Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Right to Buy Weapons

People always have the kind of government they want. When they want change, they must change it. —A.E. Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher

When I was a youngster, I saved the money I made mowing lawns, shoveling snow and babysitting the neighbor's kids for a very special purpose: I bought books. Paperback books, almost exclusively. I went to the drugstore downtown, which had a rack of novels just inside the front door, and I scanned the wire shelves searching for the prize.

Usually I found nothing, but every so often they would have one: an Ace Double. I never knew doubles came in mysteries and westerns, I only saw the science fiction. I almost didn't care who the author was: I read Asimov and Leinster and Brackett and Tubb, and when they were in Ace Doubles, I got two books for the price of one!

The first I bought with my own earnings was an Ace Double by A.E. Van VogtThe Weapon Shops of Isher. At this remove, I did not remember what was on the flip side of the tête-bêche book; I had to look it up. (It was Murray Leinster's Gateway to Elsewhere.)

Leinster's opus is apparently only available as the Ace Double, used, for $8–$14 now. But I was pleased to notice that Van Vogt's novel is available on Kindle, so I downloaded it and read it again in one gulp.

This was the story I remembered, with the poor hapless reporter swinging helplessly from past to future, the doppelganger of the rebellious son making it big in the stock market (because he had transported himself several months into the past, and had records of the market's performance), and the weapon shops themselves. 

When a people lose the courage to resist encroachment on their rights, then they can’t be saved by an outside force. Our belief is that people always have the kind of government they want. —A.E. Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher

For a child of the fifties, the motto of the weapon shops, THE RIGHT TO BUY WEAPONS IS THE RIGHT TO BE FREE, resonated. And today, the position of the weapon shops in opposition to the government—whether tyrannical or benevolent—and their capability to provide each individual with the means to resist aggression, accords well with my own mostly-libertarian philosophy.

Van Vogt's science was radical for the time, and not very well explained by the novel, but his political stance was obvious. His weapons were defensive technology only: they could not be used to murder, but could be used to kill an aggressor. They could also benefit the criminal in evading arrest, and not just because Isher was a culture where the laws and police were organized to suit the rulers more than the citizens.

Van Vogt foresaw a time where majority rule would be so powerful that the opposed individual (however moral or immoral) would have no recourse against it, without the Weapon Shops. Yes, he said, guns can be used in support of crime, even configured not to be used in aggression. And that's all right, when laws can be used in support of aggression against the individual who is opposed to the majority.

Because the right to buy weapons is the right to be free.