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Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
A Note to Freedom Activists

The following was a message to libertarians and Second Amendment absolutists explaining why I was proposing compromise language for the Brady Bill. — JNS

I am a libertarian anarchist who believes not only in the absolute right to self-defense, and the right to keep and bear arms that derives from that, but also in other absolute human rights derived from “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (or “life, liberty, and property,” if you prefer; property rights logically derive from the rights to life and liberty anyway).

But what most defenders of rights don’t understand is that rights are inherent and natural, not political. States do not grant rights. Legislation and court decisions therefore can neither grant rights nor deprive people of them. Only the “end-users,” so to speak, of legislation and court rulings — that is, the “law enforcement” end of the state, whether it be individuals labeled police or tax collectors, or DEA, ATF, FBI, HUD, etc. — can violate rights. Their reasons for violating rights are irrelevant at the point when they commit those violations.

What the institutional structure of the State does is grant privileges and immunities. Legislation and court rulings — used as the decision-making basis and “authority” of the “law-enforcers” — either creates a rationale for someone to hassle or arrest you for violating a statute or court decision, or it doesn’t.

That’s why — in seeking to influence the passage of legislation or decision-making of judges, or even the enforcement policies of “law enforcers” — one is making no statement, for or against, rights held by the people. One is merely trying to prevent the State from violating rights by verbal, rather than forcible, means — a wise strategy when one is conquered and outgunned.

That is also why, with no contradiction whatsoever, I participate in the political system by voting, and would serve on a jury if my time permitted it. (Personal circumstances currently don’t.) I could conceivably even serve in legislative office, attempting to use my vote to make legislation achieve a closer approximation of privileges and immunities to natural human rights.

A gun permit is an immunity granted by the government, telling its law-enforcers not to arrest you. It would be nice if the personnel involved in interpreting the State’s primary document — the Constitution — were honest enough to admit that their rules don’t allow them to interfere with the people’s right to keep and bear arms, but since these personnel don’t have the integrity to do that, there is certainly nothing wrong with seeking as little interference with our rights as is realistically possible at this time and place, since the ideology of those in power isn’t going to recognize our rights and they have better-organized methods of enforcing their will than we have of preventing them from doing so.

If you can convince enough of the people to resist infringements on their rights, terrific. We will be free. But I do not see that as a realistic possibility anytime soon.

The State has controlled public education for most of this century, and has used public education to instill an unthinking support for its policies and personnel in the majority of people. Most people are incapable of reading with logical comprehension and analysis at all, and those who can are usually pushed into colleges and universities controlled by the most radically pro-statist ideologues in our society.

The radical statists spread out from the universities and control all the other intellectual professions: news media, law, and medicine. Judges are appointed from their ranks and legislators are elected from their ranks. They gain control of unions, guilds, professional organizations. They control both the Republican and Democratic parties, and gerrymander the electoral process so that the balance of power does not radically shift between the two parties. This tends to homogenize both parties, eliminating other-than-centrist ideologues from positions of power or effectiveness.

Third party movements are marginalized by a refusal of the media to take them seriously or even count their vote totals on election days. Independents are taken seriously only when they are ideologically within their parameters of centrist political philosophy.

We are currently living in occupied territory. The enemy has the primary and secondary schools, the universities, the mass-media (print and broadcast), and the control of virtually all membership organizations from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Bar Association (ABA — the lawyers).

We have computer bulletin boards, radio talk shows, Rush Limbaugh, Ross Perot (occasionally), a few conservative and libertarian educational institutions and publications, and a few hundred thousand libertarians and patriots who have managed to cut their way through the bullshit to think for themselves.

We also have a bunch of people with a neanderthal sense of strategy and a consequent habit of alienating their potential converts with inappropriate buzzwords and frightening paradigms.1 We need to educate many of our most-dedicated people before we have a chance of educating anyone else.

The bulk of the American people sense something is wrong but don’t really know what it is or what to do about it — and in their uncertainty, they turn to the establishment pundits for solutions. The pundits give them “solutions” — good and hard. “Higher taxes, more government control — and disarm all those extremists who are trying to tell you not to listen to us.”

I’m not saying we can’t win. I’m saying that we have an uphill fight to recapture the minds and hearts of the people. But right now, the people are not on our side, and to pretend that they are is a miscalculation that can lead to our making false moves and being silenced.

The people suffer statism right now because they don’t have the will to resist it. They do not have the will to resist it because they think what they have is as good as it’s going to get. A few living libertarian science-fiction writers have tried writing novels showing how it could get better and what it would look like if it does. I’m one of them. So is L. Neil Smith, Victor Koman, Brad Linaweaver, F. Paul Wilson, Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Shea,2 and Victor Milan. Our literary forbears include Ayn Rand, Robert Heinlein, and C.S. Lewis, and before them, Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis.

We’ve gotten through to a few people. But the literary establishment is doing a pretty good job of marginalizing us — denying our most ideological books the sort of push behind them that makes for bestsellers — so we tend to preach to the already-converted.

By all means, press forward with educational efforts to tell people that they have rights. But if some of us choose to attempt to preserve some fractions of our rights and freedoms by having the statists grant us a certain measure of privileges and immunities, so that we can continue to live, work, and function at all, I would hope that you will understand the context of our actions. Please do not assume that we have lost sight of the ultimate issues and accuse us of selling out to the State.

We may differ on strategy, but we both seek freedom.

— May 7, 1993


1My self-description as an “anarchist” may even fall into this category. The word has gotten bad press through association of the word with anti-state terrorism and nihilism, doctrines which only a few Russian anarchists such as Bakunin and Kropotkin endorsed, and only a very few anarchists ever acted upon. Modern libertarian anarchism, drawing upon the works of Nineteenth Century American philosophers such as attorney Lysander Spooner, and modern libertarians such as free-market economist Murray Rothbard, often find themselves more emotionally resonant to Bart Simpson than to Emma Goldman.

2 Sadly, no longer living. Shea died in March 1994.


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