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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Crises: A Gun-Grabber’s Best Friend


After President Obama’s election in 2008, gun buyers went on a buying spree. Prices of assault rifles, ammunition, and high-magazine clips soared. The buying continued unabated for the four years of Obama’s first term.

Throughout that time, gun-control advocates ridiculed the gun buyers. They called them overreacting paranoids, pointing out that Obama was doing nothing to initiate gun-control measures and that, in fact, he had no interest in doing so.

But the buyers ignored the ridicule and just continued buying.

Today, the gun-control crowd isn’t ridiculing the gun buyers anymore. No one is accusing them of being paranoid. Meanwhile, gun shops are selling out of everything.

As things have turned out, it was the gun buyers who were the smart ones. They were smart to ignore the ridicule from the statists. They were smart to get their guns, ammo, and clips while they still could. The dumb ones were the ones who placed their trust in statist representations that Obama had no interest in imposing gun control on the American people.

The gun buyers knew full well that Obama was a statist — a died-in-the wool statist. They knew that all that he needed was a good “crisis,” whereupon his true statist self would immediately manifest itself.

And sure enough, came the Connecticut massacre. It was all that Obama and his statist supporters needed. The crisis provided them with the opportunity to impose what the New York Times calls “the broadest gun control legislation in a generation.”

Never mind that the Times also pointed out that “a new federal assault weapons ban and background checks of all gun buyers … might have done little to prevent the massacre in Newton, Conn., last month.” What matters is that the massacre provided Obama with the crisis environment that quite possibly now enables him to get the comprehensive gun-control agenda that statists have long longed for enacted.

Crises, in fact, are a statist’s best friend. They have long provided the opportunity for statist rulers to impose broad measures of control over the citizenry. Statists know that it is during crises that people become filled with fear and agitation and, therefore, are more willing than they might otherwise be to have government do whatever is necessary to keep them “safe.” Oftentimes, the result is a radical and comprehensive infringement on the freedom of the citizenry. Even worse, it is one that is often made a permanent part of the governmental framework rather than expire at the end of the crisis.

Consider, for example the Great Depression. President Roosevelt used that crisis to implement a revolutionary change in America’s economic system, one that was based on socialist and fascist economic philosophy. See, for example, the book Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany by Wolfgang Schivelbusch or this review of the book by David Boaz of the Cato Institute.

An example of Roosevelt’s fascist program was his National Industrial Recovery Act, which placed businesses and industries into cartels, much like what was happening in fascist Italy under Mussolini. It was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but not before it did untold damage to American businesses and to America’s heritage of economic liberty.

An example of his socialist program was Social Security, a program that obviously did not expire with the end of the Great Depression but instead became a permanent part of American life.

The irony was that it was the government itself — through the policies of the Federal Reserve — that brought the crisis into existence in the first place — the crisis that was then used to impose a massive statist economic agenda onto the American people.

Consider the 9/11 attacks, another crisis that is rooted in U.S. government policy, specifically its imperialist and interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East in the years preceding the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 attacks were used to implement the most revolutionary change in America’s legal system since the founding of the republic.

Prior to 9/11, there was no way that public officials could have gotten away with implementing the extraordinary “emergency” powers that were adopted after 9/11. But once the 9/11 attacks occurred, the statists knew that their chance had come. They knew that people were so filled with fear and anxiety that they would be willing to accept anything the statists did.

When President Bush decreed that he, the military, and the CIA now wielded the power to kidnap or arrest anyone anywhere, including Americans on American soil, hold them indefinitely without trial as enemy combatants, torture them, or execute them, or to assassinate people, all without trial by jury and due process of law, statists cheered. The cheerleaders didn’t care that the powers that Bush was adopting by decree were among those that were being exercised by the most brutal dictatorships in the world, including ones that the U.S. military and the CIA had long supported.

Recall, for example, the 9/11 economic crisis in Chile, one that the CIA had helped to bring about. It resulted in the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, a dictatorship that the U.S. national-security state fully supported and embraced. It was during that economic crisis that Pinochet assumed the same types of post-9/11 “emergency” powers that Bush and Obama have adopted. Pinochet’s military and intelligence forces rounded up tens of thousands of people, held them without trial, and tortured and killed some 3,000 of them. They used the economic “crisis” that the CIA had helped to engender to justify what they were doing to the Chilean people.

Although the U.S. national-security state tried to keep its role in the Chilean coup secret, documents that were ultimately released showed that it had played an important role, not only in instigating the economic crisis that led to the coup but also in other aspects of the coup. See, for example, these articles:

Why the US Is Quiet on Pinochet Case by Jonathan S. Landay (1998)

U.S. Will Release Files on Crimes Under Pinochet by Tim Weiner (1998)

The Pinochet Files by Jonathan Franklin (2003)

In fact, one document released by the State Department revealed that the CIA had actually helped to murder a young American journalist named Charles Horman during the coup. See this page.  Ever since, the Justice Department and the Congress have steadfastly refused to investigate or prosecute anyone for that murder, undoubtedly because it is the CIA who stands charged with committing it.

Unfortunately, Americans still don’t know the full extent of the U.S. national-security state’s complicity in Pinochet’s torture and murder regime because U.S. officials steadfastly continue to keep many of their records regarding the coup secret. See, for example, this article.

It’s important for Americans to constantly bear in mind why our ancestors insisted on the enactment of the Second Amendment as a condition for agreeing to call the federal government into existence with the Constitution. They understood that the right to keep and bear arms provided people with the ability to resist tyranny at the hands of their own government.

Of course, statists would say that our ancestors were just being paranoid — that the U.S. government could never become tyrannical, unlike the foreign dictatorial regimes it has helped install into power and supported thereafter, like that of Pinochet in Chile.

That assurance might well be true in ordinary times, but what about when the unexpected “crisis” erupts that causes officials of the national-security state to do what Pinochet was doing in Chile? If that were to occur here and if Americans have given up their guns, then they will have but one option — obey and submit to the round-ups, the rapes, the disappearances, the torture, and the extra-judicial assassinations — i.e., the same sorts of things that Pinochet, whom U.S. officials were supporting, did to thousands of Chileans.

With continued widespread gun ownership among Americans, would-be tyrants know that Americans have another option —violent resistance to tyranny, an insurance policy that, ironically, makes it less likely that U.S. officials would ever do to Americans what their man Pinochet did to Chileans.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.