"The most important service rendered by the press and the magazines is that of educating people to approach printed matter with distrust." -- Samuel Butler
In the current political climate surrounding the hot topic of gun control, there has been much attention focused on the subject of "gun owner paranoia." One mainstream news agency after another has decried the lack of progress regarding the gun control bills currently stagnating in Congress due to gun owners' supposed fears regarding gun bans and firearms confiscation.
However, despite the government assurances that gun confiscation is off the table, a sentiment that is being echoed by voices within the mainstream press, the reality is that guns have already been confiscated within U.S. borders in the past and this practice continues to affect law-abiding gun owners to this day.
Beyond confirming gun owners' fears regarding the issue of firearms confiscation, the mainstream media has alluded that the government's proposal to ban so-called "assault weapons" is, fair, equitable, and as far as the newly proposed gun control legislation will go. Other types of firearms would supposedly be left alone. However, despite the reassuring rhetoric, there are elements currently working within the government who not only want to ban so-called "assault weapons", but who also want to include handgun bans in future gun control measures as well.
So, the law-abiding gun owner's distrust of government intentions regarding gun control has a demonstrated basis in reality. The question is, should this distrust of government be a phenomenon that is exclusive to gun owners? After all, if the other half of America doesn't own firearms, then why should the non-gun-owning segment of the population pay any attention to the plight of law-abiding gun owners? If the basic, fundamental, and enumerated civil right to self defense was the only human right being trampled on by the government, then the other half of the country representing the non-gun-owning American population would essentially have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, this begs the question--are the other civil liberties enumerated within the Bill of Rights being threatened in any way by the government as well?
If there are swaths of the non-gun-owners who do not feel very strongly about defending their 2nd Amendment Rights, then would those same Americans take the apathy they feel towards the 2nd Amendment and apply it to their 6th Amendment Right to a trial by jury as well? Interestingly enough, the implications of this very question were recently posed through a claim by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that President Obama had the authority to kill Americans by drone strike on U.S. soil. This alarming memo then inspired Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to rise within the U.S. Senate chambers for a 13-hour filibuster in protest of this clearly unconstitutional usurpation of power by the Executive.
As each hour of Senator Paul's publicly-televised filibuster passed, public outrage surrounding this executive usurpation of power grew exponentially across all social networks. As it turns out, Americans did not take this breach of constitutional authority lightly. After seeing this massive public opposition grow to such a fervent tempo in just a few hours, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was forced to concede that the President of the United States does not actually have the authority to kill Americans not engaged in combat on U.S. soil. Such are the actions of a government that inspires public distrust.
And that distrust of government is, in no way, isolated to federal power. State and local governments are just as susceptible to abusing their powers as their national brethren. For instance, many San Franciscans, who might be quick to condemn the 2nd Amendment Rights of their fellow Americans, may be surprised to find out that their own city government is violating their right to privacy, a civil liberty that experts ascribe to the 10th Amendment, by trampling on local business owners' 4th Amendment Rights against illegal search and seizure. On March 20, 2013, DNA Lounge, a popular nightclub in San Francisco, posted an account of a conversation that the night club managers had with a representative from the San Francisco Police Department:
"We got a funny phone call today, and by 'funny' I mean 'not actually even a little funny.'
Officer Chan, the permitting officer for SFPD, called to remind us that we're required to have video surveillance that records everything our customers do, and to give that footage to SFPD any time they ask, without a warrant or explanation. 'Actually, that's not the case, I'm not required to do that,' says Barry. 'It's a part of the Good Neighbor Policy,' says the cop. 'No, actually, it's not. And it's also not a condition of our permits.'
'Well! I guess I'll have to speak to the Entertainment Commission about that, then!'
Thirty minutes later, Barry got a call from this guy's boss, admitting that while we're not technically required to, we really, really should 'consider' it. After some back and forth, he says, 'Should I take from this conversation that you're not willing to consider this?' 'We have considered it, which is why we fought to have that condition not put on our permits.'
Someone from the Entertainment Commission said, 'Yeah, it's really weird that you don't have that condition, because they're putting that on everybody's permits now. Nobody else has fought it.'
Which isn't surprising, since apparently everyone who works for SFPD is going around telling everyone that it's required by law when that's not even remotely true. It's just another sneaky, backdoor regulation that ABC and SFPD have been foisting on everyone without any kind of judicial oversight, in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment."
As one can gather from this blog post, in a city that prides itself on the celebration of all manner of civil liberties, it is glaringly apparent that the San Francisco Police Department has been visiting the night clubs throughout the city and lying to club owners and management about this clear violation of every citizen's most basic constitutional rights. The San Francisco Police Department is also certainly not alone in their abuse of power. Police corruption and brutality are two of the most well-documented and common forms of government abuse. It is precisely these types of government overreach that should have all critical-thinking Americans viewing their government with distrust.
Then there are issues such as government transparency. Distrust of government is such an ingrained part of the American psyche that States such as California have passed laws like the Brown Act to keep secret government corruption in check. Enacted in 1953, California State Assemblyman Ralph M. Brown authored a bill that guaranteed the public's right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The purpose of this act was to limit closed-door meetings between elected government officials at the local level. Mounting public concerns over this issue indicate that the necessity of laws such as the Brown Act can be demonstrated even today.
For instance, a jury recently convicted the former mayor of the Southern California City of Bell and five of his associates on a number of corruption charges. Thomas Peele, the watchdog columnist for the Bay Area News Group, described the government officials involved in this debacle as, "a cabal [led] by the former city manager [who] allegedly stole more than $5.5 million. It's where nobody followed the money as it flowed straight into people's pockets as steadily as water in a diversion canal." Had the citizens of Bell been actively involved in the day-to-day government of their small city through provisions such as the Brown Act, then they would not have likely faced such disastrous financial ruin. Implicit trust in one's government can and often does lead to all types of dire consequences.
However, what happens when a distrust in one's government no longer needs to be implicit? Government officials such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are now explicitly and publicly stating that, '"I do think there are certain times we should infringe on your freedom.” While Bloomberg was referring to his soda ban in New York, which the courts struck down, Americans who have been paying attention to current events also know that his other high-profile political crusade lies in his controversial support for gun control. If Bloomberg's comfort level to "infringe on your freedom" spans the spectrum of soda consumption to the 2nd Amendment, then there is likely very little in between regarding basic civil liberties that he would not feel uncomfortable in denying to his constituents. Critical-thinking Americans might be wise to raise doubts regarding the degree to which they can trust powerful government officials like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Distrust of government is a healthy paranoia. Government power, in all its forms, has proven itself unworthy of public trust and, if left unchecked, will almost always grow from its original intent as an obedient civil servant to a tyrannical and terrible master. It should be viewed suspiciously, at arm's length, at all times, and not just by 2nd Amendment supporters, but also by every American citizen, regardless of whether or not he or she chooses to exercise a particular enumerated civil right or not.
Yih-Chau Chang is a civil rights activist residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, an avid Second Amendment supporter, and a contributor to both CGF and Examiner.com.