Locke and Responsible Citizenship

In reading Locke some ideas have come back to the front of mind that I want to talk about here briefly, perhaps with more to come in the discussion about Locke’s essay.

In political discourse today, we sometimes here assertions such as “all taxation is theft” or “all government is based on violence.” Locke’s essay talks about why and how people form governments: the primary reason is to solve disputes in an impartial way and to help ensure everyone’s freedom. In “An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government,” Locke writes about how people can exist in a state of nature and then form governments as a way of managing affairs among a larger number of people. The government, then grows out of the desire of people to have a society that uses reason to extend beyond the state of nature.

So, when someone says that all government is based on violence, it means that they do not have an understanding of what government is or what it is supposed to do. Similarly, to say all taxation is theft on the part of the government is to assert that the government is some kind of other entity.

In a representative democracy, however, the government is us. We are the ones that are doing the taxing and spending the taxes. Reasonable people can disagree about the best way to do that, and mistakes will be made, but to assert that all taxes are theft implies that the speaker is too lazy to be involved in the government at even the most superficial level to make sure that the money they contribute is spent correctly. Alternately, making the assertion that all taxes are theft could simply be a reflection that the speaker is a freeloader who wants all of the benefits of living in our society, but doesn’t want to pay their fair share. It is the person who goes out to dinner with the group, orders the expensive meal and then disappears before the check shows up.

As for government being based on violence, again this is an assertion of the lazy. Government is based on the agreement that everyone needs to play by the same set of rules to keep society going. It is not important that the policeman has the gun; it is important that the policeman has a set of laws that everyone has agreed to in order to keep the society running. While any individual can say that they did not write or create a particular law, that is a cop out for the self-indulgent. A person, particularly one living in the United States, has the ability to work to change the laws or, if that fails, to leave. But either do one or the other.

Don’t sit around whining about how the government is bad. We are the government, and we get what we put into it. We live in an age where outrage and extreme views are attention getting. We live in an age where everyone has a broadcast platform, thanks to the Internet. Sadly, there are not enough editors and reasonable readers to challenge the extremism. While we all seem to have a good sense of our rights, no one wants the responsibilities that come with them. Yes we have the right to free speech, for example, but we also have the responsibility to speak up when we think things are going wrong.

Government is an agreement that we all make. If there are problems with the government, then it is because we are shirking our responsibility to make sure it runs well.

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How I Got a Gun License – Freedom Isn’t Free

As I follow the on-going gun debate in this country, one unspoken assumption seems to be that anyone can buy a gun anywhere at any time. Although the recent mass shootings show that bad people can get guns legally, as part of finding the middle ground, I want to explain what I had to do to get my license.

We all have rights, but those rights need to be earned. “Freedom isn’t free” is a popular catch phrase, and I think that is true when it comes to responsible gun ownership. State law says that the chief of police in each town grants the license. While this certainly has the potential for abuse, I think that the rules here are a good starting point.

First, I had to have no criminal record, be over 21, and not have been treated for mental illness, drug addiction, or alcoholism. I also must not have any protection orders or outstanding arrest warrants. This is common sense stuff, and I agree with it.

Second, I needed to submit a letter detailing the reasons I wanted a gun license. That’s pretty reasonable. I was advised to use that language that I wanted a license ‘for all lawful purposes’ so as not to exclude anything, but I also detailed the reasons in my earlier post. That was reasonable both to me and the police department. I highly doubt that the shooters from Tucson and Aurora ever submitted a letter like this. It is also a way to open a line of communication to demonstrate that you know your rights, and understand your responsibilities.

Third, I had to prove my citizenship and residency. Again, these are both reasonable requirements as I am exercising the rights of a citizen in a particular place.

Four, I needed to prove that I completed an approved firearms safety course taught by a certified instructor, approved by the Colonel of the State Police. An approved safety course should be mandatory for everyone wanting to own a gun. If anyone thinks this is unreasonable, then I doubt we will ever find common ground. If you want to drive a car, then you take a driving course. It should be the same with guns. My course covered safety rules, loading and unloading guns, cleaning them, gun laws, and we even talked about teaching children what to do if they see a gun. Having it approved by the Colonel of the State Police means that standards are in place. The Nation Rifle Association’s course meets those standards.

If I wanted a ‘target shooting only’ license, then I needed to belong to a gun club. I joined a gun club anyway because I wanted a place to practice. To join the gun club, I had to attend another safety class and then demonstrate safe gun handling on a firing range.

Five, I had to submit two letters of reference from people saying I would be a safe and responsible gun owner. I think that if this requirement had been in place where the mass shooters bought their guns, then the United States might have had three or four fewer massacres. Really, if you cannot find two people to say you aren’t crazy, then you probably should not have access to guns.

Six, we had to go through background checks and interviews with detectives at the police department. Again, this was another way to check people out to ensure they are okay to own guns. The detectives that interviewed me were professional, friendly, and most importantly struck me as fair people. You need to pass a driver’s test with a qualified instructor, so an interview is not a hassle.

What I hope to show by this is that even though the process was a little long, it was not impossible or unreasonable. It makes sense to have a safety class, a background check, and letters of reference. I think these things could have helped prevent tragedies. Note that in Colorado, there was one gun club that did not grant a shooter membership. Unfortunately, he already had his guns.

At the same time, I had two safety classes, a range test, a background check, and multiple interviews. I have earned my right to own firearms. I should keep that right unless I abuse it or do something wrong. The idea that it is all or nothing is unacceptable to me and should be to any reasonable person.

Literature and Police Brutality

A recent article in The Atlantic takes a look a some recent events involving the police and explains how George Orwell told us about this when he wrote “Shooting an Elephant.” I once gave this essay toa friend of mine who had worked in the U.S. Senate. After she read it, she said that everyone who gets eleted should have to read this essay and think about how it applies to them.

It seems that sentiment might also apply to police training.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/11/what-george-orwell-can-teach-us-about-ows-and-police-brutality/248797/

I wonder what it would be like to try to teach literature to police recruits. I think it would be interesting and challenging, but I can’t imagine any department would find it a better use of time than interrogation, target practice, or chin-ups.

Below is a link to the essay. I think that the format is not so great, and I encourage everyone to buy real books, but if you haven’t read this essay, do have a look.

http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/887/

Let me know what you think of this.