Sunday, September 07, 2008

Click, Clickity-Click

Click, Clickity-Click
by L. Neil Smith
lneil -+at+-

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I don't think many people realize it any more—many of those who do are inclined to lie about it and attempt to cover it up—but the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, were written not just to protect us from the would-be kings and dictators in government, but to protect us, as well, from democracy.

On both sides of the Federalist-Antifederalist split, most of the Founding Fathers expressed hatred and fear of the notion of "absolute democracy" in which the highest law was "vox populi, vox dei" ("The voice of the people is the voice of God."), an ancient proverb that novelist Robert A. Heinlein, an unusually astute observer of history and human nature, translated as "How the hell did we get into this mess?"

The rights that the Founders chose to enumerate were meant never to be decreed, legislated, adjudicated—or voted—away. They had been placed (or at least the Founders believed) beyond the reach of politicians, bureaucrats, and the people, themselves. While they were inclined to celebrate the mind and spirit of the individual human being, the Founders knew that our species doesn't play particularly well in groups, and that the collective intelligence of a mob is that of its brightest member—divided by the number of people in the group.

So how did we get from a society in which individuals were free, and the Bill of Rights was unassailable, to a society in which nothing is allowable unless you have begged specifically for the government's permission?

There are many answers to that question—my first novel, The Probability Broach, for example, is primarily about the unfortunate influence that the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion had on American history—but my purpose here is to consider the role of two more fundamental phenomena: an irrational obsession to make the whole world "safe" for idiots, and an insatiable desire to extract big bucks from deep pockets.

The single action cartridge revolver (relax, I'm not actually changing the subject, here) is a comparatively simple contrivance, although it does require that you meet it halfway in some respects. For example, although the original 1873 Colt "Peacemaker"—and its many imitators—has six chambers for cartridges bored into its cylinder, it is only safe to load five, leaving one chamber empty so that an accidental blow to the hammer (as when you drop it, or the stirrup falls onto it from your saddlehorn when you're tightening the cinch) can't unintentionally discharge the firearm straight into your leg.

For more than a hundred years, that was the drill, and everybody understood it. It's even mentioned in movies like The Shootist, when John Wayne explains it to a young man—Ron Howard—he's teaching to shoot. All you have to do is count cartridges as you slide them, one by one, through the opened loading gate, into the cylinder. Stop when you get to five. Make sure the chamber you leave empty is the one that's just forward of the hammer, and that the cylinder is indexed—locked in place—before you close the loading gate. As impossibly complicated as it is to try to write—maybe impossibly complicated to read, as well—it's extremely simple in practice. There's even an alternative technique, involving skipping the second chamber that you roll past, but I don't care for it, and I'm not going to go into it here.

Believe me, it's much simpler than driving a car with a manual transmission.

For all of that trouble, you get four extremely soul-satisfying clicks whenever you cock the weapon, a soul-satisfaction that's frustratingly hard to describe, easy to experience, and impossible to forget. You used to be able to hear it in the opening moments of Gunsmoke.

It's the very sound of the Old West, come to life.

Click, clickity-click.

All of that changed in 1973, ... READ THE REST HERE