As one goes, so go all
I flipped channels this past Saturday and had the unpleasant experience of watching Fox News commentators discuss the legitimacy of a government request (not yet a mandate) for private technology companies to provide a "back door" to their various methods of encryption. The overriding message was that our government knows best, and that any resistance to their noble ideas or questioning of their motives was akin to collaboration with terrorists and supporting the murder of American citizens.
I found this interesting, given how often this same network - these same people - had exposed government overreach and betrayal, castigated this same administration for spying on reporters, and using its regulatory agencies to abuse and persecute those who politically opposed them.
What I found even more interesting was how familiar the arguments sounded.
What do you need one of those for...?
As a gun owner and Second Amendment advocate, I've spent most of my life being told that exercising my Constitutional right - "the one the ACLU doesn't believe in" - made me a threat. Why do I think I need a gun? The Founders wrote the Bill of Rights in an era of single-shot muskets and would never have envisioned citizens wielding the destructive power of modern firearms. Even "supposing" I had a right to be armed, isn't the public safety more important than my hobby or the inconvenience of a background check? Cars are registered, why not guns? Don't I know how many children are killed by guns every year? And anyone who wants to own "assault weapons" must be some sort of delusional Rambo wanna-be. Or worse - they may actually be up to something!
After the attacks of September 11th, these arguments started being applied to our Fourth Amendment rights. Suddenly, the desire to avoid a pre-flight groping was unpatriotic and cause for criticism if not outright suspicion. Couldn't we stop being so selfish and just put up with a little inconvenience for the sake of public safety? It's not like they're Redcoats coming to your house and searching it. Besides, air travel was never envisioned by our founders - it's a privilege, not a right, like driving. Stop holding up the line with this political "Constitution" stuff - people have flights to catch! We should be grateful that we have a government keeping us safe. It makes one wonder what you're hiding, if it bothers you that much!
Now, the target is encryption. Most people don't understand it (even if they unknowingly use it, such as during online banking sessions) and it drives certain members of the government mad that we might actually have and share thoughts to which they are not privy. Once again, the spirits of Founders are called upon to dissuade us. After all, they never could have envisioned texting, emails, cell phones and computers - the Constitution was written in an age of quills and ink wells, and the Fourth literally protects "papers," not hard drives! And even supposing there was a right to electronic privacy, isn't the public safety more important than your emails and surfing habits? Why do you think you need that level of professional, terrorist-grade encryption? Have you got some sort of James Bond wanna-be complex - or are you hiding something? Maybe something bad, like child pornography or drug dealing, since who else would want text messages that self-delete? Only police and our military should need that degree of "assault privacy."
Are you seeing it yet?
The decades-long attacks on our Second Amendment had little to do with guns and everything with finding the right template for control. It was a search for the right tone, the right tactic, the right propaganda to convince us to willingly surrender our rights, since we so passionately resist having them taken by force. And they found it. All they need to is make enough people believe that:
1. the terms "right" and "need" are interchangeable, blurring the line until "rights" are thought of as things commonly desired and frequently used;
2. the rights enshrined in the Constitution are antiquated, no longer relate to modern life, and need to be updated;
3. even if we do exercise that right in the course of our daily lives, doing so makes us - knowingly or not - bullies who victimize the weak; and
4. the continued existence of those rights, without tighter control by government, only enables and empowers "the bad guys" (whoever that might be this week).
In case you think it will stop at electronic privacy, the same model is being used to attack our First Amendment rights. We had already been subjected to the indignity of "free speech zones" when attempting to protest political leaders. Now, we're seeing this spread to our individual conversations.
Just this past month, racially-charged protests erupted at the University of Missouri. Students exercising their First Amendment rights in a public forum found no irony in intimidating and harassing a student journalist, declaring that he had no right to document the events. He was physically forced to leave, with (now former) assistant professor of mass media communications Melissa Click on film, calling for "some muscle" to remove him. Later, in an MSNBC interview, vice president Brenda Smith-Lezama of the Missouri Students Association stated, "I personally am tired of hearing that first amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment...."
Look at it again and you can see the pattern - one all too familiar to gun owners - forming:
1. The First Amendment is only a right if you feel you have a "need" to protest your victimhood, not something to be universally respected.
2. The freedom of speech must now be updated to include validation through the filter of someone else's feelings and fears.
3. If you exercise that freedom, you are 'being hostile' and victimizing others - and deserve whatever violence you get.
There isn't - yet - a call for government action but, given that we already have "hate speech" laws, it wouldn't take much tweaking to redefine "hate" to include "creating perceived hostility" by showing up and asking questions. And there is fertile ground for it. According to a recent Pew Research poll, 40% of "Millennials" - Americans aged 18-35 - support the notion that our government should be able to prevent people publicly making statements that are "offensive to minority groups."
Not slanderous, not libelous, but simply hurting feelings - which are completely subjective. And not everyone, not all Americans, but simply "minority groups" - a term which can be redefined with changing societal mores.
See it. Stop it.
Those who would curtail our freedom - and rest assured, both major parties are well-represented here - have their template, based on disdain, emotional argument, guilt and fear. Those who push it deserve our suspicion, not support. Learn to see it and be willing to oppose it, even if you can't relate to its target of the day.
They count on a fractured society, confused into believing that there should be a "needs test" before a right is worthy of being respected. They count on being able to drive a wedge of doubt over something that would formerly have been passionately defended, because once that precedent is established, the same arguments can be used to attack and weaken every other value.
Don't buy into it.
Recognize that an attack on one right is an attack on all, that a diminishing of one strand weakens the whole rope, and that each of our liberties is sacrosanct - even if it's one you think you'll never need.
Perhaps especially if it's one you think you'll never need.