I have little more to add to Tim’s post on arms-trafficker, gun-control activist, and Democratic state senator Leland Yee, except to say that a) it is going to be an awfully long time before a politician can call for more gun-control without hearing his name, and b) that this is a good thing.
Because our friends on the Left tend to have extremely short memories, critics of government power are forced to spend a great deal of their time reminding the public that, contrary to the zeigeist’s holding, there is nothing magical about our modern age and nothing special about our modern leaders. In a more rational world, Americans would take a quick look at the sum of human history and laugh uproariously at anyone whose philosophy rests upon the premise that the problem in America is that individuals have too much free speech, too many privately owned guns, too much economic freedom, too much personal privacy, and a state that has been overly reined in by law. But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world full of people who are worryingly susceptible to the charms of men who promise that “this time it’s different,” and to the dangerous, Whiggish, smug conceit that progress is inevitable and man is perfectible.
Reminding the public how precious human liberty is remains a thankless, difficult, and endless task. Sometimes, it seems futile. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, come reminders that human nature has remained pretty much constant since the beginning of time, and that we ought to treat every government as if it were loaded. Last year, Americans were treated to a flurry of revelations about the NSA, the IRS, the Department of Justice, and others, all of which served to demonstrate that conservatives’ well-pronounced suspicion of the federal leviathan was not merely paranoia. The Yee case plays the same role in the gun-control debate.
Because the story is so clean-cut — a California state senator was simultaneously working to put guns into the hands of criminals and to take them from his constituents — one’s first instinct is to say “wow!” Really, though, we shouldn’t be surprised at all. Governments are full of people, some of whom are virtuous and honest; some of whom are not. Leland Yee spent a good deal of the last two years railing against the private ownership of firearms, lambasting American citizens who defend expansive protections of the right to keep and bear arms, and exploiting the abomination at Newtown for political gain. While he was doing this, he was apparently helping to put missile launchers and automatic weapons in the hands of what he believed to be the mafia, explaining blithely that “people want to get whatever they have to get,” and looking at Africa as an untapped market for arms dealers. Ostensibly, Yee was offended by rifles that look scary, arguing that banning them required “no debate” and “no discussion.” In reality, per CBS, he
asked for campaign donations in exchange for introducing an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker and told him how to get shoulder-fired automatic weapons and missiles from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines.
The majority of gun-control advocates are not Leland Yee but good, if misguided people. As the majority of gun-rights advocates do, they will abhor his behavior and they will cheer for his conviction. But the “trust-the-government” message that underpins their argument just took a body blow — and for good reason: we can’t.