Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Of Guns and Government: Viva the Cold, Dead Fingers

To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the health care system, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104-191, included Administrative Simplification provisions that required HHS to adopt national standards for electronic health care transactions and code sets, unique health identifiers, and security. At the same time, Congress recognized that advances in electronic technology could erode the privacy of health information. Consequently, Congress incorporated into HIPAA provisions that mandated the adoption of Federal privacy protections for individually identifiable health information.  

Got that? This is the argot of those who rule over us, and this production is direct, concise and simple compared to the prose in the War and Peace length of the recently enacted Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obama Care.

Yet, for all the apparent complexity of intentions, the essential activities of government can be reduced to three.  The first and most basic activity is to tax.  Taxation for a government is equivalent to respiration for a person. Just as a person cannot live without breathing, a government cannot exist, cannot do anything to or for its subjects without the resources that come from taxation. The second is to regulate, to manage the behavior of the subjects.  To govern by its very nature is to exert control, to make people do some things (e .g. take off their shoes and jackets in airport security lines) and abstain from doing other things (e.g. buy soft drinks that exceed a certain volume).  The third is to punish.  While most people are willing to do what they are ordered to do or not to do, not everyone is so inclined.  Those individuals must be given certain incentives to encourage them to conform. 

If the government decides, for example, to build a road it taxes its subjects to pay for the construction and maintenance, and it builds the road wherever it chooses, regardless of whose private property it may cross. To ensure some level of safety on the roads, the driving must be regulated – the government makes traffic rules that the subjects are required to follow. If they fail to do so the government will punish them.      

What then becomes very clear when these basic activities are duly noted and seriously contemplated is that at its fundamental, rock bottom core, government is an organ of coercion.  No one in the government says “please”, “thank you” or “may I?” but instead, “you owe this amount of tax…”, “report for jury duty…”, “I sentence you to…” , “you will comply with this regulation…”  None of the obligations or directives its places on its subjects are voluntary: government forcibly takes peoples’ money (taxes); its rules, commands and regulations are pervasive and are backed up with the threats of fines, prison, even death. 

Not only is government at its core coercive, it is monopolistically coercive. Only its representatives may use threats and resort to force to secure compliance with their rules, regulations and dictates.  This unique monopoly is justified by the governing elite’s (the politicians’) benevolent intentions.  Everyone, so the rationale goes, is always much better off doing what the coercers want them to do.  A quick glance back at the last century suggests otherwise – ask the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Cambodians.  Ask two-thirds of the people on the planet.

The simple, obvious fact is that while all governments are coercive in nature, the less coercive ones are better than the more coercive ones. Their politicians promise less; they have less power; they do less damage.  FDR was less lethal for his subjects than Hitler.  Nixon was gentler than Mao.  A second obvious fact is that the natural tendency of government is always in the direction of more, not less coercion. Politicians in all governments (from the worst to the best) work ceaselessly to increase their power, in a word, they aim to up the level of coercion – more taxes, more laws, more regulations.  In that regard, Obama is no different than Vladimir Putin or Raul Castro. The 2,000 page Affordable Care Act mentioned above enacted in 2010 is a stunning massive, intrusive piece of regulation and coercion that will reach deep into the lives of ordinary Americans for years to come.  A third, perhaps less obvious fact is that the politicians evade or exempt themselves from the rules they make for the rest of us.  Do President Obama, Janet Napolitano, the member of Congress strip off their jackets, shoes, belts and jewelry and submit to the gropers whenever they fly?  Will all of the complexities and constraints of Obama Care affect them?  Not ever.

Now let us speak of guns.  People hate them; they love them.  There is no topic in the United States that arouses more extreme, intense passion than the limits of gun ownership. One reason, I would argue, is that guns, both symbolically and practically, challenge and threaten the government’s jealous protection over its monopoly of coercion. Guns equalize great physical inequality. An infirmed, elderly person wielding a derringer can defend herself against a young, strong assailant.  A ninety pound woman with a Beretta can protect herself from a 300 pound raging rapist.  People with guns are in a much better position to do what the government never, ever wants them to do on their own – resist coercion!

The gun-haters and gun-lovers unite into two hostile, acrimonious camps, those who trust the coercers (who believe that if the government criminalizes gun ownership and confiscates the guns, many fewer people will be murdered), and those who are perennially suspicious of the politicians and believe that criminalizing gun ownership will make ordinary citizens more vulnerable to real criminals.    

History and common sense favor the gun lovers. First, one should never believe the promises and claims of the politicians. Vice President Biden, who leads the current gun “control” efforts is a man whose career, even by the miniature ethical standards of Washington, is remarkable for its unrelenting, flagrant dishonesty. A confessed plagiarist, a habitual liar, a serial fabricator and exaggerator, his contact with the truth is almost always accidental.  After the Newtown, CT. shooting President Obama in one of his many speeches said, “We must change!”  Who exactly is the “we”?  Being, as always, unassailably virtuous he no doubt exempts himself.  The "we" is a typical Obama subterfuge. What specifically is the “change” he wants to coerce others into making? We will all be safer he wants us to believe if the gun owners, those “bitter clingers” as he condescendingly labeled them in 2008, become former gun owners.  There is no good reason to believe him. He has a long documented history of antagonism to gun ownership and has never failed to politicize any event to his advantage.  Massacres, like the one in Newtown, for him are an “opportunity.” There is little evidence that establishes strong correlation between strict gun ownership laws and gun violence.  In fact, the contrary seems to be more the case.  Gun-strict New York City, Chicago and Washington D.C. have much higher levels of gun crime than gun-easy San Antonio and Salt Lake City.

Second, whenever government criminalizes a commodity that is easily made and that many people want, the commodity remains in easy supply. Criminality then expands because buying and selling the now-prohibited commodity are criminal enterprises.  How hard was it to get liquor after the passing of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Volstead Act?  No one, of course, drank during Prohibition.  How difficult has it been over the last forty years to buy marijuana? 

Third, since less coercive governments are better than more coercive ones, the citizenry should reflexively, instinctively push back on all efforts by the coercers to increase their dependency and ultimately establish their helplessness.  Anyone who believes that the government’s reach for guns will ever stop until they are all illegal is hopelessly na├»ve.    

Fourth, consider the hypocrisy. As President Obama splashes in the Hawaiian surf, makes his many golf rounds, whenever and wherever he goes, rest assure that hordes of security personnel bristling with guns will be near by.  He and his family will spend the rest of their days under the tax-supported protection of layers of gun-bearing, government employees.  If he has his way those "bitter clingers" he sneers at and the ordinary folks in their houses and apartments across the land will watch the thugs kick in their doors. They, however, unlike their leader will have to call and wait for the police who may or may not come to help them.  But Obama will be gratified to know that they are virtuously gun-free and thus can confront their attackers with their government-bequeathed moral superiority.