by Jeff Snyder
by Jeff Snyder
‘plas•tic': . . . 5: capable of being deformed continuously and permanently in any direction without rupture" ~ mirriam.webster.com
Pierre Lemieux, a French Canadian, economist, professor, author, libertarian thorn in the flesh of the Canadian Leviathan, and a friend, has become a felon. Pierre refused to answer one of the questions on his application to renew his firearms license, and the licensing center refused to renew his license. He now faces the prospect of 10 years in prison for keeping firearms without a license.
I will tell you some of his story. At this stage you may be thinking that it's going to be about gun control but, rest assured, it's not. Too many see trees, only trees, everywhere they look, and never a forest. Every abuse, every injustice is singular, isolate, one more thing to be addressed, corrected or reformed — unfortunate, deplorable really, but circumscribed, in an arena separate from the rest of life, someone else's problem, and someone else's cause.
No, Pierre's story is about what it means to be ruled, what it means to need permission from the state. And if you stop looking at trees and see the forest, then Pierre's refusal to follow orders may pose a question for you: How far will you accommodate the state before you resist? Is there some limit to your ability to mold yourself to the state's designs? At what point will the state cross a line within you, when what you are ordered to do is more than you will accept or bear, when you will say, "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise"?
Or does no such line exist? Are you that final object of all the state's labors, that Quintessential Being that the state expects, demands and needs you to be: a plastic person?
In 1995 Canada passed an "Act Respecting Firearms and Other Weapons," generally referred to simply as the "Firearms Act" or by its original bill number, C-68. At the time, Canada already had handgun registration. The Firearms Act created a long gun registry and a new firearm licensing authority, and required citizens to possess licenses to own firearms. The licenses are good for five years. Pierre registered his firearms, and submitted his first application for a firearms license in 1996, which was granted, his first application for renewal in 2001, which was granted, and his second request for renewal in 2007, which was denied.
Pierre believes that Canadians have the right to own firearms without government approval. In fact, he has written extensively on the subject to educate his fellow Canadians and to peaceably restore respect for this right. Nevertheless, like most people, Pierre complied with the registration and licensing scheme in order to keep what he loves and to live a "quiet life." Unfortunately, despite his best efforts to comply, Pierre ran into his own personal limit with an impertinence in the license application that he simply could not abide, viz., question 6(d) of the license application, which asks:
"During the past two (2) years, have you experienced a divorce, a separation, a breakdown of a significant relationship, job loss or bankruptcy?"
The instructions to the application state that all personal history questions must be answered, and that "[I]f you answer YES to any of the questions . . . you MUST provide details on a second page. . . . If details are not provided, your application cannot be processed. A YES answer does not mean your application will be refused but it may lead to further examination."
In each of 1996, 2001 and 2007, Pierre, waging what he describes as "a dignity battle" against the law, refused to answer this question, instead responding that "My love affairs are none of your business / Ça ne vous regarde pas." In 2007, Pierre took the additional step of sending, by registered mail, a copy of his application, a cover letter and three pages of his book, Confessions d'un coureur des bois hors-la-loi, which chronicles his resistance against Canadian gun control laws, to the Prime Minister of Canada.
Two months after his license expired, having heard nothing from the licensing center, Pierre made a freedom of information request to find out the status of his application. Eventually, he received word that his license renewal was denied by reason of his failure to answer question 6(d). Pierre now owns firearms — registered firearms — in violation of the law, a crime punishable by 10 years in prison. On the webpage where he chronicles his resistance to the Canadian license law, Pierre wonders: " Will I be the first Canadian to be jailed for refusing to tell the state about his love life? Not the last one, I fear."
If an activity is licensed by the state, then it is a privilege conferred and controlled by the state, and not a right. The conditions on which the privilege is conferred are matters of legislative or administrative grace; the person may not lawfully engage in the activity and is not affirmatively protected from state incursion simply by reason of being a person, as would be the case with an "individual right." The Firearms Act empowered an agency with a mandate to create and administer a licensing program and vested very broad powers in the agency to establish the particulars of the program. The Act clearly establishes that ownership of firearms in Canada is a privilege conferred only upon those deemed worthy by satisfaction of conditions determined by the licensing authority.
Stop and consider for a moment this by method of "legislation." The founding "law" simply directs a combined legislative/judicial/executive agency to create and enforce a program without bothering to prescribe the contents of the program or even any significant limits on the exercise of that "authority." Instead, it vests the agency with very broad discretion to define and administer the program. This form of legislation is, historically, a favorite with advocates of gun control, but it is by no means atypical of modern law-making, and is often used to control all sorts of activities. For example, the act establishing the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States is in large part of this nature, being essentially a mandate to the agency to go forth and create clean air and water.
Consider what this type of "legislation" says about how truly, deeply, worried your "representatives" are about your lives. They cannot be troubled to precisely define the contents of the "laws" to which you will be subject, to define or circumscribe the conditions that may ultimately be imposed upon you or resultant burdens upon you and, therefore, do not limit how impertinent, overreaching or arbitrary they may become. Instead, the laws to which you will be subject largely or in significant part are devised by men and women who are not subject even to the minimum accountability of having to be re-elected to maintain office, who are protected from removal from office by civil service laws and who will never, ever be accountable to the innumerable citizens they harm for the harebrained regulations they impose. The legislators don't have to make any of the difficult decisions, won't be blamed for agency regulations that outrage the electorate, and it's just fine with them if you have to incur significant costs in time, money and energy to bring actions in the courts to overturn the agency's edicts, or to lobby the legislators to bring their administrative dogs to heel. There's certainly no problem with more lobbying, it means more political contributions! The legislators dodge responsibility and accountability to the electorate, and position themselves as saviors who can remedy the abuses of the administrative agencies. An ideal system, really!
For reasons known only to it, the Canadian licensing bureau decided that it needs to know details about each applicant's love life, job losses, and bankruptcies in order to determine whether to issue a firearms license. Doubtless many of us are dulled, if not numb, to the presumptions of wisdom and competence, and intrusiveness, of government agencies, but consider the god-like heights that the Canadian firearms licensing bureau claims as its own. The air is indeed rare there! It is going to make decisions whether to grant or deny a firearms license based on its evaluation of your love woes, job loss or bankruptcy!
"Provide details," it commands. Assuming you can get past the monumental presumptuousness that demands that you submit, as a matter of official record, intimate details about your life to be mulled over by some police official, really, how does one respond to that? What level of detail, exactly, are they demanding? Would "My wife and I were divorced six months ago" be sufficient? Or is one required to add some salient, hopefully spicy details? "My God! For a while there, it was almost like "War of the Roses!" I refused to leave the house! She smashed some of my things and in retaliation I uprooted her beloved rose bushes! The tears! The screaming fits of rage! It was a complete nightmare! Now it's over and, fortunately for all concerned, we live in completely different provinces!" Or does one add page after page of Henry James-like psychological detail of every gesture, facial expression and step of the breakup, the job loss, the bankruptcy?
Assuming one provides sufficient details, the agents who process the applications will then decide what significance these personal facts have for firearms ownership. This is pretty impressive! Consider that state-licensed psychiatrists, actual medical doctors who have specialized in the scientific study of mental health, cannot reliably predict, do not even claim to be able to predict, who is and is not going to commit an act of violence. Yet fear not and be ye amazed! The intrepid agents of the licensing bureau can and will determine who among those recently wounded in love, employment or credit relationships may safely own a firearm, doubtless relying upon gut instincts finely-honed through years of processing applications!
Maybe the licensing bureau isn't going to use psychological profiling. Maybe, instead, the details it needs are the names and phone numbers of your ex-lover, your ex-boss and the creditors who lost a bundle when you filed for bankruptcy. And maybe the bureau will then contact them and make inquiries. "Hello. This is Officer Smith from the Firearms Licensing Bureau. Your [choose one] [ex-lover], [former employee] [former debtor] is asking us to renew his firearms license so that he can continue to own firearms for the next five years. Are you okay with that? Does that give you any cause for concern?" And then the bureau can decide whether to issue a license based on what these people say about you. Not quite a judicial determination of the existence of a crime, you understand, with an actual crime charged, penalties for perjury, the opportunity to confront and cross-examine your accusers and rules about what is and isn't admissible evidence, but hey! Good enough for administrative agencies, which make their own rules and act as legislature, judge and enforcer.
Who knows how the licensing bureau will evaluate this information? They want it, and they will act upon it, and that is all the applicant needs to know. The activity for which the supplicant need a license is a privilege conferred by the state and, therefore, at bottom rests on nothing more than meeting their conditions, i.e., on pleasing the authorities, who most assuredly will do as they please.
This is what it is to be ruled, for your activities to be privileges conferred by the state, for the conditions of your life to be determined based on some legislator's or administrator's "good ideas" for governance. This is what it is to have your life controlled by another who has the power to fine you and throw you in jail for failing to comply with his conditions.
This is why American gun owners vehemently oppose registration of guns and licensure of firearms ownership. It doesn't matter what the law says or whether it's a "good idea" or what its supposed socially-worthwhile, beneficially-motivated "intent" is. It's how the law's power is wielded that determines the conditions of your life. This is why, when the NRA and gun owners supported "shall issue" concealed carry licensing laws, currently in place in 37 states, the laws were carefully crafted to specify precisely the procedures to be followed, to enumerate the only conditions that could be imposed, all of which were objectively determinable and none of which depended upon the exercise of agency discretion, and to impose time and cost limits for processing, so that, upon satisfaction of strictly objectively verifiable criteria, the licensing authority was required to issue the permit. This is why American gun owners demanded that state legislatures pass these new laws and repeal the old licensing laws that were enacted in the early 20th Century, laws like the Sullivan Act, which still governs the residents of New York City. While appearing on the surface to be even-handed, those older statutes simply conferred broad, nebulous discretion on a licensing authority, with the result that they have been and, where still in effect, are, administered in a way to insure that only the "right" sort of people obtain permits. In New York City, this means that men like Donald Trump and Howard Stern get carry permits, but not the multitudes whose lives just aren't important enough to warrant the privilege of self-protection. (For a more extensive discussion of the arbitrary nature of discretionary licensing statutes, see this policy analysis of "shall issue" concealed carry laws.)
While Pierre is now a felon because of his nation's gun control laws, never forget that this is how he got in trouble with the state: He acted on the basis that there are some details about his life, important to him, that are his affair and his alone.
No one who believes he has the right to control you, who believes, further, that he has the right to engineer a society according to his ideas and plans, will ever accept this. It is an affront to his arrogance, to his arrogation of power to control you as he deems fit. To have "lawful authority" — really, political power — is precisely to have a free hand to use coercion to suit your purpose, without necessity of justification. If you are simply carrying out a prescribed course, if there is no discretionary element to your "authority" that permits you to shape it and use it to your purpose, it is not power but mere processing and ministration: you are a mere servant, a functionary, a minion. In brief, you are you: a servant and whatever government requires you to be, and manifestly not a king, a sovereign, a president, a semi-divine one, a colossus bestriding the earth.
Anyone who believes they have the right to control you ultimately must act ruthlessly, because a person does not control another unless, in the absence of willing consent or consent obtained through misrepresentation or fraud, he will compel the other to act as he commands. Ask yourself why a refusal to answer a single question about your love life is accompanied by a threat of, and merits, 10 years in prison. The failure to answer this question inflicts no actual harm on any citizen. The punishment cannot, therefore, be for harm the refusal has caused any specific victim or "society" at large. No, the injured party here is the state itself. The refusal to answer the state's question is an affront to the state's "authority," and its claims to operate, and manage society, as it sees fit. The real "crime" is that the subject has failed to follow the state's orders. He has failed to submit to and participate in the state's project to control or engineer society in accordance with the state's plans. Possibly, for example, the licensing bureau's motivation for asking about love woes, job losses and bankruptcies is that it hopes to be able to prevent some future crimes (with guns, at least) based on certain facts that the licensing bureau believes have some degree of predictive value for determining who will and won't commit crimes. That is, it may be implementing a general policy directive to shape an aggregate outcome (a reduction in crime) based on the fact that a certain small percentage of ex-lovers, ex-employees and bankrupts will commit armed violence against their former lovers, former employers or creditors. In refusing to answer the question, then, the applicant thwarts the state's plans and rebukes the state's claim to an authority to control or engineer society in accordance with its purpose. The "crime" is not a personal crime, like murder, robbery or pollution of the air or water, but a political crime. The essence of the crime is lèse majesté. The "criminal" has refused to obey the state's fiat, and in so doing has committed an intolerable affront to the state's claim to an absolute "authority." He has shown his willingness to keep and act upon his own counsel and not follow orders. The state cannot let that stand and continue to be a state. It is the ultimate crime, and that it is why it is dealt with ruthlessly, meriting the same punishment that Solzhenitsyn informed us that Stalin's political prisoners in the Gulag received for rebukes to authority: a tenner. Evidently, like minds, each claiming a right to control and engineer both man and society, perceive like threats, and respond with a like "solution."
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Pierre notes that he is ashamed that he has not joined the Canadian heroes who are resisting the Firearms Act by refusing to register their guns or apply for licenses. These peaceful, otherwise law-abiding men and women occasionally hold open protests in front of government buildings daring the authorities to arrest them and throw them all in jail for ten years. According to information obtained by Pierre under a freedom of information request, as of February 2009, the Royal Mounted Canadian Police estimate that there were 185,925 owners of long guns alone who are not in compliance with the firearms registration and license laws.
We know now that Pierre need not have been ashamed, for it is clear that he is no less heroic. The state pushes and pushes; too much is never enough. It demands nothing less than absolute, complete control over an avidly obedient populace. To the state, there is no difference between 99% compliance and zero compliance. If there is one thing, one thing alone that it commands that you are unwilling to do for it, you have rebuked its authority and you are a threat, and the state will take you down. Pierre tried to comply for the sake of an undisturbed, peaceful life, but there was one thing the state demanded that he was not willing to do. There is something within him, some inherent dignity, he is not willing to relinquish or alter to suit the bastards. And so he refused to act as he was commanded to act, he refused to be a plastic person, forever conforming himself to the shapes devised for him by men and women with delusions of grandeur and whose tools for creating utopia are tasers, guns, fines and prison. And for that he may get ten years in jail.
So this is how it is. If you can labor "within the system" forever to obtain the reform that will correct this abuse, and that one, and each and every other abuse that arises, now and forever; if you can labor forever to exchange your current masters for better ones, a better Congressperson, a better Senator, a better President; if, in short, your idea of "citizenship" or "activism" is playing whack-a-mole with those lording it over you; if you can wait forever for the permission that you need to live life peaceably as you envision it; if you can march forward uplifted on Hope and Change; if you can find reasons and make excuses forever why Change cannot be achieved fully, just yet; if, in short, nothing can cause you to call into question the fundamental belief that it is good and proper for some people to have a "right" to control your life and the rest of society, using, as their tools, lying, fraud, manipulation, threats, grants of legal monopolies, protection and immunities, payoffs ("subsidies"), confiscation, fines, tasers, guns and jail; and if, when their commands are finally issued directly to you and you are confronted with tasers, guns, fines and jail, everything about you is conformable, malleable; if at no point will you ever openly refuse to comply with their plans when you are ordered to do so; then relax, the state is not coming for you. You are a plastic person, deforming yourself to fit into the shape that the state designs for you. You are no threat and you can be controlled because there is no one there to offer any resistance.
But if there is some peaceful activity you care about deeply, if you invest your life in it and the state should seek to control this in a way that that truly hurts you, then you will collide with the state, and what you love will be used against you. That is how the state operates. That is how it implements its self-described mission of "protecting" and "caring" for you. And if, because of this thing you love, you have some limit, some thing or aspect of yourself you will not give up or alter, then you are a threat, then you are an affront and rebuke to your government's assumption of complete control. You have demonstrated that you will not dance to the state's tune, that you are an individual and not a cog in the state's machine, and Pierre's story may someday also be your story.
Pierre has filed a motion of appeal before the Québec provincial court, asking that the license refusal be quashed and apologies issued. He also argues that the Firearms Act and related criminal code provisions are unconstitutional, and that he does not need any license to exercise his traditional liberty to possess firearms. The court date has been set for May 26 and 27, 2009, in room 207 of the Mont-Laurier Courthouse, Québec, starting at 9:30 a.m. each morning. Richard A. Fritze, an Alberta lawyer and well-known defender of Canadian firearms owners and their rights, is representing Pierre pro bono. In addition, several expert witnesses will testify on behalf of Pierre's position, including Joyce Malcolm, author of To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origin of an Anglo-American Right, Colin Greenwood, a now retired senior English police officer who authored a landmark work on the history of England's gun control laws and their failure to reduce violent crime, and Professor Gary Mauser, who co-authored an article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy with Don Kates titled, "Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?
These experts have generously agreed to assist Pierre for only the cost of their travel and accommodations, but Pierre needs funds to pay for what will most likely be a long and difficult battle. Please consider supporting him. If you wish to assist Pierre's fight by donating, please contact Paul Rogan, publisher of Canadian Access to Firearms, who is acting as a pro bono fund-raiser. Alternatively, The Canadian Constitution Foundation has established a "Pierre Lemieux Legal Fund." to provide funds to support Pierre's case and you may instead donate earmarked funds to the CCF. Mr. Rogan can provide details on how to make your contribution through CCF.
May 6, 2009
Jeff Snyder [send him mail] is an attorney who works in Manhattan. He is the author of Nation of Cowards — Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control, which examines the American character as revealed by the gun control debate. He occasionally blogs at The Shining Wire. Read this interview with him.
Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.