“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
My inbox has been slammed with notes concerning the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Given the accessibility of information, and the pace at which it travels, people have treated this event as not just a case of a ghastly local crime, but much more than that, a signal and a wake-up call to the culture at large.
There is no harm in such reflections. The 500-year-old trend toward ever less violent societies — a trend that continues to go in the right direction in our time — should be pushed further in the right direction through education and cultural change.
Still, it might be beneficial to ask more focused questions about the problem of security at schools in particular.
In the days that followed the killing, my browser kept taking me back to a Wikipedia link about the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. The law, still intact after many challenges and rewrites, reads: “It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm that has moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.”
Guns of all sorts are banned anywhere near schools. If the government’s laws had worked, this killer would have realized that his plan was unachievable. After all, the world’s most powerful government had banned the whole idea of guns at school.
But the law did not work, at least not as intended. On the contrary. The killer could be pretty sure going into this that he would be the only one at the school with a gun.
Think of this: Schools in particular have been singled out as a place without the ability to defend against violence. The law has been challenged and revised and debated ever since, but the bottom line stands. Have school shootings declined? Most major shootings now occur in gun-free zones, and nearly twice as many since the act passed than in the 20 years prior. (See the full list.)
People have wrongly tended to reduce the debate to more gun ownership or more gun control. It’s clear where the Obama administration wants to take this: toward more centralized control and fewer gun rights. The right responds by pointing to the example of Israel where teachers are heavily armed. That’s the choice the mainstream gives us.
Actually, the framing of the whole debate is wrong. It is not about whether teachers should be armed or whether guns should be banned for everyone but state-employed cops. The real issue is whether any institution in society is going to be in charge of its own security, and not be forced to obey the government’s plan.
Schools face a problem not different in kind from any other issue of security affecting banks, convenience stores, jewelry stores, theaters, homes, or churches. All these institutions are constantly threatened with violence from random sources. They must all make judgments about the risk of violence and how best to deal with it. There is no one aggregate solution that applies in every case. Each institution needs to determine security for itself.
Just days after Sandy Hook, a shooter attempted to gun down people at the Mayan Palace Theatre in San Antonio, Texas. An off-duty deputy whipped out her own gun and blasted him before the killer could reenact the rampage at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. This is probably the first you have heard about this precisely because the tragedy was averted. The institution will learn from the event and respond in a way that is rational and not injurious of human rights and liberties.
Because school killings engender special social outrage, legislators made them an exception, and this was before airports and airlines received similarly treatment 11 years later with the creation of the Transportation Security Administration. Guns of any sort, unless carried by a cop, were not permitted to be part of anyone’s security solution. The federal government knew best, even to the point at which the federal law trumped state laws on guns.
Does this figure into the calculation that would-be killers make as they plot their malicious acts? Certainly. Advertising a place as gun-free by law is an invitation to killers. The law says to them that if they can get in, they will have a monopoly on violence. No efforts at defense will be available on the premises to protect the teachers and the kids. I don’t see how it could be controversial to suggest that this law is a very bad idea.
To be sure, these killings might have happened anyway. Dealing with violence was the last thing on anyone’s mind in this quiet and prosperous community school. All the events might have transpired as they did regardless. The point is that the law removes viable options for the school in dealing with security concerns. It says: We, the government, know what is best, and our way is the only way.
This is a terrible way to deal with any issue of security.
I am not saying that the school in question should have armed the teachers, the principal, or the students. What matters is who is in charge of security. What kind of incentives does the surety of the absence of effective security grant would-be murders?
Think of this in the case of your home. Let’s say your community passed a Gun-Free Home Act. Is such a law going to be something taken note of by would-be intruders? Is a criminal going to be more or less likely to enter a home knowing with certainty that all law-abiding citizens will not have the means to protect themselves?
Some people might respond that they don’t want to live in a society in which school administrators have to carry weapons. I completely agree. But wishing does nothing to deal with the problem of anti-social behavior on the part of a tiny minority. A tiny group is capable of ruining the social order for the rest of us, which is why we need mechanisms in place to deal with them.
It’s true in every aspect of life, whether our homes or online forums or banks or schools. Ownership is what allows the security calculation to be rational. Without private property, the destructive element rules.
In the online world, these people are known as trolls. In the online world, they can’t be violent, but they can wreck a good thing. A forum that cannot control them or kick them off is not long for this world. If the federal government had passed the No-Troll Act as a way of securing online communities against them, the forums would be all destroyed by now.
It is right and proper to wish for a society of perfect peace. But it is also very smart to have institutions in place that deal with those who do not want peace. Traditionally, people have relied on government to provide this service. This is a grave mistake. Security is inseparable from private property and the institutions of the market economy.
The reason violent crime has fallen by 65% since 1993 has not been government. It has been the private sector’s creation of advanced technology in the hands of private enterprise: surveillance cameras, private security, alarm systems, increasingly sophisticated systems of screening, and so on. Guns in the hands of private owners have been part of that solution.
The best path forward for schools in particular is to get out from under the protection of government and be put on the same status as regular commercial establishments. Private establishments that own and control their own space provide better security.
Whenever any institution is singled out for special protection by government and called too important to manage itself, that institution needs to worry about its future. That’s why the ultimate solution to public school violence is the full privatization of security and of the schools themselves.
At the very least, we need a repeal of the laws that make it impossible for schools to find their own solutions to the threat of violence. In the name of human rights, security needs to be privatized, whether government likes it or not.