Ross Praises 'Culture of Freedom'
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the November/December 2001 edition of Colorado Liberty.]
John Ross, author of Unintended Consequences, addressed the Libertarian awards banquet October 20. Earlier that day, Ross spoke at a rally in Denver organized by Marianne Greagor and the Tyranny Response Team. Bob Glass, Ari Armstrong, Shariar Ghalam, Len Jackson, and Robert Teesdale also addressed the crowd of over 100 on the Capitol steps.
At the banquet, Glass introduced Ross. "Ideas matter," Glass said. "That's why we've all chosen to fight for liberty and be libertarians."
Glass said fiction often serves as "intellectual fuel," citing the influential work of Ayn Rand. Novels "are a guiding point for how we live our ideas," giving us a "sense of dignity, and a sense of right and wrong." Literature can help shape a culture.
Unintended Consequences was "the best-selling book in my store," Glass said, noting the book is one of the best sources available of history about civil arms in America. "The importance of defending liberty has never been greater than it is now," Glass said, and Ross' book has made an important contribution to that defense.
"I'm an incurable optimist," Ross began. He said he senses "too much negativism" and "rear-guard action" within the freedom movement. While granting that civil libertarians need to stand guard against new intrusive laws, many trends look good for the future of liberty, he said. "We've got the moral high ground here, folks. Where's your sense of adventure? Your sense of, 'This is working for us'? It's time to say out loud: in many ways, things are better for us now than at any time in the past."
Ross said that while he focuses on the right to bear arms, "gun rights are the cutting-edge of individual rights," and a review of gun rights often mirrors the status of other rights.
To make his case, Ross reviewed slices of history from 1925, 1955, 1975, and today. By many criteria, the situation has improved for gun owners. In 1925, there were no federal gun laws at all. However, quality guns were also harder for the average person to purchase, and literature on guns virtually ignored defensive uses of guns. Since then, the quality and availability of high-end guns, along with reloading supplies and literature about self-defense, have gotten much better.
True, many federal and state gun laws have gotten worse since 1925, though with some respites. The major improvement has come in concealed-carry laws. Most states now allow all law-abiding citizens to carry a handgun. According to Ross, such liberalized carry laws have resulted in a "sea change" of public opinion.
Ross said hunters had basically become jaded to the encroachment of nonsensical, intrusive laws. However, when more people, especially women, started carrying guns for self-defense, they started to realize the counterproductive nature of many of the "laws on the books." For instance, a nurse who is trusted with people's lives every day still cannot carry a handgun for her own protection in St. Louis, Ross' hometown.
Ross reminded the crowd that most state gun laws passed in the early 1900s were overtly racist. Whites were rarely targeted under the laws. That started to change in the 70s, when disarmament laws were applied more evenly. Ross predicted we are moving to the point in history when "anti-carry laws will be recognized as a relic of the Jim Crow laws" and repealed.
Ross also said America's military is being harmed by the government's ban on automatic rifles. Advancements in firearms are simply not occurring, and more people are starting to realize this problem.
The civil arms community has wised up, Ross believes. "No one believes if we give in to a few controls, the enemy will go away."
In terms of legal trends, Ross expressed a cautious optimism. He noted the Supreme Court threw out so-called "gun-free school zones." He said the Emerson ruling is partly positive. It's possible that the Brady law, and even the 1934 National Firearms Act, may be thrown out by the courts. Ross noted that it's possible to make a list of criminals publicly available, such that law-abiding citizens could buy guns "cash and carry" without the registration system the Brady law entails. Also, more people are realizing gun bans or registration schemes would be impossible to enforce.
When asked about September 11, Ross said that event just makes it more obvious that freedom advocates are correct in their views. "The government can't protect us," he said. "Our blunders in the past have made this possible... We gave terrorists a government guarantee that these planes were ripe for the picking."
He hopes the horrendous crimes against Americans will cause the country to re-evaluate its priorities in law enforcement. Do we want to spend resources going after victimless crimes and confiscating nail clippers, or going after violent criminals? "Freedom means letting other people do things that you don't particularly like," Ross noted.
Ross noted that even the pilots' unions are now demanding the right to fly armed. On his flight to Colorado Springs, Ross passed along a note to the pilot, outlining Ross' extensive background in self-defense instruction but noting current laws prevent him from acting in an emergency. The pilot returned word that he agreed with Ross and would pass along the note to his superiors. Ross encouraged the audience to think of other ways to encourage sensible, pro-freedom policies. Ross, who is also a pilot, noted that defensive firearms on a plane, especially with appropriate ammunition, pose virtually no threat to air safety, and they increase security.
What of the fear that America might go the way of other countries in surrendering rights? "People in England, Canada, and Australia do not have a Constitution with a Bill of Rights. We do. They accept gun bans; we don't."
Ross also noted that America has attracted freedom-minded people from around the world. "England's gun culture moved away," he noted, and "people who like freedom have gravitated to America."
He granted that our rights are under threat since September 11, "but that's always the case." The struggle for liberty is "a constant process." Ultimately, Ross concluded, "History has shown us that in America the culture of freedom always wins."