Peterson Syndrome

The upcoming elections on Tuesday promise a landslide for the Republican party, but as Instapundit (among thousands) has said, “don’t get cocky.”

The gun-rights movement, similarly, has enjoyed a landslide of victories in the last decade since the nadir of the 1994 “assault weapon ban.” That landslide took a long time to build momentum, starting all the way back in 1987 with Florida’s passage of “shall issue” concealed carry legislation, proceeding to the earth-shaking Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions of 2008 and 2010 respectively.

We shouldn’t get cocky. The Other Side is still out there. It’s not over.

I started TSM a bit over seven years ago because I was tired of reading the unrefuted illogic, obfuscation, distortion, and outright lies promulgated by The Other Side. The Web offered a voice for people like me, and I used it – first on Usenet, then on message boards, and finally in the blogosphere.

And there were hundreds like me!

And there are hundreds like them.

We were on the internet.

They were on radio, television, newspapers and magazines.

But as the media paradigm has been changing, this has, too.

One recent example, Joan Peterson of the Brady Campaign, has become the darling of the gunblogging set. She has set herself up as the prototypical anti-gun activist, spewing falsehoods and distortions with nearly every utterance. Joe Huffman has diagnosed her as having a mental defect, to wit:

She is frequently incoherent. She cannot distinguish the difference between intentions and results. If she is a liar she would not repeatedly make these kind of mistakes. Or if she is a liar then she is very very smart and skilled to consistently use the same sort of tool without ever slipping up.

I claim it is not necessarily and in fact probably isn’t stupidity. If this were stupidity then this sort of faulty thinking would not continually show up throughout human history even with people that are exceedingly well respected. Every age and society has stupid people in it and they are easily recognized and the instances of them being well respected are exceedingly rare. This is some other type of mental disorder.

This mental disorder can be, and has been, easily detected. Ask the question, “What is the process by which you determine truth from falsity?” People suffering from this mental disorder not only won’t be able to supply an answer but frequently cannot even understand the question. The question is nonsensical to them. They are lacking a thinking process. Hence, by necessity, they fail to process information. Asking them to supply a process when they are totally unaware of the existence of such a concept results in the same sort of difficulty as asking a person blind since birth what color the walls are. They have no common basis with the questioner such that they can even understanding the question. This is the same sort of response we get from her. She cannot understand concepts that to us are intuitively, blindingly, demonstrably, obvious. It is nearly impossible for us to believe that she does not understand what we are saying. But if she were blind you would not claim she was stupid or a liar if she did not know the color of the wall.

As Joe notes, this condition is now known as Peterson Syndrome.

It’s not an uncommon affliction.

Let me illustrate now another victim, G. Eyclesheimer Ernst. Mr. Ernst has been active in the gun control movement for years, first running an online magazine entitled The Firearms Policy Journal that later morphed into the tax-exempt web site. Where Joan Peterson’s illness may be attributed to the shock of her sister’s murder, I’m not certain of the source of Mr. Ernst’s. It may be that it is a genetic condition in his case, but Mr. Ernst’s particular version of Peterson Syndrome is focused not on the gun, but on society, or – as he puts it – “It’s not about guns, it’s about citizenship.”

For G. Eyclesheimer Ernst, the concept of personal sovereignty, not gun ownership in and of itself, is what trips his circuit breakers. He has been writing since at least 1990, and has been insistent from that time that the concept of an individual right to arms for the purpose of self-defense against a tyrannical government is, well, just crazy talk! In GEErnst’s world, human beings should be happy cogs in Society’s machine, doing whatever the Government tells them they should. The very idea of personal sovereignty is the antithesis of how the world should work. Take, for example, a letter that he submitted in 1994 to the New England Journal of Medicine and, after its rejection, to the American Medical Association which also rejected it. Cutting to the chase, GEErnst writes:

The monopoly on the exercise of armed force, separated from simple gun ownership, defines sovereignty. Government is the administrative apparatus of sovereignty. We put ourselves under the laws of this government so that the authority to exercise armed force is in one place where it is restrained and ultimately accountable to the people through democratic processes. Lincoln put it in his First Inaugural: “A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks . . . is the only true sovereign of a free people.” The other choices are anarchy and despotism. No matter the corruption we call “politics,” the duties of citizenship are to make this system work not point guns at it. There is—can be—no “constitutional design” that includes a contingency of extralegal armed force, organized or unorganized, as a rival sovereignty to the legal institutions of government. No state can share its sovereignty and insure the validity of its laws, the safety of its citizens, or even its own survival.

Like Joan Peterson, GEErnst’s worldview cannot be swayed. In 1998, some four years later, he wrote another (unacknowledged) letter, this time to Ron Stewart, then president and CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing. In that letter he sings the same tune:

The National Rifle Association’s individual right is the right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority. The right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority is the right to individual sovereignty. Individual sovereigns are laws unto themselves. By definition they do not consent to be governed and do not give “just powers” to government. They create no sovereign public authority. Without sovereign public authority there is no rule of law and no civic culture of public trust which is essential to the economic existence of any business. The whole crisis in gun violence turns on accountability to public authority. It is the one point the doctrine of political liberty that the gun lobby has built around its purported individual right cannot accommodate. If you don’t think so, just ask them. The doctrine amounts to a childish political fantasy.

But here’s the interesting excerpt:

The NRA cannot win its childish fantasy in court. It has to have it by defeating legislation.

Right on one count, wrong on the other. The Second Amendment Foundation won in court. The NRA has achieved its ends by passing some legislation, and defeating other bills. Still other groups, notably the California Rifle and Pistol Association have also won in court and in the legislatures with very little NRA assistance, and sometimes their opposition.

Since the Heller and McDonald decisions, GEErnst has been seething. Mr. Ernst protests on his home page:

The Potowmack Institute prepared a crude draft of a brief to file in McDonald but no lawyer could be found to refine and file the arguments. There is political consciousness among lawyers. The brief would not have made any difference. The courts have become highly politicized and are not interested in arguments. There is no public that holds the courts accountable.

It would seem that the very democratic mechanisms of government that he protests are the only legitimate ones are now insufficient to the task. In bold print, GEErnst states:

The challenge is to pursue the next step which is a study by the Eric Holder Justice Department that updates Ashcroft’s 2004 study, which was a gun lobby propaganda piece likely written by NRA operatives.

Which sounds like something from a bad spy novel, but is quite revealing of his damaged mindset.

After all, he’s asking the “Eric Holder Justice Department” (not the United States Justice Department) to make a finding in his favor when that very same Justice Department has made it abundantly clear recently that some people are more equal than others.

GEErnst insists that “We put ourselves under the laws of this government so that the authority to exercise armed force is in one place where it is restrained and ultimately accountable to the people through democratic processes,” but he steadfastly refuses to even consider the question of “what do we do if they stop being ACCOUNTABLE? Like asking Joan Peterson how she determines truth from falsity, asking that question of G. Eyclesheimer Ernst is like asking a blind man what color the wall is.

Mr. Ernst, like Ms. Peterson, isn’t stupid and isn’t lying. He cannot comprehend what, to us, is “intuitively, blindingly, demonstrably, obvious” – that each of us is and must be personally sovereign. We don’t “give ‘just powers'” to government, we loan them. We do “consent to be governed,” but we retain the power to withdraw that consent. (If you don’t retain the power to withdraw consent, it’s not consent – it’s surrender.) What Mr. Ernst cannot seem to grasp is that this is a nation of “We the People,” not “Them the Government.” The people with their hands on the levers of power may (and throughout history have too often proven to be) unworthy of that position, but without the power to withdraw consent the result is inevitably slavery of the majority by the minority in one form or another.

His particular pathology prevents him from acknowledging this.

I recently spent several hours perusing his site, reading his arguments, and never once did he acknowledge the existence of this one question. He cites source after source from both sides of the gun control argument; historians, jurists, social scientists, legislators, court decisions, he even refers to the 9th Circuit’s Silveira v. Lockyer case multiple times, but nowhere on his site does he mention – much less rebut – this portion of Judge Alex Kozinski’s dissent:

The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

Our job as activists is to not let up. The Other Side won’t.

UPDATE 10/31: Then again . . . Reader Brett emails to inform that has let its domain name expire. That domain name is not registered to a “G. Eyclesheimer Ernst,” it is registered to the more mundane Ernest McGill, P.O. Box 5907, Bethesda, MD 20824. I can assume this is the same Ernest McGill who penned an amicus brief for Parker v. D.C. Why the man feels the need to go by the pseudonym GEErnst is beyond me, but it’s his nickel. I sincerely hope that Mr. McGill hasn’t gone off and swallowed a handful of tranks and washed it down with a fifth of Jägermeister in his angst over the McDonald decision. His site is a treasure-trove of information. For our side.

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