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YC Magazine, Libertarian Commentary, February 2011

by Brian Smith

In November, 2008, Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, stated: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” While politicians and special interest groups may live by this comment, few would risk saying it aloud.

The Libertarian Party joined America in condemning the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords, and the murder of six people, including a federal judge and a nine year-old child in Tucson. However, the reaction by some politicians, police forces, and gun control groups to this heinous crime, reminds one of Mr. Emanuel’s words.

Rep. James Clyburn, assuming that these murders were fomented by hate speech, has recommended revisiting the “Fairness Doctrine” and possibly taking other measures restricting our freedoms. This would undoubtedly lead to regulated speech, if not outright censorship.

The Fairness Doctrine called for news outlets to present both sides of serious issues. When this doctrine was introduced, in 1949, there was some justification for it’s implementation. Nearly all Americans at that time got their news from one or two newspapers, and a handful of radio stations. It was far too easy for the media to manipulate public opinion in this environment.

When the doctrine was abandoned in 1987, cable television was found in nearly every American home, and there were numerous news outlets available.

A Fairness Doctrine or similar legislation in today’s society would have to be so broad and inclusive to be effective, that there would be undesirable consequences. Any elected official who thinks fairness can be legislated is showing an ignorance of the internet. For the open minded, it is possible to get several angles of the same story, and the closed minded can get the same angle from different sources. In the end it is the viewers, readers, and listeners who dictate the content, angle, and tone of their preferred news source.

As expected in the days following the Tucson tragedy, anti-gun advocates began calling for further restrictions. Because this mad man used an extended clip in his weapon, their focus seems to be reducing magazine capacity. Gun control groups operate with a long-term strategy in mind. They realize that outlawing handguns would be nearly impossible, and would probably be overturned as unconstitutional. So, they “chip away at the stone”, taking what they feel is possible at the time, especially in the wake of tragedy or crisis.

Over the past 20 years we have seen so-called “assault rifles” banned (it was not extended), waiting periods, background checks, and trigger locks. These laws among others at the federal, state, and local levels have had little impact on gun related crime.

Another concern is police and government agencies using this crisis to further expand their powers. The most notable example of this thus far is the NYPD’s report “Active Shooter- Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation”. The most alarming recommendation is a vast expansion of video surveillance. The report took time to produce, but it does include data as recent as December 2010. The timing of it’s release is obviously intended to take advantage of the “let no crisis go to waste” mentality.

Reaction to 9/11, and the “Patriot Act” it led to, has given America a new “normal”. There are millions of young people who have never lived in a country at peace. For them Guantanamo has always been a prison, and the US has always detained people without charges or trial. For these young people warrantless searches and wiretaps have always been a tool available to the government. If we don’t stop future excess, and roll-back what has already occurred, these young people will mature into adults never knowing of the liberties already lost.

These issues are not liberal or conservative in nature. They are American issues. We must demand that our elected officials protect our liberty, and not allow the First (freedom of speech), Second (right to bear arms), Fourth (illegal search and seizure), Fifth (due process), Sixth (speedy trial) and Eighth (cruel and unusual punishment) Amendments suffer further violations.

We should remember the words of Benjamin Franklin “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Brian Smith is the Chair of the York County Libertarian Party

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