Screen, Scran, Screwn

by L. Neil Smith

         I've made no secret of the fact that I oppose this trendy rush toward a universal concealed-carry permit system.
         It's a strategic error in the good old-fashioned style of the NRA (not to mention an exceedingly dangerous precedent) to let government, at whatever level, issue you a license to do something that's already the natural, fundamental, inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right of every man, woman, and responsible child: to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon -- handgun, shotgun, rifle, machinegun, anything -- any time, anywhere, without asking anyone's permission.
         There, I said it and I feel better.
         Having been often accused of negativity in the past, however, I do feel obliged to suggest an alternative that will accomplish the same objective with none of the terrible political side-effects, and at the same time, take into account something few of us have ever addressed: the individual right NOT to keep and bear arms.
         Let's face facts: what we're seeking here is legal immunity for something many of us have been doing all along anyway, acting on a belief that "It's better to be tried by 12 than carried by six". But what of those -- and there are lots of them, possibly even more than there are of us -- who actually believe (for whatever reason) that it's better to be carried by six? What about those who've been wandering around unarmed without official sanction and have no such immunity as we have to look forward to?
         In short, what of the plight of the gunless?
         Now I can hear you out there saying, "But there is no right not to own and carry weapons -- show me in the Constitution where it says there is!" And I have to admit, you've got me. But I can't see anything wrong with making it a privilege.
         Like driving.
         The sensible thing, it seems to me, is to assume that everyone is armed. (Cops would certainly live longer if they did and be a hell of lot more polite in the bargain.) After all, the wording and intention of the Second Amendment is plain, even though the rights it guarantees have a history of being viciously and illegally suppressed. However, if an individual can show sufficient reason why he or she shouldn't own and carry weapons, who are we, in all humanity, to stop him or her -- provided certain commonsense precautions are taken for the good of society as a whole.
         Is he mentally,or morally handicapped, given to sudden, uncontrollable episodes of pacifism, a demented belief that he has a right to initiate force against others, or to delegate it to somebody else? Does he suffer a paranoid fantasy that groups exist as something other than an aggregate of the individuals who comprise them, and even have rights in and of themselves? I'd say that qualifies him, right there. For fifty bucks (oh hell, make it a hundred and fifty) he can have my permission for two years not to own and carry weapons, and put in for renewals by mail.
         Visa, MasterCard, or American Express cheerfully accepted.
         Can he show sufficient need? Does he feel an urge -- say, whenever someone says he'd like to be alone, goes into his own house and locks the door -- to cordon the building off, surround it with sinister windowless vans and overly well-fed men dressed in fetishistic black, and remonstrate with him over a bullhorn, while getting ready to fill the place with bullet holes and burn it to the ground? Bingo! Another permit not to own and carry weapons -- no further questions asked.
         Burglars, muggers, rapists, and politicians, of course, will always be given first priority, and we can even provide something like food stamps for those who can't afford to buy official permission to disregard the highest law of the land.
         Now don't tell me this law is unenforceable, we all know better. For instance, we can start using metal detectors properly: when it doesn't go beep and the subject can't produce appropriate paperwork, he'll be cavity-searched right there in public to find out what he's carrying instead of a gun. We can take Judge Abner Mikva's advice, offered so long ago, and install such devices in every doorway, rather than just in airports and courtrooms, to insure compliance. The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches for something (at least it used to before Gingrich and Company got ahold of it) but it doesn't say anything about searching them for nothing!
         Come to think of it, I wonder if dogs can be trained to sniff out the absence of a weapon ...
          Given the past performance of the government in this area, many of America's non-gun-owners may be a trifle suspicious at first. After all, a single pen-stroke by a treacherous legislature could easily alter the phrase, " ... the sheriff must issue a permit not to own and carry weapons ... " to, " ... the sheriff may issue a permit not to own and carry weapons ... " and we all know where that leads. It could instantly undo all our good intentions and hard work.
         We'll simply have to assure them all that we have absolutely nothing like that in mind.
         Not just now, anyway.
         They should trust us.
         The way we (who ought to know by now that the past participle of "screen" -- as in "background check" -- always turns out to be "screwn") have learned to trust them.

L. Neil Smith is the award-winning author of 19 books including The Probability Broach, The Crystal Empire, Henry Martyn, The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Pallas, and (forthcoming) Bretta Martyn and Lever Action. An NRA Life Member and founder of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus, he has been active in the Libertarian movement for 34 years and is its most prolific and widely-published living novelist.

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