Center for Individual Liberty
“If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if even one life can be saved, we have an obligation to try.”
“Within three months of the precrime program, the homicidal rates in the District of Columbia had reduced 90 percent.”
—Minority Report, 2002
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, gun control advocates pressed with renewed vigor to revisit and restore federal gun control measures in an attempt to crack down on violence. Conservative opposition was loud and clear: minimizing tragedy and preventing violence is an insufficient basis to impose such regulations. These measures, touted by their proponents as “common sense,” infringe upon one’s right to acquire and use a firearm. While some studies have suggested that gun control measures can save lives, that fact alone does not persuade many who instead insist that the government lacks the legitimate authority to punish peaceful people because other gun owners have been irresponsible or outright criminal in their actions.
Simply put, supporters of so-called “gun rights” believe that preventing gun violence is not a reason to impose such regulations. They argue that despite such regulations, those who want to obtain and use guns will do so regardless of what the law says. These regulations will only violate individual rights, and turn innocent people into criminals.
I recently returned from a vacation with my family in California, where I grew up. Our days were filled with fun activities, family outings, and sights that brought back great memories. Despite my efforts to have a break from working in and thinking about politics, there was an ever-present reminder of how bad California’s overreaching, paternalistic state has become.
California outlaws using cell phones while driving. The various restrictions and regulations which prohibit and seek to punish the act of talking on the phone while driving are voluminous, but they aren’t hidden in obscure pages of the state’s legislative code. Instead, drivers are incessantly reminded of them.
In a 20 mile stretch of freeway, I counted easily over a dozen large, bright, electronic signs reminding drivers of the law, the associated fine if you were to be caught, and a statement saying that “it’s not worth it.” Apparently it’s not enough to criminalize the action—lawmakers feel they must provide propaganda to encourage increased compliance.
Culture is important. It shapes our general societal standards, it guides our behavior, and it establishes certain expectations we have of one another in our various interactions. It allows our history to influence our present and direct our future. It is a reflection of our ideals.
And government should have nothing to do with it.
Culture is largely organic, undefined by any central apparatus. It is modified through the collective actions and attitudes of the masses. It is the societal counterpart to the state’s top-down, arbitrary set of laws which are enforced by the few upon the many.
The government exists to protect life, liberty, and property. It can only legitimately operate with authority it has been delegated by the individuals who comprise it. Because no one person has the moral authority to impose and enforce his cultural standards upon his neighbor, he cannot petition a third party to do so on his behalf.
Culture is properly promoted and even “enforced” only through non-coercive means such as persuasion and even peer pressure. To empower the state to help define and enforce such standards is to promote an ideal at the point of a gun, for all government is force.
Whatever the legislative proposal or policy issue may be, a few primary arguments are used time and time again. Like the “think of the children!” appeal, the suggestion that law enforcement officials should be given whatever tools they need to do their job is one which is frequently used. We find the degree to which it is cited to be very troubling, for it almost always comes at the expense of individual liberty.
Taken at face value, the proposal to give law enforcement the tools they feel they need to ensure public safety comes with no qualifiers; if police officers think that X will enable them to better accomplish their job, then many will emphatically agree that taxpayers should fund and provide X. Lacking any qualifiers, no recognition is made of the competing interests involved. No discussion is had as to whether X is unjust, immoral, prone to abuse, or violates liberty.
Taken to the extreme (which of course never happens with regards to law enforcement), tools and procedures that are established to supposedly pursue public safety inevitably become abused by increasing the frequency of their use, decreasing the standard with which they are applied, and broadening the types of individuals who may be subject to them. Benjamin Franklin’s recognition of this problematic trend led him to note that, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Indeed, essential liberties are routinely “given up” through the political process and as law enforcement agencies aim to use new tools, new tactics, and acquire new powers. Utah has been witness to a number of examples proving the wisdom of Franklin’s remarks. A few such examples will help prove the point.
The following article is a submission from Representative Brian Greene.
Given the history of the early LDS Church with respect to discriminatory laws and practices, and in particular with the practice of polygamy, the modern-day aggressive defense of an absolute legal definition of marriage is confusing to me. While I unquestionably defend the right of any individual or religion to endorse a particular concept of marriage, I struggle to understand why the LDS Church is so adamant on the use of government coercion to advance a particular definition (even one with which I personally agree). A quick review of early Mormon history regarding the institution of marriage is instructive on this question.
In 1874, the federal government was pursuing prosecution of LDS members practicing polygamy in the Utah Territory in violation of the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. Confident that the law would be declared to be an unconstitutional violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the leaders of the Church agreed to furnish a defendant for a test case. George Reynolds, a member of the LDS Church and secretary to Brigham Young, agreed and was indicted for bigamy after marrying a second wife. Reynolds was found guilty by a jury, and his conviction was upheld by the Territorial Supreme Court.
In the wake of the President’s most recent State of the Union address that promoted several new federal programs, a few Utah citizens have responded with the creation of Financial Ready Utah—a non-profit organization headed by the Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants. As the Deseret News recently wrote, Financial Ready Utah has researched and endorsed four bills that specifically address a preparedness plan for Utah’s state budget in the following areas:
- Create a federal funds commission to identify ways to reduce dependency on federal spending.
- Establish a process to account for the potential loss of federal funds in Utah’s budgeting process.
- Provide transparency into all federal funds flowing into the state, including all political subdivisions.
- Establish the framework to build up additional “rainy day” funds to mitigate the risk of a sudden collapse in spending.
The Libertas Institute is very interested in seeing these bills move forward, and we support the general concepts they address.
However, there is something interesting to ponder concerning why these pieces of legislation even need to exist. As the same Deseret News editorial mentioned above also states:
In an article posted yesterday on the Utah Policy website, Bob Bernick argued against the alleged “obsession” of “GOP Utah legislators when it comes to gun rights.” Bernick proceeded to highlight a legislative instance in which the sponsor amended his trespassing-related bill to emphasize and explicitly protect the ability of a gun owner to carry his gun without fear of automatically being charged with trespassing.
“I just don’t get this vehemence in protecting 2nd Amendment rights,” Bernick wrote. “And I don’t see such strict adherence on other ‘constitutional rights.’”
His singular example used to demonstrate his point was the lack of emphasis (if not attack) by legislators on the ability to use citizen initiatives to modify the law. Numerous times, Bernick refers to this process as a “right”—one which “all Utahns have and should be concerned about, not just the Utahns who have guns and are fighting mad about gun rights.”
It is clear upon reading the article that Bernick misunderstands what rights actually are, and because of this misunderstanding, conflates individual rights with government-granted privileges and powers.
In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order allowing military commanders to legally kidnap innocent individuals to be placed into internment camps. The reason they were locked up? They were of Japanese heritage.
Without any probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the military denied over 110,000 citizens their individual rights. Sprinkled throughout the overwhelming submission to this tyrannical violation of liberty are a few stories of resistance, one of which has risen to the surface. The story deals with a man who evaded the government’s kidnapping and thus became a fugitive. Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American citizen, refused to be taken to an internment camp, despite overwhelming political pressure and strict enforcement of FDR’s executive order.
Korematsu was later arrested on a street corner, having been recognized as Japanese, and was first sent to jail, and later an internment camp in Utah. His living conditions were a horse stall with one light bulb, leading him to later remark that “jail was better than this.” With the help of counsel, Korematsu decided to sue, and courts all the way up to the Supreme Court upheld the internment as being constitutional. The judges concluded that the government could kidnap individuals, in this case on the basis of race, under circumstances of “emergency and peril.”
One of the most basic axioms in our Constitutional Republic is the natural right of association. The Declaration of Independence speaks directly to this individual right in justifying separation from Great Britain. The grievances in the Declaration summarize why the colonists sought to disassociate from their former government. If the right of association were merely a positive or government-granted right, then the colonists had no moral, civil, or other right to disassociate from their parent government—regardless of their grievances—and we should all be current British citizens. However, each individual possesses a natural and inherent right of association, and it is this natural right that the colonists exercised in separating from Great Britain.
A second natural right, no less important than the right of association, is the natural right of contract. Not only do we have the individual right to associate with whom we desire, but we have the natural right to contract, agree, make business, or conduct our activities with other individuals without infringement, license, or regulation. One caveat is that there can be no unlawful or illegal contracts. For example, I cannot “contract” (i.e. legally or lawfully bind through agreement, written or otherwise) to rob a neighbor. If such a contract were entered into and my cohort failed to uphold his end of the contract, I could not sue him for breach of contract when I was caught robbing my neighbor because the natural right of contract does not extend to unlawful or illegal acts.
Enter Ogden City
Ogden has a gang problem. More specifically, it has a problem with the “Ogden Trece” gang, which the City of Ogden has accused of committing everything from graffiti to murder. In 2010 Ogden passed a California-style temporary injunction specifically against the gang itself. As the Deseret News reported:
Conservatives throughout Utah have for years been strenuously objecting to federal bailouts of mismanaged and failing institutions. Their arguments, which themselves are logically sound, are predicated on the principle that when one is in a hole, one should stop digging. Debt is not resolved through additional debt, just as fires are not extinguished by dousing them with gasoline. If there’s a problem, the solution is not to simply apply the same ideas and actions that led to the problem in the first place.
Unfortunately, many of these individuals tend to support government interventions which operate on this same flawed notion that one intervention justifies another.