. They called the hoped for genocide "Helter Skelter."

Of course these lunatics in the Manson Family did everything except leave business cards for the police to find, so it only took a few months to arrest, and another year and a half to convict, Manson and his family.

In what is doubtless another indictment of our slipshod press, Manson is mainly remembered for planning the grisly murder of then-pregnant actress Sharon Tate and her house guests. The fact that he also had the Labiancas, a middle-aged couple with no celebrity ties, murdered is generally just considered a footnote. Of course the targeting of a well know pregnant actress and her friends was part of Manson's plan. They left such written messages as "death to the pigs" written in blood on the walls of both homes. It was a crime designed to provoke outrage and a response, and to provoke a "helter skelter."

The trial that followed was spectacular to say the least, with Manson and his family members at one point carving swastikas into their foreheads.

Okay, so Charley Manson is without a doubt evil. During my formative years he was perhaps the media's definition of evil incarnate in human form. When one thought of evil one instantly thought of Manson and his Family. People had nightmares about Manson and his family; I had nightmares about the Manson Family....

Skip forward 30+ years. Manson and his followers are still around, and in the news now and then. Every so often, Charlie comes up for parole, but even the state of California will not let a Charlie Manson loose - at least not yet. The man also had several hundred other followers and for a less than entertaining recreation I suggest a web search under "Charlie Manson," where you will find a number of truly disgusting websites, posted by truly disgusting people.

But for the purposes of our analysis, a "Charlie Manson Weekend" represents seven violent deaths - Murders carried out for no conceivably justifiable reason. A "Charlie Manson Year" thus represents the number of murders that would have been committed in a year had the Manson Family duplicated their efforts that weekend for each weekend in a year.

The following is a table derived from the Democide Web-Site, as compiled by a Dr. Rummel of the University of Hawaii. It can be found at http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills. I have used Dr. Rummel's numbers on the Democide site to compare the history of government murder in the last century to Charlie Manson's comparably brief killing spree in California.

By the way Dr. Rummel's extensive web site is not a easy site to visit he documents what he has called democide - the unjustified killing other than in a "lawful" act of war of a human being by government. He has thousands of pages of documentation, but I confess I only had the heart to go through a few of his pages. Do visit his site though, nothing illustrates how important the work we libertarians are doing the work of constraining government power is more than this man's work.

DEATH by Government (1900-1987) other than WAR Compared to Death by Charlie Manson's Family

Who Democides Charlie Manson Weekends Charlie Manson Years @7per weekend
World 169,202,000 24,171,714 464,840
USSR 128,168,000 18,309,714 352,109
PRC 61,911,000 8,844,428 170,085
Germany 20,946,000 2,992,285 57,678
China (KMT) 10,075,000 1,439,285 27,678
US (foreign) 583,000-1,641,000 83,285 1601
US (domestic) 15,000 est. 2142 41.2

It is plain to see: compared to the various governments around during the twentieth century, Charlie Manson was really not so bad.

I should mention that the number of democides is very questionable. Few mass murderers have kept as meticulous records on their crimes as did the Nazis. Estimates tend to run from about 90,000,000 to 360,000,000, it hardly changes the point.

Of course most these deaths occurred in the old and unlamented USSR, the government, which killed at the fastest rate, was Pol Pots Reign in Cambodia. It is also interesting to see that China makes the top five twice once under Mao and once again under the KMT also known as our good and faithful allies the Nationalist Chinese. Most of the murders committed by the United States have been carried out on foreign soil during the aerial bombardment of civilian populaces in violation of the Laws of War, or by cooperating with old Joe Stalin in sending refugees to his death camps after WWII. The other Democracies in the west have similar records of behavior to that of the United States.

Just for comparison, the Black Death killed approximately 102,070,000 people, leading to the inevitable comparison: government is the Black Death of our time. The only comparable plague in the twentieth century would have been the influenza epidemic of 1918, estimated to have killed a maximum of 30 million people.

This table brings to mind the rather timeworn but still no less ridiculous argument, advanced by the advocates for death by government (AKA the anti-rights, anti-Second Amendment, pro-government, anti-life, or simply anti-gun crowd), regarding nuclear weapons. The reasoning, such as it is, goes something like this: A weapon is a weapon; therefore, those who support the right to bear arms are arguing that they - and everyone else - should be allowed to carry a nuclear device for self-defense. (This is followed by a self-congratulatory chuckle, usually accompanied by a bit of drooling.)

Ignoring for a moment the pompous stupidity of equating nuclear devices designed for governmental use as instruments of mass murder, with devices designed for personal defensive use. Let us accept the premise, without qualification, and try to decide just who if anyone should be allowed to own and deploy nuclear weapons.

I had the distinct displeasure recently of having to renew my pistol permit. Forgetting for a moment that everyone who insists I must have a pistol permit is by definition a criminal, filling out the form consisted of answering a bunch of questions about whether I was moral enough (and sometimes PC enough?) to be permitted to protect my own life.

And yes, I know I should have told them to stuff their pistol permit where the sun dose not shine! What can I say? I'm a coward; I make no defense.

However, I couldn't help thinking while filling out this form: What if there was a permit to own and deploy nuclear weapons? What sort of questions would you ask the applicant? So I started to write down a few possible ones. The list is by no means complete, but imagine if you will that you are answering these questions for yourself ... and for another fellow. This fellow is a bit amorphous and even though no one has ever seen this particular person he/she/it (we are never quite sure what sort of person this fellow is?) is frequently and authoritatively quoted, just as if a flesh and blood human being had made the statements and opinions so attributed. We shall call this fellow Mr. Federal Government.

Here are some of the questions one might ask of the applicant who seeks to own and deploy nuclear weapons.

1. Have you ever-committed genocide?

2. Have you ever-committed mass murder?

3. Have you ever established concentration camps?

4. Have you ever manipulated your population into an unnecessary war; included bombardments of unlawful targets during war; cooperated with communist dictators in rounding up refugees and shipping them to death camps; or committed any other act, which might be considered "international terrorism"?

If answering yes to any of the above, answer the following:

Have you committed:

a. more than 10 killings at one time?

b. more than 100 killings at one time?

c. more than 1000 killings at one time?

d. more than 10,000 killings at one time?

e. more than 100,000,000 killings at one time?


Well I think you can see my point.

Another illustration of what Death by Government has wrought in our time can be extrapolated from the dimensions of a human skull. A human skull is about 7x7x7 inches on a side, or 343 cubic inches in volume. So the pile of skulls from Death by Government would fit into a rather modest cube 322 feet on a side. Or a line of skulls from Death by Government would stretch 18,693 miles, or just little over ¾ around the equator - a fact I hesitate to advertise, as there are doubtless some anti-freedom people out there who, upon hearing that twentieth century government failed to circumscribe the equator with human heads, might say to themselves "Hummmm".

It might also be noted that, although in these United States we have largely escaped mass murders and the like domestically (though don't tell that to the surviving Davidians from Mount Carmel), overseas (where the US Government has been able to operate in secrecy and/or in an otherwise totalitarian fashion) our government have made a rather good stab at being as bloody as any other regime.

Am I then equating those who believe in freedom to those who seek to protect and preserve the human species? I am. Am I implying that those who believe in an ever-expanding state are part of some sort of death cult? I am. For just as surely as a spiritual death follows the death of liberty, so too eventually will a physical death follow that ... and I have 169,000,000 arguments for my position.

What all this simply demonstrates is the inherent nature of government. It is part and parcel of the philosophy that makes government functionally different from any other organization: the idea that it is proper to initiate force for a social goal.

One of the truly frightening points about such incidents as Ruby Ridge and Waco is the inevitable question that must be raised as to whether such incidents indicate that our government will be treating our lives in the same manner as it has treated the lives of people living overseas?

So let me apologize if I have not addressed the subject of the Second Amendment, or the libertarian opinion on it. That there is a right to keep and bear arms seems so self-apparent that it seems almost specious to argue so. Further it just seems tragic to be talking about whether private individuals should be allowed arms, when the evidence of history demands that the question should be: Should anyone who acts as an agent of government be allowed to?

Next to advance to the next article, or
Previous to return to the previous article, or
Table of Contents to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 135, August 20, 2001.