The Power to Tax = The Power to Destroy

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Feeling salty over pepper spray

Getting pepper spray in Massachusetts has never been easy. New fees make it even harder. Will local legislators help make the Bay State the ‘spray state?’

In theory, buying a can of pepper spray isn’t really all that hard. In most parts of the country, getting hold of such self-defense sprays poses little challenge for citizens of legal age with $20 in their pocket and a desire to temporarily incapacitate any shady character that comes too close.

Having a relatively speedy Internet connection helps, too.

By just typing the words “pepper spray” into any Internet search engine, dozens of self-defense-related Web sites immediately appear, all of which offer customers the chance to buy personal protection sprays in any number of shapes and sizes.

“It stops your attacker … it hurts them,” promises one such Web site that not only sells pepper spray in the standard aerosol cans, but also caters to customers who prefer to remain incognito. Pepper spray containers in the form of pens, lipstick cases, cell phones and pagers are also readily available to those looking to fend off foes.

“It will slam their eyes shut for 10 minutes while you safely get away,” the Web site continues. “Hours later, you’re safe, and they are left miserable and humiliated.”

Sound unpleasant? You bet. But as the Web site explains, people have a right to protect and defend themselves. Seeing as how pepper spray remains one of the few non-lethal and relatively inexpensive means of self-defense on the market, it’s availability to customers is a no brainer.

Unless, of course, you live in Massachusetts.

Here, carrying even a miniscule vial of aerosol self-defense spray without acquiring it through the proper channels may be considered criminally consistent with smuggling fireworks across the New Hampshire border or illegally downloading music onto computers. Get it, but whatever you do, don’t let anyone catch you with it.

It’s been that way since 1998, when state legislators passed the Gun Control Act, otherwise known as Chapter 180, and made it impossible for anyone in Massachusetts to own a weapon without first being approved for a Firearms Identification Card. Living in a post-Columbine world where serious questions are continually raised about gun ownership, legislators wasted no time in passing Chapter 180.

Still, there are those who feel the law is imperfect – for starters, the fact it required anyone who wanted to buy pepper spray for protection to acquire an FID card. And cough up the $25 fee that went with it.

Earlier this year, with the state in financial turmoil and Gov. Mitt Romney using all kinds of stopgap solutions to try to solve the budget crunch, the FID card registration fee quadrupled to $100. The move not only made it that much harder for anyone in Massachusetts to buy pepper spray, it also fueled a growing sentiment among Bay Staters and North Shore residents that people looking only to protect themselves are instead being penalized.

They are people like Richard Griffith, who recently encouraged his fiancée to consider carrying pepper spray, only to discover that it could take up to 140 days for her to receive her FID Card, not to mention the hassle of being fingerprinted and undergoing a thorough background examination.

To Griffith, the recent fee increase coupled with the state’s already stringent laws regarding pepper spray simply makes little sense. He says it borders on ludicrous when a sea of red tape and prohibitive fees stymie people whose only interest is self-protection. In his eyes, it’s time Massachusetts eased up and made pepper spray more accessible

“I think there’s definitely an anti-self-defense component to all of this,” Griffith says. “I know the people that sponsored Chapter 180 were very well intentioned, but the legislation really seems slapped together.

“I can’t really criticize legislators for wanting to be proactive and wanting to prevent tragedies from occurring, but sometimes I think they do things that are foolish,” he adds. “This is one of them.”

There are signs, however, that some legislators are looking to atone for their officious deeds. State Rep. Bradley Jones, who represents part of Lynnfield, has sponsored a bill that could free pepper spray seekers from having any responsibility to pay exorbitant amounts for an FID card. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, but Jones believes it would definitely be a step in the right direction.

“I just don’t think it’s necessary (to have these fees), says Jones. “We’re just making it that much more difficult for people. These are non-lethal weapons we’re talking about. They’re just ways for people to protect themselves in a difficult situation.

“I think he need to recognize that instances of physical aggression and sexual violence is far too prevalent,” Jones adds. “Pepper spray is one way for victims to be able to protect themselves.”

(All emphasis mine.)

There’s much more. Here are some appropriate quotes:

Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. – Louis D. Brandeis

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. – Louis D. Brandeis

The people of the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other types of arms. The possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection of taxes and dues and tends to foment uprisings.” – Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), Japanese Shogun

“False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, the most important of the code, will respect the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease and impunity, and which, if strictly obeyed, would put an end to personal liberty –so dear to men, so dear to the enlightened legislator– and subject innocent persons to all the vexations that the guilty alone ought to suffer? Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man. They ought to be designated as laws not preventive but fearful of crimes, produced by the tumultuous impression of a few isolated facts, and not by thoughtful consideration of the inconveniences and advantages of a universal decree.” – Thomas Jefferson, quoting Beccaria

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

“The ruling class doesn’t care about public safety. Having made it very difficult for States and localities to police themselves, having left ordinary citizens with no choice but to protect themselves as best they can, they now try to take our guns away. In fact they blame us and our guns for crime. This is so wrong that it cannot be an honest mistake.” – former U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wy.)

If you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master. The wise despot, therefore, maintains among his subjects a popular sense that they are helpless and ineffectual. — Frank Herbert

Many politicians are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever. — Lord Thomas MacaulaySorry, but that’s my way of ranting. Or one of them, at least.

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