Speech and Guns: Freedom is indivisible

XP002By Kamenev (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago libertarian novelist and essayist L. Neil Smith wrote a prescient piece on victim disarmament (called, by its supporters, “gun control”). Smith is a prescient guy — he also predicted, among other things, the digital watch and the fall of the Soviet Union. I can’t find the piece at the moment, so I’ll paraphrase:

It’s impossible to effectually outlaw guns without also outlawing writing, speaking and thinking about guns. And it’s impossible to effectually outlaw writing, speaking and thinking about guns without outlawing writing, speaking and thinking, period.

Thinking isn’t a strong suit among victim disarmament advocates, but I guess one of them read the article. A couple of years ago, the US State Department ordered Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed to remove 3D printing files for the “Liberator” pistol from the Internet, pending a ruling on whether the posting of those plans constituted an illegal “weapons export.” In early June, the US State Department filed a new rule proposal on the Federal Register.

The rule is in a combination of bureaucratese and technical jargon, but it boils down to the US government requiring anyone who wants to publish “technical data” on the Internet (where it can be downloaded by foreigners, making it an “export”), relating to how to build weapons, to get the State Department’s permission.

We’ve been around this tree before. Back in the 1990s, the government went after proponents of “strong crypto” for making their software available globally, treating cryptographic algorithms as “munitions” for “export” purposes. Hilarity ensued as cypherpunks arrived at airports wearing t-shirts with the following three lines of Perl on them:

#!/bin/perl -sp0777i<X+d*lMLa^*lN%0]dsXx++lMlN/dsM0<j]dsj
$/=unpack(‘H*’,$_);$_=`echo 16dio\U$k”SK$/SM$n\EsN0p[lN*1

Those three lines of code implemented the RSA cryptographic algorithm. Which meant that flying abroad wearing the t-shirt constituted “unauthorized export of a munition.”

The government ended up backing away from that battle. As a result, all of us now have relatively easy access to tools that help us protect the privacy of our information. Now they’re back, trying to throttle free speech in the name of “arms proliferation control” abroad and, implicitly, “gun control” here at home.

The right to think, speak and publish as we please is inseparably linked — both morally and practically — to the right to keep and bear arms. It’s impossible to support one without supporting the other. And as we can see, the State Department now intends to destroy the latter by destroying the former.

The required “comment period” runs through August 3rd. You can read the proposal and register your opposition to it at:


If legal opposition doesn’t work, the necessary next step is open defiance. This is not a battle Americans can afford to lose.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.




Individual Identity: “Born-This-Wayism” is a Reactionary Cul-de-Sac

Rainbow Brolly -- RGBtock

Is Rachel Dolezal “really” black? The question is reasonable, if a little bit over-hyped from all sides. Reading (and occasionally participating in) a number of discussions about it, I’ve been surprised at the answers people come up with. Here’s mine:

Who cares? Dolezal’s self-identification as an “African-American,” no matter how strange some may find it, only picks my pocket or breaks my leg (as Thomas Jefferson put it concerning other people’s religious beliefs) to the extent that political government either oppresses, or hands out privileges to, people based on their personal self-identification.

I don’t blame Dolezal for that oppression or those privileges, so I’m perfectly content to politely respect her racial/cultural identification. If she says she’s “African-American,” so do I.

That’s not to say that getting rid of government interference would instantly change everyone’s opinions … but as I’ve written before, libertarianism is the only political philosophy that allows everyone to answer “yes” to the question “can we all get along?”

Coming on the heels of Caitlyn Jenner’s “coming out party,” the subject of Rachel Dolezal in particular and trans-racialism in general does shed needed light on the dangers of “born-this-wayism.”

During the long struggle against legal discrimination versus gay men and lesbians, much of the black civil rights community dismissed comparisons between that struggle and theirs. Race and sexual orientation, they said, just weren’t the same thing.

Ditto some “third wave” feminists versus trans-women. There’s still plenty of argument about whether feminist conferences should be open to trans-women; being transgender, some say, does not make one a woman.

And now some supporters of equal rights for trans people reject “transracial” Rachel Dolezal on the same grounds.

Tactically, the claim that one is “born this way,” rather than “choosing” to be, gay, transgender or transracial, has its benefits. And in the first two cases, while the science may not be completely settled, it does seem to at least tend toward agreement.

Strategically and morally, though, “born-this-wayism” is a dangerous trap. Each successful struggle for freedom, or even for basic equality before the law, is followed by a reactionary impulse. We’ve got ours, Jack (or Jackie) … and you aren’t us.

Part of that is due to the government interference I mention above. The “benefits,” like special anti-discrimination protections or even “affirmative action” set-asides, are treated like a fixed pie. If someone new horns in, everyone else’s slice gets smaller. Which, of course, is yet another good reason for getting government out of the matter.

Another part, though, seems to be the mistaken belief that freedom is a similarly fixed pie; that if I get more freedom, you get less. That isn’t so — more freedom for any of us means more freedom for all of us — but it’s a natural fear.

So, again: Is Rachel Dolezal “really” black?

If she says “yes,” why should anyone else have a problem with that? And why should it matter to anyone whether she was “born that way” or “chose” it?

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.




Time to Give Taxpayers a (Prison) Break

RGBStock.com Prison Photo

Daniel Webster was from New England, but one of his most famous quotes merits recognizing him as an honorary Floridian: “Every man’s life, liberty, and property are in danger when the Legislature is in session.”

In special session last week, Florida’s House and Senate negotiators agreed on a $2.3 billion budget for the state’s Department of Corrections (“State law makers pump up prisons budget,” News Service of Florida, June 11). That’s about $115 — or about 14 hours at minimum wage — from every man, woman and child in Florida. That’s more than I pay Netflix for unlimited access to re-runs of “Orange is the New Black.” And all for the ignoble purpose of keeping people in cages.

Except no, not really.

$1.3 million of the new spending is earmarked for “computer software upgrades.” Apparently 9,000 corrections officers don’t have email accounts. Do I hear the world’s smallest violin playing in the distance? To me, the real scandal is that there are more than 9,000 corrections officers in Florida.

Millions — probably tens, maybe even hundreds of millions — more go to politically connected corporations operating “privatized” prisons for profit at taxpayer expense. If you thought you saw their lobbyists skulking around Tallahassee last week, you probably did.

Florida doesn’t need more money for its prisons. It needs fewer prisons, and fewer prisoners. The same is true for every other state. And there are easy ways to get there.

One of the easiest ways would be for those legislators to get together and repeal all the state laws against victimless “crimes” — drugs, gambling, sex work, etc. If they can’t bring themselves to stop trying to run everyone else’s lives, the rest of us should pitch in. Cops should start ignoring those “crimes” in favor of real ones. Prosecutors should stop wasting taxpayer money on prosecuting them. Juries should refuse to convict.

Even where real crimes — like theft, for example — are involved, non-violent offenders shouldn’t receive food, housing and medical care at taxpayer expense.  Nor should surplus corrections personnel. Furlough the latter and let them get real jobs in the productive sector. Put the former on probation or electronically enforced “house arrest” so that they can pay their own bills, as well as restitution to their victims.

It’s time for “corrections” reform, with a view toward ultimately abolishing prisons entirely. And that means less, not more, taxpayer money.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.