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L. Neil Smith's
Number 580, July 25, 2010

"When you've lost the joy, you've lost the cause."

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Arma Virumque Cano
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

A few days ago, in a peculiar sort of sidebar to an argument I seem to be having with a handful of trendy lefties who resent the fact that I insist on ownership of what I write, somebody named Rick over on a blog at the site decided it was time to open another front.

Responding to an article of mine that had recently been published in The Libertarian Enterprise concerning Intellectual Property Rights, or, more precisely, to a photograph that editor Ken Holder had chosen to decorate it with, Rick treated us to a prolonged whimper, thus:

"Why did Smith feel the need to post a picture of him posing with a gun? How is that picture relevant to a discussion about IP[R]? Is that an attempt to intimidate or come off as macho libertarian gun slingers?"

I added the R in brackets. This dispute is not over intellectual property, as such, but whether it ought to be owned and controlled by the individual who creates it—and without whose effort it would not exist—or some mini-horde of collectivists that arbitrarily decides to lay claim to it. Rick apparently places himself among the latter category.

Oughta be a no-brainer to anyone who claims to be a libertarian, right?

But I have digressed.

"...It's that kind of stupid gun posturing," says Rick, "that makes it harder on gun owners who take firearms seriously and responsibly and who don't go around flaunting or posing like that just for the purposes of acting tough or 'libertarian'. If you have a gun, fine. But hopefully you'll never actually have to use it for self-defense, which means don't draw unless you intend to fire and don't waste your time trying to impress people who know better with stupid pictures like that."

So there, nyahh.

Over the decades I've known a thousand Ricks, and so have you: sour-visaged lip-pursers and finger-shakers, living embodiments of the proverbial Mrs. Grundy, whose principal joy in life—very probably their only joy in life—appears to consist of officiously telling other individuals what they ought to do with their own lives and possessions.

What never fails to astonish me is the utter clairvoyance of these specimens—or maybe it's telepathy—which allows them to know what great masses of human beings, in this case something like a hundred million gun owners, think and feel at any given moment about any given topic. In my experience most of them never see a newspaper, never watch TV, never listen to the radio. It's all so beneath them. So how do they know what they claim to know? And why is it that every cause they dedicate themselves to begins to suffer the very minute they sign on?

You may know the name of Jerry Ahern, an action-adventure novelist who, together with his wife, Sharon, has written more books than any other eleven writers, including yours truly. Jerry was also the first person to write me a real, live, professional check—he was the Associate Editor at Guns Magazine at the time—for something I'd written. Sometime later, Jerry's photo—Sharon took the pix, as I recall—appeared in a magazine piece he'd written. It was a dramatic pose, Jerry and his gun, muscles tensed, a thousand-yard stare in his eyes.

It was a swell picture and I liked it.

I was comparatively new to the business then, so it surprised me when, starting with the next issue, Jerry became a target for exactly the same mind-garbage that Rick's blog entry is full of, coming from exactly the same kind of clairvoyants and telepaths who can never do anything remarkable themselves but always have plenty of advice for those who do. I met dozens of them after I had the temerity—having grown weary of the Libertarian Party's embarrassing timidity and lack of imagination—to write and publish my own first novel, The Probability Broach, without asking for their valuable guidance and permission.

TPB didn't have a man with a gun on the cover.

It had a gorilla with a gun.

The title of this essay "Arma virumque cano..." are the opening words, give or take, of Virgil's Aeneid, a ten thousand line epic poem written around 19 A.D., about the guy, a Trojan famously defeated by the Greeks, named Aeneas, who refugeed out to found the city that would someday be Rome. The words mean "Of arms and the man I sing..."

For some reason nobody knows, male figures don't appear very much in our species' most ancient artworks, the cave paintings in France and elsewhere. Cave Grandpa enjoyed painting animals a lot more (to my eye they are unspeakably beautiful) and occasionally representing Cave Grandma in little statues—featuring tiny heads and hands, gigantic breasts, and a booty that would throw Sir Mix-a-lot into tachycardia—I am morally certain were handed around the campfire and giggled over.

However when the first males show up as little stick characters in cave paintings, they're invariably depicted carrying or throwing their spears. So it appears that our friend Rick is blubbering about a phenomenon that only goes back about two thousand generations before he first saw the light of day, one that will doubtless continue— here and among the stars—for thousands of generations after he is gone.

In between, we have hundreds of sarcophagi, effigies, and stained glass windows showing warriors with their mighty weapons. The famous Maciejowski Bible is full of illuminations of men wielding all kinds of strange and wonderful swords and pole-arms. Archers show up in what passed for popular culture, crossbowmen, and eventually arquebusiers, musketeers, riflemen, Minutemen, pioneers, red Indians, and pistol fighters. Half-naked females in distress alone can't sell true crime magazines.

"When in doubt," Raymond Chandler advised younger writers, "bring a man with a gun in his hand through the door." Good advice. And Chandler, like his protagonist Philip Marlowe, preferred a Colt .38 automatic. I've seen a picture of him holding it, likewise a picture of Ian Fleming with a Luger or a Broomhandle or something. I can't remember.

Maybe a Webley.

And Mickey Spillane...

Whether that kind of "gun posturing" is "stupid" or not, is a matter of aesthetics, and Rick hasn't convinced me he's any kind of judge.

Whether it "makes it harder on gun owners" or not is a matter of political judgement. I've heard the same sort of ridiculous claptrap from others, most of them members of the National Rifle Association, so often over the years that I've lost count. The NRA, with its craven slave mentality and its corrupt and cowardly policies of appeasement, has damaged the right of the individual to own and carry weapons over and over, as one might expect from the world's oldest and largest gun control organization. Recently they even volunteered to help various leftists in Congress to obliterate the First Amendment, in exchange for special powers and immunities gained at the expense other, better organizations.

If Rick isn't an NRA member, he should sign right up. He's a natural. You think me harsh? What am I to make, otherwise, of some scribbler I never heard of, who knows absolutely nothing about me, but who nevertheless accuses me, on no evidence, of not taking firearms seriously and responsibly, and of going around "flaunting or posing like that just for the purposes," he says "of acting tough or 'libertarian'"?

There's that old telepathy again.

"If you have a gun," Rick grants us that freedom magnanimously, "fine. But hopefully you'll never actually have to use it for self-defense, which means—" Which means that if you haven't handled it and lived with it every waking hour, your body won't know what the hell to do with it when the crunch comes. That's the way that reflexes work.

Rick's advice, "...don't draw unless you intend to fire..." rules out occasionally cleaning your gun and confirming its good repair and readiness. It eliminates the practice you need drawing it smoothly and swiftly from a holster, a skill you may find yourself wanting someday. It makes dry-fire practice impossible, pointing the weapon at a target (say a thumb tack in the wall), aligning the sights properly, then pulling the trigger while controlling both the weapon and your own breathing, until the sear breaks, assuring a one-shot hit.

Do it a hundred times a day, you'll cut the amount of live ammo you require to achieve proficiency to a third of what it would take otherwise.

But apparently Rick doesn't know that.

"[A]nd don't waste your time," he finishes with a flourish, "trying to impress people who know better with stupid pictures like that." Just what Rick thinks he knows better is a mystery we'll get to.

If I display a picture of myself with a gun, it can serve any one of a number of purposes. One is to show that I'm physically familiar with the subject at hand. If it was cows, then you'd see me with a cow.

Another is to demonstrate that I am serious enough about the issue to be photographed with a gun, a test many a so-called libertarian candidate has failed miserably. I once said that a candidate has to have the moxie to be photographed shooting a "black" rifle, and that there should be empty cases in the air. It's one reason I like Sarah Palin.

Yeah, that's exactly what I said.

A third reason is for my own amusement and the delight of my readers, possibly to show them my new toy. Rick doesn't understand— may not be capable of understanding—that the enemies of freedom hate the joy to be discovered in guns as much as they hate the guns themselves. I delight in the gleaming blue steel and the warm glow of polished walnut that makes my Marlin 1895CB one of the world's most pleasing sights. I share sights like that with my readers whenever I can.

When you've lost the joy, you've lost the cause.

And then there's this: I once said that if you gave Teddy Kennedy a pair of sixguns in a western rig and left him alone, he'd be up in his bedroom practicing fast-draws in the mirror in fifteen minutes. I could be wrong, but I'd bet even money on Charles Schumer, as well. It's part of a human and pre-human heritage that goes back in time maybe a million years. It's an artform and aesthetic universal to human experience. It's an expression of American artistic and athletic forms.

"What monster kooks," Rick says, switching to plural for some reason, even though he's writing about little old me—or thinks he is. "I don't care what they've written or how many books they've sold. They're total dorks playing the role of one of their tough guy fantasy characters when they pose with guns like that. Such alter-ego nonsense."

Rick doesn't care how many books I've sold (somewhere north of 30 now) because, if he were capable of the same effort, he wouldn't write nonsense like he writes. It's quite true, to a degree, that physical props help. All through the process of writing my recent vampire novel Sweeter Than Wine, I kept a 1911A1 Colt .45 Automatic pistol on the desk beside my keyboard, along with a Colt .38 Detective Special. These are the weapons my viewpoint character carries, and if I'd had a 1934 Beretta, the gun his lady-love prefers, it would have been there, too.

Whenever I write detective Win Bear, the S&W Model 58 .41 Military and Police is there on the desk, along with his Browning P-35 High Power.

I'm quite proficient with all of these guns, and if "role-playing" in this way makes me a dork, I'm an award-winning dork whose readers love his characters because they say they have a feeling of reality to them.

Psychic Rick tells us, "I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't even bother training with his gun, at least not seriously...anybody can shoot at a fixed target...I bet he probably couldn't hit the side of a barn if in that million-to-one chance he should actually need to use it."

Well let's see. I've been shooting both formally and informally since I was 11; make that 53 years, since 1957. I've never been attacked by a barn door, so I can't attest to my proficiency in that arena. I've been shot at, drawn a gun in self-defense on four occasions, and gone through a broken door in the dark with a gun in my hand.

Using a revolver with iron sights, I can hit a chest-sized steel target in a prairie crosswind a hundred yards off—you won't believe how far away that seems—and I've got a big board decorated with dozens of colored ribbons and a trophy to attest to it. I qualified to shoot NRA Falling Plates—a game for autopistols—with a 3-inch barrelled revolver because it was all I happened to have with me that day.

With a scoped rifle, I can hit a mule deer at roughly the same distance, running diagonally, full out, down a hillside above me. I once hit another mule deer running away from me in the back of the head with a .45 caliber sixgun. I have never shot a rabbit with anything but a short-barrelled .38 Special, and then only in the throat so it will die instantly and not make that horrible noise they make.

Could Rick possibly be more wrong?

'Fraid so. Shortly after the poor fellow's blog entry, the following arrived, from an individual named Peter: "What picture of him posing with a gun? Do you mean the one on the front page of [The Libertarian Enterprise]? That's not L. Neil Smith, that's Nathan Fillion, the actor from Firefly (more recently: Castle)."

Thanks, Pete. I really am ruggedly handsome, aren't I?

Mal on Self-Defense

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Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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