What Do Guns and Raw Milk Have in Common…or Why Do So Many People Have So Little Trust in Government’s Pronouncements?
I was watching President Obama at his press conference yesterday trying to explain why it is that every time there is talk about measures to reign in firearms, thousands of people rush out and stock up on guns and ammo. He looked serious and perplexed, said it was a trend driven by irrational fear about what he's going to do, fanned by greedy business interests.
"Those who oppose any common-sense gun control or gun-safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that, somehow, the federal government's about to take all your guns away," Obama said. “And there’s probably an economic element associated with that. It’s obviously good for business…even the slightest hint of some sensible responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow here it comes, everyone’s guns are going to be taken away.”
I make the comparison with the food arena hesitantly. I am not one of those rushing out to gun shows to stock up. I grew up in a tough area of Chicago, and had hand guns pointed at me by people whose stability I didn’t have a lot of faith in. I knew people who were gunned down. This all in the days before gun violence became as big an issue as it is today. I have handled automatic weapons and assault rifles, and I have to say they scare me, if only because I appreciate how easy it is to cause irreparable damage with one. And I know that something is terribly wrong in a society in which innocent people are being gunned down in movie theaters, malls, and public schools by obviously deranged individuals.
Yet I can relate to the fear that is driving the long lines at gun shows—the fear that the government is going to make gun ownership more difficult, and head down a path leading eventually to gun confiscation…making it impossible for the people to ever fight back against growing repression. These people have learned that denials or warnings from politicians, regulators, and others who are part of the apparatus don’t count for much. Even the words in the U.S. Constitution seem to count for less and less—for example, the protection against home searches in the Bill of Rights counts for little in an age when search warrants are issued nearly as easily as parking tickets, and the right to a trial by jury counts for less when charges are piled on by overly aggressive prosecutors. (We have witnessed one tragic example in just the last few days with the suicide of hacker Aaron Swartz, apparently in response to prosecutor insistence he be jailed for hacking he carried out at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as part of a plea deal.)
While President Obama was having his press conference, and wondering why people don’t believe his assurances about guns, a former regulator was issuing warnings about the dangers of raw milk, lying to make his case: “Advocates claim that raw milk contains more nutrients and helpful digestive bacteria, improves chronic conditions and is a healthier alternative. But there is no indication that pasteurization reduces the nutritional value of milk; causes lactose intolerance or allergic reactions; or that raw milk reduces illness, or is in any way healthier.”
I’m surprised this guy didn’t use the claim that’s been used before, that it’s greedy farmers who are driving all the interest in raw dairy.
Ironically, in another newspaper story in recent days, still more evidence of just how little credibility lots of people give to the warnings: “Raw Milk Demand Booming,” says the news article out of Missouri.
So people worry about government tricks and deception. They don’t trust the assurances about the supposed safety of GMO foods. They worry that the federal government will interfere with state laws decrminalizing, or allowing medical uses for marijuana, as has already occurred repeatedly in California.
Obama spoke at his press conference about executive orders, since Congress seems unlikely to pass gun legislation. That is reassuring, since it’s executive orders that have gotten us into wars and created the category of “enemy combatants.” Even a ban on gun ownership by ex-cons becomes problematic when millions of people have criminal records because of new laws and crackdowns on non-violent crime.
Maybe the real question Obama and his advisors need to face is this: how do they lead a renewal of trust by Americans that their government isn’t looking for new ways to deceive them. I’m not sure where they begin, since the road to the current mess has been such a long and sad one. In the meantime, law-abiding citizens will increasingly take their own actions—already there are classes springing up for teachers on how to use guns, and they’re proving very popular. Expect as well a jump in home schooling. Increasingly, whether it’s education or food, people seem determined to make their own realities.