Eric is my niece Sonnet's main squeeze. He's a sweet-natured young man who proudly states that he owns 11 guns. I took this alarming admission in stride, because Eric is a military veteran and a skilled hunter, well versed in firearms safety. He's not dangerous.
However, in justifying his private arsenal, Eric casually articulated a dogma that's been perpetuated by the National Rifle Association and its allies on Fox News — that the Federal government is dead-set on carrying out (sometime — who knows when?) a secret, lightning program of universal gun confiscation. When it comes, he apparently plans to either hide his ordinance or start shootin'.
This anxiety is consistent with the limited-government conservatism (LGC) of its proponents. But it betrays an underlying — and fairly crazy — contradiction. After all, a bedrock conviction of the LGC community is that the government can't find its own ass with 1,000 hands. As the government grows, it becomes less efficient, less competent to carry out its stated policies and functions.
Here's the cognitive dissonance: On one hand, as big government gets bigger, it becomes more and more inept. On the other hand, this bloated ectoplasm of bungling bureaucrats possesses the surgical dexterity to somehow ferret out, swiftly seize (without resistance), and magically vanish 200 million private firearms from 315 million people in a nation covering 3,790,000 square miles.
The absurdity of this concept is all the more dazzling in light of the fact that no legislator in history has ever formally proposed either the seizure of anybody's guns or the repeal of the Second Amendment. No one. Ever.
Nonetheless, the NRA annually raises and spends millions of dollars based almost solely on this exquisitely cultivated myth of prohibition. The delusion persists despite the reality that no American — and hardly anyone, anywhere — has ever seen prohibition work, except in tiny, isolated communities.
Indeed, prohibition of some things — like murder and rape — is a great idea. But, although we execute some murderers and rapists, others keep murdering and raping, sometimes just to prove that “nobody's gonna tell me what I can't do!”
Of course, the great American example of prohibition was the Volstead Act, the banning of all alcoholic beverages between 1919 and 1933. As we know now, the passage of the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition, concluded one of the booziest, most lawless 15 years in US history. It seemed that the more people were told not to have a little drink, the bigger grew their thirst.
Also, there's smoking. We've never tried an outright ban on smoking everywhere, but we've done all we can to prove that smoking is deadly to the smoker and dangerous to everyone else. But 20 percent of Americans still smoke, and always will. Every year, millions of young people — who refuse to be told what they can and cannot do to their own bodies — start smoking. So there!
America's 30-year War on Drugs has expanded exponentially the value of illicit narcotics, created fortunes for drug lords, turned dopers into criminals, and spread the plague of addiction into vast new territories. It's the Volstead Act on steroids. Today, there are millions of ruined people injecting poison into their veins solely because the government has told them they're not allowed to inject poison into their veins. So there!
Prohibition can't even get rid of measles and chicken pox. We thought we had it wiped out until a fresh bunch of zealots, even more ignorant and paranoid than the NRA, decided that vaccinations cause autism.
The prospect of official prohibition doesn't have to be true, or even credible. Even if it's just a political ploy, it triggers a primal fear. People resist compulsion, instinctively. I know I do. But sometimes, this resistance is a denial of reason that boils down to sheer bullheadedness. And sometimes, as we seek to prevent some great tragedy that's never going to happen, we invite a real tragedy even worse than our deepest fears.
Cf., Sandy Hook Elementary School.