SUPPOSE YOU WERE FOND OF BOOKS ...
You liked their leather bindings, their fancy endpapers, the way they
speak to you of other times and places, the way they feel in your hand.
You even liked the way they smell.
Naturally you were aware that books are dangerous. They give people
ideas. Over the long, sad course of history, they've resulted in the
slaughter of millions -- books like _Uncle Tom's Cabin_, _Das Kapital_,
_Mein Kampf_, the Quran, even the Bible -- but you had too much
intelligence, too much regard for the right of other people to read,
write, and _think_ whatever they please, to blame the books themselves.
Now suppose somebody came along who agreed with you: books are dangerous
-- _and something oughta be done about it!_ Nothing you couldn't live
with, of course: numbers should be stamped inside them, a different
number, not just in each kind of book, or each title or edition -- but
in each and every individual book.
"So what if it raises prices a little? We can keep track of 'em better
that way -- it'll help you get 'em back if they're stolen."
But wait ... Isn't the right to freedom of expression, the right to
create, exchange, and collect books -- without a trace of government
harassment -- the right to read, write, and think whatever you please,
isn't that supposed to have been guaranteed by the First Amendment to
the Constitution? No matter who decides it's wrong? No matter how
"sensible" their arguments may sound for taking that right away?
You tried to defend your rights, but nobody listened. You appealed to
the mainstream media; they were even more dependent on the Bill of
Rights than you were, and American journalism has always gloried in its
self-appointed role as watchdog over the rights of the individual. But
the bitter truth was, that during heir long, self-congratulatory
history, they were more like a pack of curs caught bloody-muzzled time
and time again, savaging the very flocks they had been trusted to protect.
You were alone. You insisted that books don't kill people, people kill
people. They laughed and told you that people who read books kill people.
Time passed ... and still they couldn't be satisfied. Now they wanted
the serial numbers written down in record books. Then they demanded that
your name be written down beside the numbers, along with your address,
your driver's license number, your age, your sex, and your race: "'Cause
we gotta right to know who's reading all these books!"
Soon they were insisting that bookstores be licensed. They forbade you
to buy books by mail, in another state, on the Internet, or from a
friend. They required that your dealer report you if you bought more
than one book within a five day period.
They forbade you to buy more than one book a month. They demanded that
you wait five days, a week, three weeks, before you could pick up a book
that you'd already paid for -- at a bookstore subject to unannounced
warrantless inspections and punitive closure by heavily- armed
government agents. In states like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and
California, mere possession of a book meant an automatic year in jail.
At one point they offered to spend tax money to buy your books "back":
"You got too many. This is a purely voluntary measure -- for the time
Now they want to confiscate any of your books that they think are too
long: "No honest citizen needs a book with that many pages!"
Ideologically biased think-tanks, Homeland Security, TSA, and your local
police all agree that anybody who reads books is potential terrorist.
Your taxes will be spent to burn them, and somehow you have a grim
foreboding that this is only the beginning, that some dark midnight, no
matter how peaceable or agreeable or law-abiding you have been, you're
going to hear that knock on your door ...
Yes, books are dangerous.
They start holy wars, revolutions, and make people dissatisfied with
But this is ridiculous!
Is it a nightmare?
Another Gulag horror story?
A bloodsoaked page from the history of fascism?
No, it's just the commonplace oppression that people suffer under every
day when they feel about guns the way that you feel about books.
Okay, so maybe that feeling, being fond of guns, is a little hard to
understand. But just try justifying your own love of books, say, to a
Christian fundamentalist, or an Iranian ayatollah. The very demand that
you must explain yourself -- in blatant, brutal violation of your basic
human rights -- will make you inarticulate with rage.
Increasingly, gun owners laugh at the notion of human rights, because,
increasingly, they have none.
Sure, guns are dangerous.
Like books, the right to create, exchange, and collect them without a
trace of government harassment, is supposed to be guaranteed.
No matter who thinks it's wrong.
No matter how "sensible" their arguments may sound for taking your
So what makes you think your books are any safer than your neighbor's guns?
Whether you like books or guns, the issue's the same:
When anybody's rights are threatened, everybody's rights are threatened.
By L. Neil Smith <email@example.com>
Excerpted and Adapted from _Lever Action: Essays on Liberty_, Mountain
L. Neil Smith's _Lever Action: Essays on Liberty_ is available at