Why I Carry

Breaking the law, No. 25, 28 October, 2001

by Paul Hager © 2001

IC Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 2. Regulation of Handguns

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

"[S]edentary life becomes the last stage of civilization and the point where it begins to decay. It also constitutes the last stage of evil and of remoteness from goodness.... [S]edentary people have become used to laziness and ease. They are sunk in well-being and luxury. They have entrusted the defense of their property and lives to the governor who rules them, and to the militia which has the task of guarding them.... They are carefree and trusting, and have ceased to carry weapons. Successive generations have grown up in this way of life. They have become like women and children, who depend upon the master of the house."

Ibn Khaldûn, Muqaddimah, 1377

Im introducing this article with the same quote I used in article #5, Your friends and neighbors. Its author, Ibn Khaldûn, was a 14th century scholar who is generally credited as the first person to apply a scientific approach to the study of history. He was a product of the Islamic world at a time when it was the center of science and learning and Christian Europe was yet to emerge from the Dark Ages. The Muqaddimah, from which the quote is taken, is the introductory volume ("muqaddimah" actually means "prologue") of the multi-volume history on which Ibn Khaldûns fame rests. In the Muqaddimah, he explains the analytical method he uses for his "new science" of history.

Ibn Khaldûn observed recurring patterns in the rise and fall of civilizations and sought to explain their causes. Because his analysis took into account economic and social factors as well as political ones, he treated nation states as dynamic systems (though he would not have used such a term) governed by physical laws. According to Ibn Khaldûn, as civilizations rise, commerce, science, and art thrive because rulers are just and temperate, and the people are self-reliant and energetic. Over time, as people become "sunk in luxury", they become more dependent, while the rulers become more self-serving and unjust. Commerce, science, and art all stagnate. Eventually, a civilization sinks into corruption and tyranny and is ready to be supplanted by a younger, more energetic competitor.

The greatness of American civilization is in the self-reliance, industry, and creativity of its citizens. This has been true of all great civilizations. But all great civilizations have eventually fallen, and the first signs of the decay that will eventually bring our civilization down are already in evidence. In fact, since the September 11 attacks, the process of decline into corruption and tyranny have begun to accelerate.

As I wrote in #24:

"A war or other crisis is an opportunity for those in authority to increase their power, and frightened people are all too willing to sell their rights in the false hope that it will buy them safety."

On the national level, so-called "anti-terrorism" legislation that gives expansive, unconstitutional powers to law enforcement has just been signed into law. Presumably, these laws will be challenged, and one hopes that the judicial system with check these legislative excesses. However, exigent circumstances will be claimed to have created new "compelling state interests" that justify extra police powers, so it is hardly a foregone conclusion that the courts will do the right thing. And, if the courts fail us, then what?

There is no evidence that the Founders ever heard of Ibn Khaldûn, though they operated with the benefit of 4 centuries of additional learning and thus came to many of the same conclusions as he. They were under no illusion that the American state would be immune to the forces that have brought every previous civilization down. To the contrary, they concluded that the only way to resist the inevitable process of decline would be to incorporate dynamic feedback "checks and balances" into the system of government. Like a human body that maintains a more or less constant body temperature, our government is designed to maintain a more or less constant level of protection of the rights of its citizens. Ultimately, however, all systems of government, even brilliantly designed ones such as ours, rely on an active and engaged citizenry to put things right when the system begins to fail.

When bad laws are enacted, what should citizens do? One course would be to convince legislators that the bad law should be repealed. A second course would be to challenge the law in court and either get it struck down, or make it impossible to enforce because jurors "nullify" it. One thing is certain. Because liberty is lost in tiny increments, minor infringements must be fought as though they were major ones.

A study of the events leading up to the American Revolution demonstrates that our forebears were extremely jealous of their liberty and reacted to the slightest and most benign appearing regulatory encroachment from the British Parliament as though it was a full-scale assault on freedom. Things have changed markedly since then in ways fully understandable to Ibn Khaldûn. Laws that would have caused the American colonists to engage in mass boycotts or direct action, provoke at most resigned grousing from American citizens now.

A notable exception is the ACLU, which will react vigorously when 1st Amendment rights are threatened. Gun owners, however, do nothing. The people who say, "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers," act as though each new law that takes away another piece of their rights is inviolate. The docility of this group is astonishing considering that they all have guns. Continued inaction invites continued infringements. Eventually, the day will come when a law is passed requiring citizens to turn in their arms. In that event, how likely is it that people who were unwilling to suffer minor inconvenience early on will face death when the situation has become desperate?

In Indiana, we gun owners have it pretty good. A Personal Protection license is cheap, and it must be issued to any adult citizen who can pass a criminal background check. Around 8% of Hoosier adults are licensed to carry. Contrast that with California, where it is nearly impossible for a citizen to legally carry a gun for self-defense, and carrying illegally is a felony, punishable by fine and imprisonment. Indiana also has a specific protection for the right of self-defense written into its state Constitution:

"The people shall have a right to bear arms, for the defense of themselves and the State." (Article I, Section 32)

Despite this, the right is under exactly the sort of incremental attack that will one day make Indiana like California. State law has empowered "local units" that is, counties and cities to restrict carry on their property at their discretion. This can be found in section 2 (1) of IC Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 11. Local Regulation of Firearms. Thus, despite the plain language of Article I, Section 32, the state is allowing its local governmental units to create enclaves in which citizens not only cannot defend themselves, but also cannot take useful action to defend state officials or state property. The law effectively nullifies Article I, Section 32.

Since September 11, American citizens are now, whether we like it or not, combatants. We know that some citizens gave their lives to prevent a direct attack on the Congress (and possibly the President) by fighting back against the hijackers. The idea that, in this time of national crisis, citizens should have their ability to defend against terrorist attack impaired is both irrational and frankly un-American. Nonetheless, the Monroe County Commissioners passed a county ordinance two weeks ago that bars carry on county property.

This happened quite suddenly and, to my knowledge, the local network of gun owners was completely unaware that a carry ban was being considered. As I noted above, state law gives the Commissioners the authority to enact a carry ban. Still, the question is, why are they choosing to do it now? One explanation I heard, though have been unable to verify, was that a Commissioner had been threatened. However, in the history of Indiana there have undoubtedly been hundreds of elected officials threatened without it ever being suggested that the rights of law abiding Hoosiers should be sacrificed. If there is a risk attached to being a public servant, it is an unfortunate concomitant of the power and perks of office. Any public servant unwilling to put it on the line for his or her constituents should find another line of work. Im not going to surrender my right of self-defense because a representative may be attacked any more than I will surrender my right of free speech because a representative may be slandered. Besides, as we know, the presence of a significant percentage of citizens carrying concealed on county property is actually like having free plainclothes bodyguards. How rational is it for a public official to eliminate such protection?

The local regulation of firearms portion of the Indiana Code is a cancer that has too long been left unattended. Over the past several years, I have been trying to get citizens of Gary to challenge their no-carry ordinance, to no avail. No one wants to be inconvenienced. Now that the cancer has metastasized to Monroe County, I am in a position to take action and I intend to do so.

Though my plans have not fully crystallized, I can say that very soon I will issue a press release to local media. In it, I will say that the state law that allowed the Monroe County Commissioners to pass their ordinance violates the Indiana Constitution and that I will challenge it by carrying on county property. I will indicate the date and time I intend to violate the ordinance so that the authorities can give me a citation with the media in attendance. It may be that I can go directly to court and seek declaratory relief without actually being charged with violating the ordinance (this issue is being researched as I write this); however, a public political statement that also guarantees that I have standing to sue is the optimal course of action.

There is never a more opportune time to resist government infringements on liberty than when they first appear.