Shotgun News, April 1, 2009, pp. 20-22
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Speak Softly and Carry a Big Video Camera
Teddy Roosevelt was fond of quoting a West African proverb, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.”1 There’s no need to shout and scream if others know that you can defend your rights—and often, there are good reasons to keep your mouth shut.
A lot of Americans are really, really concerned about the Obama Administration—and rightly so. The stimulus package that Obama is about to sign, as I write these words, is handcuffing our children with a mountain of debt—and a reduction in gross national product that will last for years. Worst of all, it was completely unnecessary to deal with the recession.
Back on January 8, 2009, The Congressional Budget Office issued a report to Congress about the future of our economy. On page 1 of that report, they explained that their predictions assumed “that current laws and policies regarding federal spending and taxation remain the same...” On page 2? “CBO anticipates that the current recession, which started in December 2007, will last until the second half of 2009, making it the longest recession since World War II. (The longest such recessions otherwise, the 1973–1974 and 1981–1982 recessions, both lasted 16 months. If the current recession were to continue beyond midyear, it would last at least 19 months.)”2
So when Congress started writing this stimulus package, Congress’s own professional economists were expecting the recession to end in the second half of this year, even without the stimulus package. Congress knew this, while President Obama was insisting that “something has to be done now.” If Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress is this blatant in its disregard for the evidence about the economy, what are the chances that they will do better about gun rights?
So what do we do? There are a lot of well-meaning people out there trying to revive the militia movement of the 1990s. They are convinced that the Obama Administration is going to take us down the road to a police state, and they beginning to issue strident proclamations and quite publicly and loudly organize paramilitary training.
I wish that I could say that I know for sure that they are wrong about the Obama Administration’s goals. I think it is more likely that the primary interest of Obama and friends is looting the public purse for the benefit of the multimillionaires and billionaires that provided much of the Obama’s record-breaking $730 million campaign funding. (By comparison, John McCain, was only able to spend $333 million dollars.)3
You may be asking, “Why the huge discrepancy? I thought we had public financing of presidential elections, because of Watergate.” McCain accepted public campaign financing for the general election—while Obama broke his earlier promise to do likewise. Obama was the first serious Presidential candidate to do so since public financing was created after Watergate. As a result, McCain was hamstrung by the limitations of federal law—and Obama was not.4
Still, there are worrisome little signs that something a lot worse could be in the works. Jim Shepherd of Shooting Wire recently reported that sources inside the Canadian government tell him that the U.S. government may shut off imports of “.50BMG, 7.62x39mm Soviet, 7.62x51mm NATO, .308 Winchester, 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington”5 with a possible later addition of the common military pistol calibers. I wouldn’t jump too quickly about a rumor circulating inside the Canadian government about actions supposedly being considered by our government—but it makes you wonder a bit, doesn’t it?
I can see why gun control fanatics in the Obama Administration might decide “to do something” about crime problems by shutting off imports of handgun ammunition, to drive up the price. Handguns are at least used in a significant fraction of U.S. murders. But military rifle ammunition? I don’t have any data specific to caliber, but I would be surprised if these calibers are even 1% of U.S. murders, since murders with all rifles are only 3% of the total, and many of those rifle murders are with .22 LR.6 My guess is that the incredibly small number of murderers who use rifles in military calibers are professional hitmen, and are not going to let minor price increases influence their behavior. If the Obama Administration is actually considering such an import ban, it suggests a fear of revolution—or that they are considering steps that might cause Americans to rise up against their government.
You might be thinking at this point, “Gee, maybe I should be joining one of those militias! Things could get really bad!” Loud proclamations of a willingness to overthrow the government (which is, technically, treason) play into the hands of gun control advocates—who might well use this as an argument for more restrictive gun control laws. We should not be afraid to point out what the Second Amendment was originally intended to protect—a capability of the people to rise up against a tyrannical government—but we should keep such discussions theoretical and non-specific.
There’s nothing wrong with practicing your marksmanship, which is a fine sport. There’s nothing wrong with making sure that you have enough ammunition in case supplies run low—and it appears that many of you are already doing that! But that’s not the same as issuing press releases that threaten civil war, or organizing little groups to practice guerilla warfare tactics. In addition to being bad public relations, there is a strong chance that the one really radical member of your group who suggests something unlawful will turn out, a year or two later in a courtroom, to be undercover FBI or BATF. Let us give the government no basis for claiming that restrictive gun control is necessary because gun owners are dangerous crazies. If anyone crosses the line into “dangerous crazy” territory, I want it to be the Obama Administration.
So, why is there a video camera in the title of this article? We’re losing the battle for the under 30 crowd—who turned out in huge numbers to work for Obama, with a dedication and fanaticism that is a bit scary. Why?
It has taken me a while to figure this out, but I recently had one of those “Aha” experiences. On the day of the election, a documentary producer named John Ziegler had the respected Zogby organization survey Obama and McCain voters. He asked a series of objective questions of fact to find out how well informed both groups were about politics. For example, which party controlled Congress from 2006 to 2008? Among Obama voters, 57.4% thought it was either Republicans, or that neither party controlled Congress. McCain voters, not surprisingly, did much better on the objective questions of fact.7
The bad news is that there are a lot of Americans who do not read anymore—and those who do read don’t read anything serious about politics, government, or public policy. This has always been a bit of a problem, but I get the impression that it is getting worse—that the younger generation is simply not paying attention to news.
While they aren’t paying attention to news, they are paying attention to entertainment. Jon Stewart’s satirical The Daily Show is the major source of news to a worrisomely large fraction of younger Americans. And guess what? Even more so than the news business, the entertainment business is dominated by the left. Education is important, if you want to persuade the 30% of Americans who actually read something deeper than the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. But for the 70% of Americans who don’t read, entertainment matters more.
Do you remember the movie Death Wish (1974)? It starred Charles Bronson as a New York City architect who, after his wife is murdered and daughter raped by thugs, turns into a vigilante, walking the streets of New York, defending himself with a revolver. It was a surprising hit, with cheering crowds in theaters in New York City. When it came out, the idea of civilians carrying guns for self-defense was a radical idea in most of America. It sure isn’t radical now. While I won’t claim that Death Wish by itself caused the change, I suspect that it played a part.
Do you what a trim tab on a ship rudder is? On a big ship, the effort required to move the rudder once the ship is moving is substantial, because there’s an enormous amount of water flowing past the rudder. The trim tab is a small extension of the rudder. When you turn the trim tab, it creates turbulence in the water flowing past the rudder—and by creating that turbulence, it reduces the effort required to move that rudder.
Carefully orchestrated cultural change is like that. If you can introduce some turbulence into the accepted flow of ideas, it’s a lot easier to turn the rudder of the popular culture. Move the popular culture, and the politics will follow. The left clearly understands that; they are in charge of the popular culture through their control of the movie and music business. When they make overtly polemical movies, especially ones that aren’t very entertaining, such as many of the antiwar films that came out after the Iraq War started, no one goes. As early movie studio executive Samuel Goldwyn once observed, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” When they make movies that are more subtle, they make money—and more importantly, they slowly move audiences to share their views.
Of course, our side can do that, too. Death Wish is one example. John Milius’s Red Dawn (1984), and The Wind and the Lion (1975) are both films with strong patriotic themes. While the first three Star Wars films may not seem like they qualify as “our side,” they really were. When Star Wars came out in 1977, a film with clear-cut good guys and bad guys was actually something rather radical. Hollywood had spent ten years making movies where good and bad were so blurred that it was hard to develop enthusiasm for anyone.
I’ve spent much of my spare time since 1989 writing scholarly and popular works on important issues: black history; gun rights; criminology; deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. I don’t regret that I have done so, because I have played a small part in advancing our agenda among the intellectual elites. But I do regret that I missed the importance of advancing our agenda among the masses who do not read. Right now, I’m busily trying to scare up the money and the talent to make a film about an obscure event in the history of slavery—one that you haven’t heard of, but that advances our agenda in a subtle, non-polemical way. There’s a scene with hundreds of college professors and students (white and black) armed with rifles and handguns surrounding a hotel, demanding that federal law enforcement release a runaway slave. I believe that if I can scrape together the $500,000 or so required to make it, it will be a exciting adventure film that will have audiences cheering as they watch it—and thinking about the questions it raises after the movie is over. (If I can get this one made, there are several progressively more expensive and more contemporary films on my wish list.)
In the meantime, what can you do? Make sure that movies that promote values that you approve of get rewarded at the box office. That’s the strongest feedback that a filmmaker, a studio, and a theater can get that we need more films like this. Of, and if you are one of the readers of this column who can afford to invest a few hundred thousand dollars in the movie business, let’s talk!
1 William Roscoe Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1919), 202.
2 Robert A. Sunshine, The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2009 to 2019, available at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/99xx/doc9958/01-08-Outlook_Testimony.pdf, last accessed February 14, 2009.
3 “Banking on Becoming President,” Campaign for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/index.php, last accessed February 14, 2009; “Donor Demographics: Contribution Size,” Campaign for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/donordems.php?cycle=2008, last accessed February 14, 2009.
4 Don Gonyea, “Obama Rejects Public Financing,” National Public Radio, June 19, 2008, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91703936, last accessed February 14, 2009.
6 FBI, Crime in the United States 2007, Expanded Homicide Data Table 7: Murder Victims By Weapon, 2003-2007, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_07.html, last accessed February 15, 2009.