Strakon Lights Up, No. 28
America sleeps with the
HBO's well-researched Mafia series "The Sopranos" offers viewers a good education in the argot of the Mob. In particular, recent episodes have shown us in detail just what is meant by a "bust-out." It's what usually happens when a businessman falls heavily into debt to the Mob, often as a result of foolhardy wagering, and can't pay. The mobsters give him one chance to stay out of the hospital: they'll become his new partners. Typically, they proceed to drain his business dry by ordering inventory from his suppliers, inventory that they cart off and resell, leaving the businessman an abject bankrupt when the bills come due.
But the series offers much more than vocabulary lessons. It's a pretty good course in modern civics. Forget Tocqueville and Democracy in America. Watch "The Sopranos." The United State is the greatest and most powerful organized-crime family in world history, and it's really starting to act the part.
I say that the HBO series is a pretty good course, not a perfect course, because the analogy between official and unofficial organized crime is imperfect. The U.S. regime is not as market-oriented and voluntaristic as the Cosa Nostra (and of course it is much more thirsty for the blood of innocents). Our sympathy for the businessman who gets busted out is somewhat limited insofar as he's a degenerate gambler we feel that, in a way, he asked for it.
The gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson didn't ask for it. It's the victim of pure extortion: if it didn't agree to take on its thuggish new partners, various local governments affiliated Mobs, if you will, that ultimately owe everything to the capo di tutti capi in Washington would simply come in and rob the place blind via lawless lawsuits. S&W's only way out was to agree to be stripped a little more slowly, which unheroically enough it did. And the company will be stripped unless all the other gun manufacturers surrender to the same extortion. At the time I'm writing this, Glock and Browning are heroically refusing to surrender. (They can expect to receive some government-issued firebombs through their front window.)
Most coverage of the "agreement" between S&W and the regime has focused on the requirements for gun locks and development of "smart" technology. The "smart" technology issue probably deserves its own column, which I may write in the future. But for the nonce let's look at a few of the more-obscure provisions. S&W has agreed to require "safety training for purchasers," that is, to "transfer firearms only to individuals who have passed [a] certified safety course or exam and demonstrate to purchasers how to use all safety devices and how to load, unload, and safely store the firearm before completing the sale." That may be the single most shocking provision in the agreement, which would explain why it has received so little coverage by the established media.
Buggy, unpredictable "smart" guns are still quite a ways off, so the mandatory-training provision is the most egregious bust-out provision for now. It alone will doom S&W as an independent, solvent company as long as the other major manufacturers are not brought into line. In effect, it imposes a waiting period on most would-be purchasers (so much for the Brady Law exemption that many state-permit holders enjoy) and it introduces an incredible hassle factor. What conceivable customer would have enough brand loyalty to continue doing business with S&W? Who wouldn't turn to Glock, Browning, Beretta, or one of the other as-yet-unextorted gunmakers? S&W's prices have tended to be lower than those of most foreign manufacturers, but someone once said that time is money. Freedom from hassles is pretty good currency, too.
For the record, here's another provision that immediately places S&W at a competitive disadvantage: "Multiple handgun sales: all purchasers of multiple handguns to take only one handgun from the store on the day of sale, at which point a multiple sales report will be filed with ATF. The remainder of the guns can only be collected after 14 days."
The hapless businessman's Mob partner will naturally demand free access to the books. Here's the bureaucratic version of that, from the Washington Mob's contract on, excuse me, with S&W: "Provide law enforcement, government regulators, and the Oversight Commission established in this Agreement with access to documents necessary to determine compliance; cooperate fully in the Agreement's Oversight mechanism." (Da "Commission" hey, Lucky, dat's a good name you come up wit' dere! Madonn'! It really puts us on a businesslike basis, don't it?) S&W will also have the obligation to "provide quarterly sales data to ATF."
If they have any smarts, mobsters engaged in a bust-out don't merely walk off with the business's assets; they walk off with the customers' credit-card numbers, too. Anyone trading with S&W from now on will have to wonder just what's in those "documents" that the ATF will be poring over. This could be the back door to national gun registration.
There's more. Imagine a clerk who hasn't gotten with the program chasing down a shoplifter and being told, "Whad, you lookin' to get your head broke? I'm wit' Tony's crew. Dem rules don' apply to me." With respect to the requirements for "smart" guns and other "safety" technology, here's the bureaucratic Mob's equivalent: "Law enforcement and military exception. If law enforcement agencies or the military certify the need, exceptions to these requirements may be made." You'll never run into trouble as a gambler if you bet that those exceptions will be made. (And here I'd been hoping that the Secret Service would be first in line to beta-test those "smart" guns, followed closely by ATF.)
Unofficial mobsters don't always let their takeover proceed all the way to bankruptcy and liquidation. Occasionally they let the business stagger on because it can perform other services. For instance, if it is a cash business it may come in handy for money-laundering. On "The Sopranos," Satriale's Pork Store long ago fell into the mob's hands, but they've kept it open ever since, partly because its meat-cutting equipment comes in handy for ... Well, let's move on. The Washington Mob, for its part, isn't primarily interested in taking S&W's money. It's interested in expanding its own power and disarming the citizenry. Although destroying the largest domestic gunmaker would serve that agenda, the regime may decide to limit the bust-out and keep the company afloat as an utterly dependent, utterly supine entity dedicated to serving the demands of the police and military.
The traditional Mob, in making its decisions, naturally makes no attempt to expose its councils or decision-making procedures to the light of day. Quite the opposite. It decides in secret and rules by decree. Now, rule by decree is no recent innovation for the American Central Government. It goes back at least as far as Jefferson and his Louisiana Purchase and need I do more than merely mention the name Lincoln? In this century rule by decree has become the indispensable tommy gun for the capos in the White House. It's a natural and necessary feature of a vast regulatory state, and it is a big part of what many Old Republicans are referring to when they talk about the collapse of the Constitution and constitutional government.
In many cases, however, perhaps even in most cases, some statutory basis can be found for executive decrees. (I say "statutory," not "constitutional.") The biggest exception over the past 50 years has surely been the multifarious diktats, machinations, and secret agreements pertaining to the regime's illegal wars and preparations for war. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, often conducted his saber-rattling, violations of neutrality, and secret wars in direct defiance of public law. But more typically, at least in the domestic arena, Congress passes impossibly vague omnibus legislation conferring impossibly wide powers on the bureaucrats, and the bureaucrats take it from there. It's the only way a vast modern governmental apparatus could possibly function; and the only way to overturn bureaucratic rule by decree (or at least start the process over) would be to virtually dismantle the Central Government.
With the S&W agreement, President Corleone has finished fitting the republic with cement boots. The regime has extended rule by decree, the variety that is unsupported by any congressional authorization, into an important new area. It has gone from making war Mafia-style on troublesome foreigners to making war Mafia-style on troublesome (i.e., armed) Americans.
As an anarchist, I don't mean to romanticize the Constitution, which has either failed miserably or "evolved" all too well, depending on your reading of history. Nor do I mean to romanticize the old-style public lawmaking by "our" elected representatives. Congress produces tyrannical decrees right along with the bureaucrats. But in the old days, there sometimes was a saving grace. While the congressional wheeling and dealing always was hidden, as were lawmakers' real motives, the lawmaking itself was still sometimes public enough that popular outrage could derail an especially egregious measure before it was a done deal. More importantly, in Congress some of the extreme and straightforward advances of state power were subject to being watered down, rendered less efficient, or delayed by legislators beholden to competing interest groups a good example of corruption in the service of freedom.
As I say, I don't want to make too much of republican virtue as historically exemplified by Congress; but it must frighten freedom-lovers who monitor the march of leviathan to see the regime becoming even more secret, sudden, and unappealable in its rule-making to see it unashamedly imitating Lucky Luciano's Commission. The regime is emptying out the old republican forms as openly and as casually as a Mob gunsel rolling a hit vic out the door of a moving Cadillac. In my view, those old republican forms were always intrinsically defective, even counterproductive, as a bulwark of liberty. But most Americans thought they were a bulwark and thought that they were therefore good to have. More: most Americans thought they were a necessary foundation and limitation for any legitimate government.
What do most Americans think now? As the era of limitless rule by decree unfolds before us, just why is it that most Americans regard the hoods in Washington as more legitimate than the Cosa Nostra? The answers to those questions might be the most frightening thing of all.
March 24, 2000
© 2000 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.
Here's the full text of the regime's "agreement" with Smith & Wesson.
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