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The Gun in the Room and Public Schools


Szandor Blestman

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” – George Washington

The gun in the room allegory refers to the nature of government. While many people do not want to think about it and likely do not want to admit it, government is force. Every law made, every tax passed, every regulation imposed, is backed up by the threat of force being used against you. Many famous people knew this and have commented on it. The quote above attributed to George Washington is perhaps the best known. Even Barack Obama recently confessed that he feels the nation state is a monopoly on violence. I’m not sure who was the first to present “the gun in the room” allegory, but I’ve heard it attributed to both Harry Browne and Murray Rothbard. Anyway, I thought I’d try to present my own short explanation of the gun in the room.

Let’s say there’s two people in a room. They are sitting with a table between them. On the table is a gun. They are arguing about something they consider important, say the education of children, and how it should be funded. One person is arguing that the parents of the child should have to pay for its education and the other one is arguing that the cost should be divided between all people who live in the community regardless of whether they have children or not and whether they will use the school services or not, because the education of children is so important and they are our future.

The argument becomes heated. After all, it’s a very emotional issue. Both parties have good intentions and wish the best for mankind and its progeny. After a while, neither party has given an inch. Suddenly, one party picks up the gun and points it at the other party. He threatens to use it if the other doesn’t agree with him. The other party, the one with the gun pointed at him, is taken aback. He takes a couple of breaths, looks deep into the eyes of the one pointing the gun, decides he’s serious and will, in fact, use the gun, throws up his hands and tells the other guy that he now agrees with him. The guy who picked up the gun now puts it in his waistband and leaves the house with a smug smile, content that he has won the argument.

In realty, it was the man arguing for community funded schooling that won the argument and the gun he picked up was government. He picked up the gun and took it with him. Those who would argue with him realize in the backs of their mind that he still has the gun. They know he’ll use it. They also know that his friends, AKA the corporate mass media, will not widely broadcast these issues and will pat him on the back and tell him to keep any dissenters in line. Those who disagree have been cowed into keeping their mouths shut so they just go along to get along and try as best they can to minimize the intrusions he might make on their lives.

Recently, I wrote an article in which I tried to explain why I couldn’t enthusiastically support the peaceful protestors in Wisconsin and other states. I couldn’t support either side of the argument because of the inherent violence of the state. Apparently, I failed miserably. I’ve received feedback that’s indicated to me that the ideas I was trying to convey were missed by some readers. It is my hope that I will be able to clarify my thoughts on this issue.

An emailer wrote and felt I what I had said was untrue. He felt that much could be done to improve the level of service people get from the state, specifically the state run school systems. He pointed out that they could send their children to private schools and made a comparison between the cost of private schools versus the cost of public schools. He also asked the question to the effect of what greater gift can we give our children than education?

I wrote a long letter to this gentleman to try to explain a bit better what I meant to say. Perhaps I should have said that many people feel that there is nothing that can be done rather than stating there is nothing they can do. That is what I meant to say anyway and it is not so much an untrue statement. I also went on to explain that I am writing opinion pieces and not necessarily doing factual reporting. Although I try to be as accurate, truthful and factual as possible in my writing, I am only human and sometimes I don’t catch errors in my wording that can be interpreted differently than the concept I was trying to get across.

I explained that people have to pay for public schooling whether they use it or not. This is because of the gun in the room. If one refuses to pay his property taxes, or that part of the tax which pays for public schools, then one will quickly find himself imprisoned, losing his property, or worse. Actually, in the email, I used the example of the master/slave relationship, that we are all slaves to government. It amounts to about the same thing since an unarmed man becomes a slave to someone with a gun if he wants to stay alive. It becomes a question not only of private property ownership, but of who owns whom.

If one refuses to pay his taxes, more specifically property taxes, one will quickly find out that he does not own his “private property.” Even if one owns the property outright, or even has had the property in the family for generations, they will quickly find out who really owns their property if they refuse to pay their taxes regardless of whether or not any of their services were ever used. So, if a family decides it wants to send its children to a private school, will they be able to stop paying the portion of its property tax used to fund schools? I think not. If they were, how about those households that have no children using the schools, will they be afforded the same courtesy? I think not.

This more or less indicates to me that the “community” owns your property. Never mind that it was your labor that led you to be able to afford that property, or that you came to “own” it in some other legal way. Let’s make the assumption that most people are able to afford their homes because they work hard and earn money to pay for it. Even if they have paid off their mortgage and own title to the property, it can be taken if they refuse to pay their taxes. Supposedly they own that property due to the product of their labor, but they really don’t unless they continue to give a portion of the product of their labor to the “community.” What kind of relationship is this between the property owner and the community? Well, when someone else owns the product of another’s labor, that sounds like a master/slave relationship to me. That certainly is not freedom. If a master owns a slave, can the slave own himself? Even if it is just a percentage of the product of one’s labor, then that person is that percentage a slave.

As for the cost of education if it wasn’t subsidized by the state, well it’s difficult to say whether it would be more or less expensive. I think at that point the market would determine the value of the education and individual families would have to determine for themselves if their money would be best spent on that education or on something else. I can say this, however, without property taxes families would have thousands of extra dollars to work with in terms of sending their children to school. Also, competition tends to drive prices down, so there is every reason to believe that there would be many affordable choices to choose from and even the poorest in our society would have the means to send their children to school if they wished to.

I would like to point out that life is education and that one does not stop learning just because one has left school. Taking your child fishing, or on a nature walk, or even to a carnival can be educational. Teaching them to hunt, fish or plant a garden is probably more valuable than sending them to school. Why should the bureaucrats at the department of education or the school board decide what’s the most important thing for my child to learn? Shouldn’t that decision be up to me? You might say I’ll make a bad decision, but so might they. When I make a bad decision, it affects my children, when they make a bad decision, it affects all the children at that school. Since the state is in charge of the school and the purse strings, isn’t it more likely that the state will teach children propaganda that helps maintain the state’s power? There is lots of evidence that home schooled children get an education quite a bit better than children who graduate from the public school system. There is even quite a bit of evidence that they do better in college. I know two of the smartest people I ever knew at the University of Illinois were home schooled.

As for the question, “What greater gift can we give our children than education?” I give a simple answer. Freedom is a greater gift. I think we should work toward an open, voluntary society where interactions between people happen on a voluntary basis. There should be no taxation. Government should have to fund itself the same way charities and private businesses do. Private property and individual rights should be honored and remain unalienable especially by institutions of governance. What greater gift can we give them than a society where they have as much opportunity as possible to reach their full potential? What greater gift is there than to break the chains that bind the body and mind to the state? What greater gift is there than self reliance and independence?

The emailer also made a profound statement. “It is time to consider what we value in this society.” I agree with that statement. I think it is time for each individual to consider what he truly values in this society. I believe everyone will have a different answer to that question. That is the very reason I value freedom so much. Freedom gives everyone the most opportunity to work toward what they value most.

Yes, it is time to consider what we value most. Do we, as a nation, truly value freedom above all else? If so, shouldn’t we better define exactly what it means to be free? Shouldn’t we be honoring our neighbors’ choices as we would want them to honor ours and not trying to force them to conform to ways they may not want to conform to? Shouldn’t we be honoring individual rights rather than promoting group privileges? Isn’t it time we figure out a better way and start practicing it rather than looking to socialist countries and trying to emulate them? Isn’t that really what America was supposed to be about, a place where the downtrodden could come to get away from government force and government programs, a place where we can say leave us alone, we can take care of ourselves?

Apparently, we have forgotten what it means to be free and have tacitly allowed ourselves to be enticed by the sirens’ song of collectivism. We have forgotten the lessons of history and have become doomed to repeat it. Perhaps if schools had taught lessons on what freedom truly was and what it meant to be independent we would have better maintained the individualist philosophy the founders so ascribed to. Of course, once the schools became controlled by the public sector, they wouldn’t want to teach that which would weaken their power. Perhaps that’s why communism counts public schools as one of the planks of its doctrine. Once you can entrap the minds of children through indoctrination, you will soon have a generation of obedient serfs who will not question the leadership of those who wish to keep the power for themselves and enslave the rest of humanity so that they can steal the vast majority of the wealth created from those who create it.

Regardless of how far down the road we’ve gone, it is never too late to turn back. It is never too late to reclaim our heritage. It is never too late to reclaim liberty and freedom, especially for our children. The secret is to just say no. It is disobedience. The more who disobey, the more who dissent, the more those at the top won’t know what to do. For the first few, it is rough. There are already many tax protestors who have died at the hands of the violent government, and many more who have ended up in prison. Once enough of them are refusing to pay, however, once enough of them have taken to the streets, once enough people are standing up and saying no, the bureaucrats will not know how to handle it. At that point, they will be confronted by their inherent immorality and they will have to give in. At that point, we will be able to begin a genuine paring down of government and the first steps along the road to genuine freedom and prosperity.

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One Response

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