SO you’re interested in reviving American freedom. Good! Now, how to do it?
The traditional methods are:
1. Vote the bastards out. Two, four, or six years later, vote the new bastards out. We’ve been voting the bastards out since the 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Any word yet on when they’re going to leave?
2. Join an organization and let them revive American freedom. This is another method with a dubious record of success.
3. Get loud! Write your congressman, march in rallies. Hope “the system” will hear you and say, “Oh golly. The People are angry. Guess we’d better reform ourselves!”
4. And the most popular: sulk and complain. This doesn’t work either. But at least it’s easy.
Discouraging, isn’t it? Because of the dismal record of the traditional methods, both your friendly authors have long advocated a fifth technique: Declare your personal freedom and live by your hopes and principles despite the bastards. Or as the late Harry Browne put it, “Find freedom in an unfree world.”
Yet our nation gets less free every day. The people who make it their business to take freedom away seem to know nothing but mission creep.
However, there is one freedom success story. It’s right under our noses, but we sometimes forget to notice the good news.
From 1968 to the 1990s, things looked bad in America for gun owners. We were fair game in legislatures large and small. We were hit with mandatory “cooling off” periods. Limits on how many guns we could buy in a month. Background checks. Limits on types of ammunition and magazine capacities. Mandatory gun safes and trigger locks. Bans on guns that just looked scary.
Given the way things were going for us in those decades, and given how much more authoritarian the U.S. government has become since, the average aware gun owner probably expected an all-out gun ban by now. Or at least something like a national licensing scheme.
Yet even as things looked most dismal, one state after another began issuing permits for people who want to carry concealed handguns. At first many states had “may-issue” permits, meaning local authorities merely enabled their cronies or prominent people (like Dianne Feinstein) to carry sidearms. But beginning with Georgia in 1976, more states liberalized their laws, to the point where most states are now required to issue permits unless applicants fail background checks.
Your authors were (and still are) skeptical about permits. Self-defense is a natural right that implies the right to carry the best weapons for the job, government permission not needed. When the shall-issue concealed carry permit movement caught fire, we worried (and still do, to an extent) that state governments were just playing a trick to get gun-carriers’ names into a database for later abuse.
We advocated what science-fiction writer L. Neil Smith dubbed “Vermont carry.” Only one little state simply stepped back and acknowledged the right of any non-felonious citizen to bear arms—concealed or openly, without any permits, as if the Second Amendment meant what it said.
For non-Vermonters, that looked like nothing but a utopian dream. In the mid-1990s, when Wyoming gun-rights activist Charles Curley told Claire that that state’s newly won shall-issue permits were a step toward Vermont carry, she was politely skeptical.
Yet in the 21st century, first Alaska, then a trickle of other states—including Wyoming—adopted no-permit carry. It began to be called by a broader name, “constitutional carry.” As of this writing, an additional 12 state legislatures are considering constitutional carry.
How did such a turnaround happen?
There is no one, simple narrative. This wasn’t the work of any single group or organization. Gun-ban advocates heap blame on the NRA, their favorite Great Satan. And the NRA cheerfully takes the credit. But when it comes to the true right to carry, the NRA had little to do with it, sometimes helping but sometimes downright hindering statelevel efforts.
Instead, smaller groups working at state level practiced the art of the possible. When they couldn’t get everything they came for, they grimly settled for half a loaf and made plans to come back for the other half. This often put them at odds with the “all or nothing” purists (um, like us) within their own ranks. They resolutely ignored the naysayers and plugged away. They ultimately changed laws—and minds.
The single-issue activists started with nothing: scant organization, little funding, no widespread support, and active hostility among entrenched lawmakers. But they didn’t give way to despair. They also had solid facts on their side, such as the facts on healthy self-defense provided by scholars like Don Kates and Gary Kleck.
Here’s an example of what activists in one state, Texas, had to go through. Texans had a tough gun law imposed on them in 1871, during Reconstruction. According to an online article by Larry Arnold of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association, Texas activists started proposing liberalized carry laws in 1983 and every legislative session after that.
They didn’t even come close to success until 1991. That year, their bill got amended to death in the legislature. In 1993, activists turned up the public pressure. The legislature was inundated with letters and calls demanding passage. That time Governor Ann Richards shot it down with a promise to veto. The legislature did pass a call for a referendum on the issue, and Richards vetoed that.
By then the activists had Texans on their side. In 1995, concealed carry legislation passed easily and was signed by Governor Bush. But it still wasn’t over. Opponents put one restriction after another in gun owners’ way, and in every session for the last 16 years, the activists have continued to fight the good fight.
Determined activists won legislation for concealed-carry permits in states that didn’t issue them. Where necessary, as in Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota and Michigan, they took what they could get, then went back and began the fight to make those permits shall-issue. Now we see activists going for constitutional carry in state after state.
Where there are isolated side issues, like the right to carry on campus, in state and national parks, or on trains, they work on that too. They let nothing wear them down—they do the wearing down.
In the greater field of American freedom, right-to-carry may be a small thing. But what a symbol they’re winning for us! And what an example they’ve set, these individual men and women who chose their battleground and refused ever to surrender it. They knew what they wanted, and they knew they were right. At first many of them didn’t know how to win. They weren’t professional lobbyists. But they knew how to learn. And like the squeaky wheel, they made themselves a pain in the butt until they got what they required.
As of this writing, 39 states have liberal concealed carry policies. In four of those—Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming—citizens don’t need a permit to exercise the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
One unfortunate truth is that the victories being forged in gun rights take dedicated, hard-core, single-issue activism. While these heroes win in one area, the police state marches on in others.
Yet changes in legislation aren’t as important as changes in public attitudes—and there hardcore activists can win big. Take the two most recent examples of the switch to constitutional carry. Both Wyoming and Arizona adopted shall-issue permits well over ten years ago. Activists in neither state had a particularly hard time about it. But it was still a major effort. Only recently did gun rights activists in those states start their successful drives for constitutional carry—and those campaigns took a much shorter time.
Why the difference? When shall-issue carry permits began to become readily obtainable, anti-rights cultists naturally predicted blood in the streets. You know the drill. There would be gun battles over every traffic accident. Every minor disagreement would end up ringing with gunfire. Right? Well, in the fullness of time, something rather the opposite of that came true. So peoples’ attitudes toward the whole thing began to change. They no longer saw bearing arms as such a danger. Then the activists came back asking, in effect, “Why get government permission slips?”
It’s much more difficult at the federal level. But at local and state levels, dogged activism can make a difference. Think the police in your state or municipal area are going too far with thermal imaging or traffic cameras? Want zoning reform? An end to eminent domain abuse? Civil asset forfeiture reform? Do you know other people who want the same thing?
Maybe being a very determined pain in the ass could work for you.