On December 15, 1991, the United States celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. The importance of this document is hard to overstate; by any measure, it is one of the great landmarks in the advancement of human rights and liberty.
Our forefathers created this staunch bulwark to Secure the rights they had won only a few years earlier in the American Revolution. They were keenly aware that throughout history, the greatest violators of individual rights have been governments — and having recently cast off one form of tyranny, they wanted to assure that another would not arise in its place.
Their wisdom proved to be great. Under the shield provided by the Bill of Rights, the new nation known as the United States grew and prospered like no other in human history. Between 1790 and 1890, the population doubled four times — from fewer than 4 million people to 63 million. And it nearly doubled again, to more than 120 million, by 1930. People poured in at a rate never before witnessed, never before imagined.
Why did this happen? Quite simply, because America truly was the land of freedom and opportunity — the shining example which drew the best and the brightest “yearning to breathe free.” They came here by the millions, our ancestors — to escape the taxes, the conscription and the stifling controls which were the norm throughout much of the world.
Unfortunately, the blessings of liberty were not to remain undisturbed. Throughout our history, there have been continuing attempts to undo the victories of the American Revolution — to reimpose the ancient order of things, where government reigns supreme and individual liberties are crushed.
Today, our rights and liberties are everywhere under attack. A broad coalition of meddlers, plunderers and power-seekers is systematically working to take away the freedoms which made America great.
The most concerted attempt to abridge our rights may be the push to undermine the Second Amendment — the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Governmental officials at all levels are falling over one another to disarm the American people … and one has to ask why.
The answer is simple enough, and it has nothing to do with preventing crime. The plain fact is that gun control does not keep weapons out of the hands of criminals; it simply disarms the law-abiding citizen.
Washington, D.C., has strict laws banning handgun ownership. Yet 483 people were murdered in the District of Columbia in 1990. In contrast, North Dakota, with a slightly larger population and virtually no restrictions on gun ownership, had only four murders in 1989, the last year for which we have statistics. So much for the theory that gun control prevents crime.
No, the reason that power-hungry politicians want to nullify the Second Amendment is that tyrants and would-be tyrants fear an armed populace. They know that people with weapons are harder to control than people without weapons. This is why the British sent troops to Lexington and Concord in April of 1775; they had heard that some of the colonists had muskets and rifles, and they set out to confiscate them.
The colonists, bless their hearts, stood firm, and the rest is history. If they had meekly handed over their guns, our national anthem would probably still be “God Save The Queen.”
For too long, the defense of Second Amendment rights has consisted largely of guys in hunting caps who talk about the sportsman’s right to go out every fall and shoot a couple of ducks. They are missing the central point. The Second Amendment is not about duck hunting. It is about the right and the ability of a free people to defend themselves against tyranny.
To put it another way: when only the police have weapons, you have a police state.
Is it an exaggeration to say that America is becoming a police state? Here are some facts that may shock you. According to the Justice Department, the nation’s population of jail inmates grew by 77 percent from 1983 to 1989. As of 1989, we had more than one million people in jails and prisons, and the United States had the highest imprisonment rate of any major nation: 426 inmates per 100,000 population. In second place was South Africa, with 333; third was the Soviet Union with 268.
There are many minor examples of arrogant government gone berserk. But by far the greatest assault on the Bill of Rights is being waged in the name of the Holy War on Drugs.
There is no doubt that drug abuse is a tragedy … especially when it afflicts our nation’s young people, and most especially when its victims are those born addicted to drugs because their mothers are addicts. But drug abuse is a medical problem, and it won’t be solved by trashing our rights and liberties.
The so-called War on Drugs is a terrible mistake. By outlawing certain substances, the politicians have created a situation where distribution of these substances is totally controlled by huge, ruthless criminal empires. Prices are forced sky-high, making the drug trade immensely profitable. The lure of easy money proves nearly irresistible to inner-city youths, who become the foot-soldiers for the drug barons. Violence escalates, crime of all sorts proliferates, and a terrified public becomes willing — even eager — to accept ever-increasing restrictions on individual rights and greater police powers.
How far have we come toward the creation of a total police state? Today, in America, the police are essentially free to go anywhere and do anything, as long as they claim their actions are in some way related to the War on Drugs. They can search your home, your car, and your person without a warrant. They can seize your property on the mere “suspicion” that it was bought with drug money. No proof is required, and if they can’t prove their case, they can still keep what they stole from you.
And to top it all off, the War on Drugs is not even working. In a recent magazine article, former San Jose Police Chief Joseph D. McNamara stated that “[it] should be painfully obvious … that this strategy has not worked … most people in local law enforcement feel drug abuse has increased.” Later in the same article, he says, “[H]istory shows that greatly increased arrests and incarceration for drug crimes in the United States do not solve the problem.”
The solution must be obvious. We must acknowledge that the War on Drugs is a hideous and colossal failure. The short-sighted and vindictive policies enacted by American politicians have created a criminal monopoly on the distribution of drugs, with all the attendant problems of crime, corruption, and violence. The Drug War must be ended — now! Drug abuse must be recognized for what it is — a medical and social problem — and its victims must be treated with compassion, rather than abandoned to the tentacles of a criminal syndicate. We cannot save the American dream by forsaking our heritage of liberty!
Yet another area where our rights have been revoked is in the economic sphere. There was a time when working Americans could keep what they earned. No more. Today, thanks to the greed and ambition of the politicians, Americans have more than one-third of their earnings confiscated from them each year by governments at various levels.
Every year, government spending grows, the politicians vote themselves raises and special perks, and working Americans get stuck with the tab. The failures of collectivism and big government are clear, all over the world. Communism and socialism are everywhere in retreat — coming to power, where they still do, only through force, fraud and terror. The people of the world have seen through the sham. They know that the hollow promises of a workers’ utopia lead only to dungeons and empty shelves.
Fortunately, we are not doomed to repeat their mistakes. The United States need not experience the horrors that have so terribly stained the world this century. Lovers of liberty can yet lead this nation out of the dead end it is fast approaching. Through dedication and perseverance, the twenty-first century will be the century of liberty!
The task is formidable; the challenges are great. But we have seen that the desire for freedom is strong, and getting stronger, around the world. The ideals of the American Revolution have spread to every comer of the globe.
Let us bring them home again.
This is an edited version of the keynote address which he delivered at the national Libertarian Party convention in Chicago last year.