At this weekend’s Gun Rights Policy Conference, Alan Gottlieb asked a scary question. It’s a question loaded with false premises, freighted with unintended consequences. And it’s terrifying when you consider where it might lead us as a society. The question was: Would you sell a gun to someone you do not know? . . .
The premise that underlies the question is that selling a gun to someone you don’t know is irresponsible, that it should be regulated by the government. Alan followed that with another terrifying premise: If you sell your gun to someone who later uses it in a crime, you could be held liable for the criminal’s actions. He asked us whether a jury would hold a person liable if they sold a gun to someone they did not know, who committed a crime with it later. Gottlieb conducted this exercise to illustrate what could happen if Initiative 594, the billionaire-backed universal background checks ballot measure, passes in Washington state.
This premise of seller liability has already been knocked down by at least one court, because it takes us down a very dark rabbit hole. No one should be held responsible for the actions of others who commit crimes with property that was legally sold. If you can be held liable for this, then selling a car, or a computer, or a telephone, or a knife, or a chainsaw to someone who later uses it criminally would similarly make the seller liable. It undercuts the very foundation of a free society.
Gottlieb is a very smart guy. I respect Alan. I like Alan. But the premise of his question is horrifying that follows a simple train of thought.
1. Selling to someone you don’t know is irresponsible.
2. To prevent this irresponsible action, the government must monitor who things are sold to, so that bad people can’t buy things that can be used in crimes.
3. If the government must monitor transactions so that bad people may not buy things that the government thinks they should not have, then the government may prevent those transactions.
4. This will not stop at guns. Knives can be used in crime, as can cars, and computers, and hammers.
5. If the government can stop those transactions, they can stop any transactions because virtually everything can be used for criminal purposes. Governments have historically used this power to disenfranchise and destroy those with whom they disagree politically.
The freedom to buy and sell to people anonymously is a fundamental property right. If the government can say that you may not sell your property, it has effectively taken that property from you.
If we believe that some individuals are so dangerous that they shouldn’t have access to certain objects such as guns or knives or computers, then those people need to be in prison or closely monitored so that they don’t have access to those things.
Setting up a system so that everyone in society is monitored to prevent the actions of a few evil or irresponsible people is an excuse to control everyone. It’s what has brought us to the NSA recording all telephone conversations. A free society is put in grave peril when such systems are put in place. Those in power are always tempted to use such systems to help keep them in power. Could the IRS ever be used for political purposes? President Nixon was hounded out of office for merely considering it. It appears that elements of the current administration have done it.
©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.