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February 04, 2004

Comments

Doug Kenline

Thanks for blogging Pierre. Good leadership.

Doug Kenline
Atlanta, Georgia

Alan Bacon (sui Juris)

We don't want a stinkin' Democracy!

The pledge of alliegance is to "the Republic for which it stands." Here is a great way to remember the effects of democracy...

Training Manual No. 20000-25 War Department Washington, November 30, 1928:

DEMOCRACY: A government of the masses. Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of "direct" expression. Results in mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic-negating property rights. Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences. Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.

Which most closely mirrors the Communist Manifesto !!!

Alan Bacon (sui Juris)

REPUBLIC: Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.

Superior to all others.

Attitude toward property is respect for laws and individual rights, and a sensible economic procedure.

Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accordance with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences.

A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.

Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy.

Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment and progress.

Is the "standard form" of government throughout the world.

A Republic is a form of government under a constitution which provides for the election of (1) an executive and (2) a legislative body, who working together in a representative capacity, have all the power of appointment, all power of legislation, all power to raise revenue and
appropriate expenditures, and are required to create (3) a judiciary to pass upon the justice and legality of their governmental acts and to recognize (4) certain inherent individual rights.

Take away any one or more of those four elements and you are drifting into autocracy. Add one or more to those four elements and you are drifting
into democracy.

Autocracy declares the divine right of kings; its authority can not be questioned; its powers are arbitrarily or unjustly administered.

Democracy is the "direct" rule of the people and has been repeatedly tried without success.

Pierre Omidyar

Thanks for the clarification. I think in common American usage, the word "democracy" is used to refer to our particular form of constitutional government. I tend to use the phrase "direct democracy" when referring to a pure democracy as you described.

You are right, however, that this is not precise language. The word "republic" has a bit of an archaic feel in modern usage, don't you think?

Maynard

A little help? The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be VIOLATED, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. The President has VIOLATED the 4th Amendment! Nobody cares! Its just one more degree for the frog in the pot. How is some poor Missouri dirt farmer very going to force the President to give an answer to his "redress of grievances"---"being necessary to the security of a free State".

Lance Brown

Pierre,

I don't think there is as much of an inconsistency as you perceive, and I think your examples are not fully watertight. Let me explain.

First, the rule you speak of is for the *federal* government not to keep records on people who are not suspected of any crime, but who happen to own guns (which they purchased and own in accordance with the law). That brings up two points which you seem to have let pass:

One, that state governments, and county and local governments are not affected by this, and gun owners in most states don't have anything close to total privacy by virtue of being gun owners. In fact, it's fair to say that simply because those folks own guns, they are under a higher level of government scrutiny in at least one regard (over people who do not own guns). Which takes us to the second point.

You assert "we collect information" on home owners and car owners. And there are certainly files of those folks in various places. However, I am not aware that there is a federally-operated national database of vehicle owners-- and I am suspicious that there isn't one for home owners either. I do not believe that in either case there is a corrolary to the NICS background check for me if I purchase a home from you or a car from a car dealer. In fact, I find the idea that the federal government, without cause for suspicion of a crime, might have information about what car I own, to be a disturbing concept-- at least in principle, if not in practice. They simply have no need to know, and no business knowing. Me owning my car or my house is not a federal matter. Nor, broadly speaking, is me owning my gun. If I am not causing harm and am not under suspicion of a crime, then the federal government really doesn't need to have an inventory of my possessions.

(I may be wrong, but I'm assuming that the license plate databases are a system run by the state governments -- and that feds would gain access to it only with due legal cause and consent of the relevant authorities. And I simply don't know what agency would be compiling the data on all of America's homeowners -- though I'm sure some agencies deal with homeowner info in the course of their related activities -- like the IRS certainly has some info on some of the homes people have bought, and so probably does Housing and Urban Development. But I don't think either has anything like a trackable database of homeownership for most or all homes owned in this country. That infomation would be culled on-demand form any number of collection sources up and down the line-- if and when the disclosure of that information was in line with 4th Amendment protections.)

While I found the NRO author's emphasis on "lawful" to be a bit confusing, I don't think it means what you say. ("The implication seems to be that the government should only track unlawful gun owners".) I think what it means is more directed at the 4th and 5th Amendment rghts to privacy and due process. If you are a lawful person, the government should not be tracking you as if you were a suspicious person. Thus, the federal records on lawful gun owners -- which are only collected because we have a law requiring their temporary collection for background checking purposes -- should not be maintained as if they represented some "potential threat pool". Owning a gun that one bought openly and lawfully does not make a person more of a criminal suspect than a person who does not own a gun. Thus, that person should not have more of a "government file" simply for purchasing a means of self-defense. People don't (or shouldn't) get added to a federal "potential criminals" database when they buy a door lock, or a can of mace, or a knife, or even a car-- even though cars kill tens of thousands of people a year (I'm guessing).

Also, I should think we would be glad for that distinction between keeping the info on lawful vs unlawful gun owners. If the federal government wasn't allowed to investigate people that it knew were in violation of crimes, that would be an absurd restriction on law enforcement. Thus, the records on *unlawful* gun owners can be kept, I'm sure, as long as they are needed by law enforcement-- which is a pretty good idea I think.

sdf

Possibly I am missing some key point here, but in defense of what I preceive as the concept and in the name of stating the obvious and possibly irrelevant...

I think it's fair to assume that the reason conservatives oppose a national gun registry (the retention by federal authorities of records of lawful gun ownership) is the same as their reason for opposing a national ID system: a distrust of the potential for mischief. Conservatives do not want for there to be a popular moment -- say, some super-variant on Columbine -- when one party or another controls a veto-proof majority in the Senate and House, possibly with a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, when guns could be confiscated wholesale or penalties placed on gun ownership so severe as to be confiscatory. At such a moment, the lack of a national registry would slow the process. If the process is slow, representatives are less likely to do something bold. They would face bitter anger in mid-term elections, the current trend to gerrymandering districts into partisan fortresses notwithstanding.

The federal government has a history of misusing registries, despite early promises. Social Security ID's were to be limited solely to use by the appropriate federal agencies. They were never intended for the widespread use to which they were put. Certainly they were never intended as a crack in the door for identity theft rings.

The theory of gun ownership is a separate issue. I wonder, honestly, whether it is becoming a class issue. There is a not unreasonable belief that the federal government is limited in its agression by the private ownership of weapons. As a rule, conservatives do not believe in the inherent goodwill of federal bureaucracies. They tend to exemplify Parkinson's Laws. Government can grow incredibly isolated. We just tossed Davis out of power in California because, in essence, he lost touch with the taxpayers. Nothing else explains giving prison guard unions 85+% of their current salaries in their retirement pensions. Gun owners do not wish to be fed to a special interest lobby on some bright shining day because their names are on a list.

There is a scene in Casblanca where Bogart's character advises a Nazi Major that there are some parts of New York that they should not consider invading. While it seems preposterous to us that there would ever be a major rebellion matching police and military with semi-automatic rifles and tanks against private gun owners, the stockpile of weapons is a deterrant. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, the Civil War, these occurred. More releveant to the modern era, gun ownership and the potential for violence has shaped social policy. After World War I, veterans rioted in the streets of Washington and were put down. After World War II, Congress passed the GI Bill in part to keep a wave of returning veterans busy while the economy adjusted to them. The enormous side-benefits were incidental. The government feared the people. Sometimes fear is healthy.

It is possible that in this day and age that a well-placed video camera is as much of a deterrant as a gun, but that is in our modern society.

Counter-arguments: a stockpile of weapons in and of itself has done very little to make Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia a more civil society. A friend in graduate school told me that they were selling rocket launchers and automatic weapons on street-side stands in India. I do not own a weapon. My family does not own a weapon. We were always too concerned that small pitchers with little ears would find them one afternoon.

That said, I would question the need for a federal registry of lawful gun owners.

In engineering school, we finished our senior year with a course on social responsibility. One topic included a discussion of famous dams, built and then abandoned by those who built them. One was in a resort area. It was popular for a time, then the rich ceased to frequent it, and it deteriorated until finally it burst, killing quite a few people in the process. Perhaps a better analogy would be the nuclear stockpile in Russia. What I am clumsily trying to point out is that forming a federal list of lawful gun owners is like building a dam. Once constructed, such a list would have to be very carefully policed, maintained at some cost, and as it serves no purpose, it is better, perhaps, not to build the dam in the first place.

Tali

Your article "In Gun Owners We Trust. All Others Get Tracked" provoked me to comment for the first time on any kind of comment/communication line. I have only been living in the US for 3 years, I am originally from South Africa where the culture of gun violence has reached epic proportions. I recently vacationed in South Carolina and visited a local farmer's feleamarket. Here I could purchase an entire arsenal of weapons with no ID required and no questions asked and I don't even have a green card. There has to be something wrong with a system that accepts practices such as these. Have Americans become so accustomed to this that they no longer think that such a free and open arms trade in their backyard is nothing les than absurd.

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