LEGAL NEWS FROM THE NATION’S CAPITAL JOHANNA REEVES, ESQ.
“All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”–Lord Acton, 1857
How did we get here? Did anyone ever think that America would look like this?
On July 4, 1776, America was born out of the truth that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence further affirms that government is formed by the people to secure these rights for the people. In 1776, these notions that humans derive life and liberty from God, not government, and that government derives its power from the consent of the governed, were novel concepts. Indeed, America was the first modern state formed out of these principles, and throughout history it has remained the one place in the world where these truths continue to form the heartbeat of a nation.
But liberty is neither free nor guaranteed, and our country, a representative republic, is dependent on a liberty-driven citizenry. If we take liberty for granted, we surely will lose it. Benjamin Franklin warned of this back in 1787 at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention. When asked, “Well Doctor, what have we got–a Republic or a Monarchy?” he answered “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Can we keep it? Or have we already lost it?
In 2001, we were attacked, and the country was put to an extreme test. Not just on the tragic day itself but in the aftermath and in the government’s response. The government stakeholders told us with sympathy and paternal comfort of the importance of national security and urged us not to worry because the government would ensure our safety. So Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, the name itself a marketing marvel designed to relay a concept of loving one’s country even though the substance arguably undermines the very principles upon which our country was founded. USA PATRIOT is actually an acronym that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. Repeat this out loud, and as you do, ask yourself who determines what an “appropriate tool” is and what constitutes “terrorism?” In the name of safety (another vague concept, the definition of which depends on the government), are we expected to categorically capitulate to the government and trust it will exercise its authority in a way that protects our liberty?
Now, as I write this, the unthinkable has happened. In the midst of a global pandemic known as COVID-19, governing bodies in the United States are making up rules based on fear and speculation of what could happen in a worst-case scenario. Every one of us is confined to our homes by order of our local governments with the threat of enforcement. The justification is an endless stream of numbers our leaders say represent “the situation” but what we cannot independently verify. And it seems the governments are moving the goal posts with the repeated warnings of another spike in cases if we open too quickly. Some state leaders are actually urging us to accept this as the new norm.
All the while we are assured these extraordinary measures are necessary and unavoidable, and we must band together for the good of everyone. Is there any doubt that we are being conditioned to view our freedom as selfish? From the minute we wake up until we fall asleep, our days are filled with the message that we must do what’s right: stay home, don’t go to work and don’t assemble. If it saves just one life it is all worth it.
The peer pressure to just go along is staggering: #AloneTogether. The message perpetuated by politicians, media and Hollywood is everywhere. Celebrities like Robert DeNiro and Tom Brady are telling us to stay home. Even our neighbors may turn you into law enforcement if you dare disobey. Just like what we saw in wake of the 9-11 attacks, to doubt the government is to be selfish, unpatriotic, paranoid, naïve or manipulated by talk radio. But who really is being manipulated, and who are the manipulators?
“Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.”
Look around. The rules do not make any sense, and it feels wrong. People are being arrested for engaging in activity that previously was not just legal but normal. The government can always take away what it gives, but are we to believe that the government gave us the freedom to gather together for a cookout in the park, go to religious services or to operate our businesses and serve our customers? And yet, while moms and dads, shop owners, pastors and hair stylists are being arrested for violating government orders that were passed over night, convicted criminals are being set free. What country is this?
America is experiencing the greatest job loss in recent history because of government stay-at-home orders. The numbers are staggering and just plain sad. Of course, those who work for the government largely remain employed, as are those who work in “essential” businesses. What is essential? Good question. It depends. On what? It depends on whether the government has deemed your business essential. And what is essential today may not be essential tomorrow, and vice-versa. So don’t get too comfortable.
People are enduring unimaginable suffering, but here comes the government, handing out checks to those most in need, once again, as determined by the government.
America has been the sole example that liberty can rise above tyranny and oppression. But if the people perceive government as the great rescuer, how do we define or even recognize tyranny?
We have been taking liberty for granted for far too long, presuming it will always be there regardless of the choices we make as individuals and as citizens of America. The nightmare we are now living is the consequence of years of sticking our heads in the sand, lifting our noses only when government restrictions impact us directly and even then our objections easily quelled by a promise of more money or an exception. We’ve all become quite adept at adapting, haven’t we?
We are all responsible for where we are now. America is on the verge of dying. So what are we going to do about it?
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The information contained in this article is for general informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice or as legal opinion. You should not rely or act on any information contained in this article without first seeking the advice of an attorney. Receipt of this article does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Johanna Reeves is the founding partner of the law firm Reeves & Dola, LLP in Washington, D.C. (reevesdola.com). For more than 15 years she has dedicated her practice to advising and representing U.S. companies on compliance matters arising under the federal firearms laws and U.S. export controls. Since 2011, Johanna has served as Executive Director for the Firearms and Ammunition Import/Export Roundtable (F.A.I.R.) Trade Group (fairtradegroup.org). She has also served as a member of the Defense Trade Advisory Group (DTAG) since 2016. Johanna can be reached at email@example.com or 202-715-9941.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V24N7 (Aug/Sep 2020)|