There is a tendency for people to only mind authoritarian power grabs when they are attempted by the “other side” of the political spectrum. A perfect example is the PATRIOT Act – if that thing had been passed by Billy Clinton or Barack Obama, I am not exaggerating or hyperbolizing at all when I say that I think that it would have sparked a revolution. I mean that literally. I’m seriously talking blood-in-the-streets, people shooting government functionaries, military in the cities quelling unrest, revo-goddamned-lution.
But it was passed by George Bush, and so it was welcomed with open arms. It has only been since Barack Obama took office that you see a lot of republicans start to stand against it, thus proving a point that I’ve been trying to make for a lot of years, which is to say that you should always, always be against authoritarian government power grabs of any sort, even if it is your team implementing them, because your team won’t always be in power. Once they are in power, the other team can use those laws and legislations against you once they get voted in, and all with your approval and applause.
In my opinion, my esteemed colleague Borepatch is making just such a mistake on his blog. With all due respect to him, I have to vehemently disagree with this. At the link, you’ll see him detailing, and applauding, a law that is being considered in Nelson, Georgia to make gun ownership mandatory in that town.
The township has a lot of very good reasons why they are considering this. The town only has one police officer, and in the 16 hours per day that he is not on shift, the townspeople rely on the county sheriff for their policing. The problem with that is that the county is stretched thin, too, and the response times are very, very slow. So the government there has decided that the people need to be equipped to defend themselves during these off-hours if need be. It’s not a bad idea to be so equipped. If I lived there, I would be armed, without question.
That being said, there is a huge gap between something being a good idea, and it being right and proper to legislate that all citizens do it. I can think of a lot of good examples. The first that pops into my head are seatbelt and helmet laws. A second would be having health insurance. Yes, it is a good idea to wear a seatbelt in the car and a helmet on your motorcycle. No, I would never consider driving my car without buckling up, or riding my motorcycle without putting my helmet on. However, any government that thinks that it can force me to wear my seatbelt or put on a helmet by threat of violence* against me can go fuck themselves, and are treading dangerous grounds perilously close to those of a benevolent dictatorship or tyranny.
It’s my life, and my decision what I do with it. If the citizens of Nelson, Georgia, do not want to own a gun, the government there would do violence against them* to force the issue, and I can’t possibly imagine how that is anything other than brute tyranny. Just because I think that what they are proscribing is a good idea does not make it any more or less wrong than a government forcing me to buy or own anything else.
I think it is a good idea to have health insurance. I think that any thinking person that doesn’t have a catastrophic care coverage is a drooling idiot flirting with economic and physical calamity; but a government that tells me that they will do violence against me if I choose not to own health insurance can go fuck themselves.
And so, leaders of the City of Nelson, Georgia, you are tyrants if you pass this bill. Wear the badge with pride; you’ve earned it.
I will close with my take on benevolent tyranny – it may actually be worse than a malevolent tyranny, as described below by CS Lewis:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”