ON a gray day in Olympia, Washington, several thousand gun owners met in front of the state Capitol to break the law. Organizer Gavin Seim had made it clear that nobody was going to get a permit for the demonstration.
Everybody also knew that people would be transferring firearms in plain sight, violating the state’s brand-new Bloombergian “background check” law, I-594 (which is so poorly written that even handing a gun momentarily to a friend may be a gross misdemeanor or felony).
Police were on hand but had announced they had no intention of arresting anybody for peaceable gun transfers. And they didn’t.
The event came off without a hitch, even gaining respectable coverage in the mainstream media. Though 2,000 became the official attendance figure, the Seattle Times (not known for gun friendliness) said 3,000 showed up. They traded guns. They burned concealed carry permits. Speakers like Mike Vanderboegh roared defiance. According to several attendees, virtually all participants were peaceably armed.
Some people, even nominally pro-gun people, did not approve. A coalition of the state’s established gun groups announced plans for their own later event and actively tried to undermine Seim’s “I will not comply” rally. They sniffed that the legislature wasn’t even in session for the demonstration. The “legit” types missed the point.
Those thousands of gun owners breaking the law in front of the Capitol building weren’t there to ask legislators for favors. They were there to proclaim, “We’ll keep our rights despite any law”—something every legislator, judge, and law enforcer surely understood, wherever they happened to be.
But the opposition to the event that struck me the most deeply was an unsigned editorial in The Daily Bell two days later. The Daily Bell is a freedom-oriented online publication and definitely pro-gun. But this editorial also missed the point. Here are some of its arguments:
“Gavin Seim and people like him are perhaps the fruit of this Internet era. They are educated and fervent about protecting constitutional freedoms. Yet there is a big difference between understanding what has been lost and regaining it.”
“Seim is already on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch, which devoted a post to his planned protest….”
The editorial then veered onto the topic of whether our former republic can be restored, ultimately concluding:
“The idea that the West’s current mercantilist power centers are going to be overturned by either violent rebellion or peaceful protests is likely naïve.”
“The protests of Seim and others are certainly in a sense admirable and their intentions are surely honorable but it is through individual human action that people will retain and expand their freedoms.”
“Conclusion: The actions of communal protest and rebellion, especially on a large scale, will likely further the very unfortunate trends that protestors seek to counter.”
Now, I’m pretty well known for my “free yourself first” position. I agree that big, bad government isn’t likely to transform itself into small, good government just because We the Peasants publicly object. I believe with all my heart that individuals who want freedom will ultimately just have to choose to live free, despite bad laws, brutal enforcements, and any other efforts to hinder us.
That said, I found the editorial to be way off target.
The Daily Bell stated: “[T]here is a big difference between understanding what has been lost and regaining it.”
True. But the editorial assumes that the resisters gathered to regain our poor moribund American republic. Probably most would like that. But that’s not what the rally was about. The rally was the buzz of a rattlesnake’s tail. It was not a plea for the return of rights, republic, or anything else. It was a statement and a warning: we individuals have rights that nobody will take.
“Seim is already on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch….”
My colleague Kurt Hofmann has the best answer to this: “It is better to be despised by the despicable than admired by the admirable.”
The SPLC has raised untold millions over many years by accusing innocent freedom lovers of being both racists and domestic terrorists. Its lies and distortions please the media. Journalists love to cite SPLC poison-spewers as being “experts on the militia movement” and other such hogwash. They choose not to examine the SPLC’s claims or its finances. Dozens of my friends and acquaintances have been smeared by the SPLC (including Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, who for a time wrote the Enemy at the Gate column for S.W.A.T.).
Nobody in the freedom movement should consider it a problem to be “on the radar” of the SPLC. On the contrary, it’s a sign that your efforts are getting noticed and making authoritarians nervous.
“The actions of communal protest and rebellion, especially on a large scale, will likely further the very unfortunate trends that protestors seek to counter.”
Naturally, the more unjust a government becomes, the more likely it is to lash out at those who defy it. Nevertheless, defiance of bad laws is essential to freedom. Those gathered at the Capitol were performing the very sort of individual action The Daily Bell writer applauds. They were just announcing it—rattling that tail before striking with those fangs, as it were. And if that ticks somebody off, so be it. It’s like ticking off the SPLC—a good sign.
In this case, there’s a further consideration. I-594 was passed by the voters after a propaganda campaign financed by billionaires. There was little opposition from gun-rights organizations. Alan Gottlieb’s groups (based in the state) put their money into a foolishly competing initiative that lost. The NRA only stepped in weakly at the last minute to oppose I-594. Most voters never read the cumbersome measure. They just heard “background checks,” “common sense,” “keep criminals from getting guns,” etc and hit “YES.”
On the other hand, rank-and-file police were against I-594. There’s no sign that a majority of legislators were for it. Most rural people, even those who voted yes, will be horrified when they learn what they actually voted for. In short, despite its overwhelming victory at the polls, I-594 isn’t going to be a popular law—or an enforceable one.
Should anybody be surprised if the future brings more bad gun laws and crackdowns on peaceable gun owners? No. But that will happen whether we gun owners are quiet or noisy.
So far we’ve been noisy in defiance and the results have been remarkable. In every state that passed new gun laws in the last two years, gun owners have risen up—usually without backing from “legit” gun-rights groups—and said, “I will not comply.” In New York. Connecticut. New Jersey. Delaware. Colorado. Firearms businesses have moved out. Legislators have been recalled. Up to 95% of gun owners affected by the laws (nobody knows the real number) have simply said no, and Authoritah isn’t doing anything about it.
Most of these laws are unenforceable, and very few police officers want to put their safety on the line for the sake of useless political theater. Sure, at some point police may be forced to act, driven by politically motivated superiors. But my guess is that right now there’s a general sense of “let the billionaires enforce their own laws.”
The Daily Bell is right that people will largely have to take back our freedoms individually. If that editorial writer had said that mass legislative lobbying efforts were pointless, I’d agree.
But lobbying isn’t what Gavin Seim’s rally was about. It was about that greatest of all powers, the individual saying no. In this case, thousands of individuals gathered in public to make sure their no was clearly heard.