Monday, August 12, 2013

A Parable Concerning Rights

Amidst all the Snowden hubbub, let me provide a little parable here. Imagine that there is an NRA gun owner named "Eddie Gunnison" who is also a contract worker for the NSA. He could be any one of some 400,000 such contract workers at 100-odd companies - doesn't matter which or where.

At some point in his access to voluminous secret files, he learns that a nefarious covert plan is afoot called "Grab -M" whereby the addresses of all gun owners across the nation have been dispensed (via fusion centers)  to local police, FBI and teams of federal agents. The Grab-M strategy is to conduct mass raids using local National Guardsmen (under the 'continuity of government' provisions of the Patriot Act)  in 100- odd cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Kansas City, Houston, Miami, Dallas and others, to seize all guns-rifles that are semi-automatic or automatic, as well as all weapons with caliber higher than .22.

 Eddie learns from his encryption breaking  NSA software that  the seizures are to arrive in a week and feels duty bound to report them and disclose all the files with the names of the targeted gun owners. Knowing he can't release the info just so, he packs it into several laptops then makes his way to Hong Kong then eventually Russia - where after weeks in the Moscow Sheremetyevo airport he's granted temporary asylum.

Meantime, in the time interval over the course of getting there, newspapers have released Gunnison's expose files on Grab-M and all hell breaks loose. National security operatives and their congressional peanut gallery want Gunnison returned to the U.S. to face trial for espionage as well as theft of government property. (Never mind the taxpayers paid for it).

 However , a hue and cry rises from the  millions of NRA members across the land,  declaring Gunnison a HERO, and praising him for disclosing the plan to nab their guns. A furor erupts and ultimately the country is split into  two camps:  between those who demand Gunnison be returned and tried as a traitor, and the other half who declare him a patriot for helping to protect their 2nd amendment rights.  Meanwhile, the anger is so high with gun owners now marching while packing heat in the streets, the surveillance state must back away from Grab-M.

WHAT are the lessons to take away?

First lesson:  I warrant all the 2nd amendment defenders now clamoring for Snowden's head on a platter would have no problem declaring "Gunnison" different. He is, after all, protecting their cherished right to keep and bear arms, in fact just about any kind of arms imaginable. 

But if you pressed them on why Gunnison is different from Snowden, you'd likely receive no satisfactory response.

Any answer of the form, "Well the 2nd amendment trumps all others" would merit only a bat upside the ears. To pick and choose, cafeteria style, any right from the Bill or Rights as superior to others is a fool's errand. The fact is 99% of gun owners would defend to the hilt an "Eddie Gunnison" for doing the exact same thing Snowden did to protect the 4th amendment rights of the majority of citizens - gun owners AND non-gun owners.  But if they defend a Gunnison, they are honor bound as real citizens to defend Snowden.

If they selectively throw Snowden under the bus instead, then they are hypocrites plain and simple.

Lesson Two: is that because gun owners have a powerful lobby at their beck and call (the NRA) which 4th amendment defenders don't, it is clear the American people would more easily be swayed (e.g. in polls) to support Gunnison being a hero than Snowden.  This means you'd see a much larger majority declaring support for any Gunnison asylum, than for Snowden.

Again, what these Americans are really doing, or would be doing, is effectively placing higher gravitas on 2nd amendment rights than 4th amendment.

A third lesson to take away is that intangible rights (such as enshrined in the 4th amendment)  don't carry the same import in the minds of a somnolent or detached populace as rights which have attached to them actual material implements (rifles, Glocks)  that can be used for self-defense. In other words, the very fact of a rifle  - say an AR-15 - being a physical object that can be physically possessed,  is what makes it real to the 2nd amendment rights defender. If it is physical, touchable and real then it CAN be taken away, hence Charlton Heston's famous zinger: "You'll have to pry this rifle from my cold, dead hands!"

But what about privacy,  the right at the core of the 4th amendment? To the average gun owner it sounds way too airy-fairy. "Privacy? Don't need it, ah got mah gun!"  The fourth's problem is that it is completely intangible. You don't really know whether or when it's being taken from you (like your gun), or not.  A gun seizure is therefore viewed as far more serious and substantial because it entails a physical taking away, removing the object from one's possession. Privacy, not so much!

The recent blasé response of too many citizens to the Snowden affair discloses this. Or, the frightful attitude of "Big deal, who cares?" You'd NEVER hear that from a 2nd amendment defender if NSA threatened to seize all his guns!  He'd grab them and go to battle, likely dying with his shoes on in a shoot out.

The tragedy is that what is being taken away via 4th amendment rights, via NSA's PRISM and XKeyscore is just as substantial as all your guns being taken away, you just don't appreciate it or realize it. Not until you lose it. (And bear in mind, it'd be precisely the loss of your 4th amendment rights totally - via mass surveillance- that could one day enable the mass seizure of your guns! You'd have to build your own castle with a moat around it in the wilderness, and have no electronic devices, or even phones, to possibly prevent it).

This is why again, splitting the Bill or Rights, or backing one (say the 2nd) and its defenders to the hilt while tossing others (say the 4th) under the bus, is the best way to lose your country totally. Then, at the end, when the tyrants have taken both your guns and your privacy, as well as speech etc. there will be nothing left for you to do but piss, moan and cry. But by then it will be too late.

Remember that!

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