The Nineteen Eleven Effect

by L. Neil Smith

Politicians are a demonstrably unbright lot.

Take Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I’ve known since I was a high school senior (a thousand years ago) and read George N. Crocker’s Roosevelt’s Road to Russia that FDR was a few crayons short of a box. Reprints of John T. Flynn I saw recently portray him as having had intelligence and character remarkably like those of Bill Clinton.

If you took all the American presidents of the 19th and 20th centuries (the current occupant of the White House being no exception) and threw them in a pond, you could skim stupid for decades.

The phenomenon isn’t limited to presidents. Our political system selects for stupidity — along with evil and insanity — and you can see it work from the Senate and the Supreme Court right down to your friendly neighborhood silly council. Politicos with an IQ higher than an artichoke may be numbered on the fingers of one elbow.

Not to put too dull a point on it, stupid people do stupid things. The total number of stupid things politicians have done, just over the past two centuries, just in the United States, undoubtedly exceeds the maximum number of subatomic particles possible in the universe.

I was reminded of all this the other day when I saw someone light his cigarette with a Zippo. The familiar metallic clink and whiff of lighter fluid were unmistakable, and brought memories back to a former smoker vastly more pleasurable than those who’ve never smoked might expect. What it specifically reminded me was that technical progress, while very good and highly important, isn’t always necessary.

Nothing could be simpler than a Zippo. It’s a business card sized metal box half an inch thick, stuffed with cotton, into which a wick is inserted. The box is spring-hinged, so it stays closed in your pocket. The wick emerges through a partition between the two parts of the box in just the right place for sparks from a hardened steel thumb-wheel and a tiny cylindrical spring-fed “flint” to set it alight when there’s enough fuel in the cotton-batting reservoir.

Four moving parts (lid, wheel, flint, spring). Pretty neat. Disposable Bic lighters put less weight in your shirt pocket and are tidier (Zippos will leak now and again) but they lack romance.

Now, I pretend to hear you ask, what does this have to do with the stupidity of politicians? Another elegant, minimalist invention the 20th will someday be famous for is the .45 caliber Colt Automatic Pistol Model of 1911A1. As sprung from the mind of John Moses Browning (with a little help from the US Army), it’s the perfect size, shape, and weight to do what it’s meant to do, which is to protect its holder at the “last ditch” from becoming one with the earth.

The 1911, as we call the big roscoe with fond familiarity, did the job remarkably well for 75 years (How many other bits of military junk have stayed in the inventory that long?) until the mid-1980s, when it was replaced by a travesty of European pseudomodernity and corrupt wheeler-dealering, an aluminum-framed small-caliber Italian popgun that’s now being replaced, itself. The 1911 was even beginning to be replaced in the hearts and minds of civilian shooters, but it now appears — thanks to Congress — that it won’t happen anytime soon.

During the darkest days of the Waco Willie Administration (which often look sunny and bright, compared to the present incumbency) a number of gun laws were passed with the eager, enthusiastic, and utterly indispensable assistance of the Republican Party.

The most absurd of those laws placed a limit on the number of cartridges that might fit into the magazine of various pistols, rifles, and shotguns. At the time, I explained to my readers that politicians are criminals themselves. They subsist on money stolen from the Productive Class, exactly like common muggers and burglars.

People tend to identify more closely with those who earn their living the same way than they do with family, country, race, or religion. It’s long been obvious that politicians identify with freelance criminals and wish them well. They don’t want their serfs — meaning you and me — injuring or killing their fellow thieves.

Trouble, these days, usually comes in packs. It sometimes requires a pistol magazine of adequate capacity to deal with them, especially if you’ve been persuaded to adopt one of the smaller, weaker calibers.

Confronted by six or eight of what Jeff Cooper calls street goblins, you may need all fourteen, sixteen, or eighteen cartridges in your Browning High Power, S&W WonderNine, or Glock.

But no. Somebody might get hurt — your continued life and health don’t count — if you could adequately defend yourself, and Congress was determined to put a stop to it by limiting the Productive Class to ten rounds, despite clear Constitutional obstacles, and at a moment of technical advance when the latest magazines held more and more shells all the time — meaning that an ordinary man or woman or capable child could walk anywhere, unafraid of whole hordes of goblins. Such an idea, of course, was intolerable. To politicians.

After the law was passed — Brady Bill-Bob Dole allowed Clinton to evade normal Senate procedures to railroad it through — a funny thing began to happen. Two funny things, actually.

First, some guns got smaller. This was already being driven by the licensed concealed weapons trend. Civilian gun-toters wanted smaller, more easily-concealed weapons. (Some licensing authorities threatened them with revocation, confiscation, and jail if anybody saw their nasty old guns — another argument against putting up with nonsense like licensing. Or authorities.) Why wrap a fifteen-round gun around ten rounds of ammo, when you can cut off everything you don’t really need and make everybody happy?

Glock, Para-Ordinance, and nearly every other handgun manufacturer started making cut-down versions of their earlier weapons. Other companies began designing tiny weapons from scratch. KelTek has an amazing .32 auto not much bigger than a Bic, and lighter than a Zippo.

As guns shrink, some magazine grow. My seven-round 1911 magazines now hold eight rounds, thenks to engineering ingenuity, and I have extra-long ten-rounders I sometimes carry as spares.

At the same time, self-defense cartridges started getting bigger. The twenty-year trend toward twenty-shot 9mms was over. The venerable 1911A1 is back again, bigger than ever. If you’re limited in numbr, why not use the largest, most powerful cartridge you can?

Smaller guns, larger, more powerful cartridges. If there are, in fact, advocates of victim disarmament who sincerely wish to reduce the carnage they foolishly imagine is caused by private weapons ownership, how does this new trend, driven by incredibly stupid legislation, serve them? All it means is that gunfolk have new toys to play with.

Poor advocates of victim disarmament. They can’t even cry out, in despair, “Outlaw them all!” England and Australia tried that; they now have the highest violent crime rates in the world. And thanks to the Internet, everybody knows it.

My suggestion? Recognize that human ingenuity will get around stupid politicians every time. People had plenty to drink during that prohibition — some were drinking for the first time because they were pissed off. After a century of making war on drugs, there are now more drugs available, and of more different kinds, than ever.

The Age of Prohibition is collapsing inward on itself (which is why it has to be propped up by a phony war against terrorism). It’s time for an Age of Repeal, during which politicians will be judged by how many stupid laws they can get rid of each session. The good news is that the current occupant of the White House, the head of the Stupid Party himself, is doing more to discredit the notion, that government can act any way but stupidly, than any previous president.

The Evil Party will help him. All we need do is stand and watch.

And point.

And laugh.

Comments, suggestions, contributions? Let me know