OPINION — It’s strange how often the phrase “average citizen” comes up in the context of a proposed new law or public policy.
It often reflects a type of conventional wisdom that places primacy on the will of someone in authority over the choices of the individual.
More often than not, this expression is supposed to reinforce the idea that some things are so inherently complex or dangerous that they must be completely subject to the control of the state.
For instance, it’s been used a lot in the past couple of weeks by groups and individuals pushing for various new gun control schemes. Certain firearms, we’re told, have no place in the hands of “the average citizen.”
It also came up when Rep. Ken Ivory introduced House Bill 416 this year to the Legislature. The bill, if passed, would change Utah law to allow motorists to safely proceed against a red light, after coming to a complete stop and when there is no oncoming vehicular, bicycle or pedestrian traffic.
In both cases, the term “average citizen” is invoked to justify the need to implement or maintain government control out of the fear that, somehow, bad things may happen. It’s a not-so-subtle admonition that each of us remember that our place in society is more akin to children than self-governing adults.
It’s a more civilized way of telling us to shut up and do what we’re told.
The craziest part is that so many adults go along with this patronizing attitude without ever questioning why.
When gun control advocates claim that so-called “weapons of war” should be off limits to the average citizen, they’re implicitly trying to make the case that the state should have a monopoly on force. Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that, throughout human history, no one has killed with greater abandon or efficiency than governments which obtained an absolute monopoly on force.
Since the citizenry is the ultimate repository of power from which legitimate government draws its lawful authority, it’s fitting that the citizenry be capable of restraining an oppressive government, when necessary.
TJ Martinelli, writing for the Tenth Amendment Center, explains:
Whether people are comfortable with the truth or not, the reality is our rights are ultimately preserved either through the use of force or under the threat of violence. Everyone responds to incentives, including governments. A government that knows its citizens have the means to rise up and abolish it if it gets out of line behaves differently than the government which rules over disarmed citizenry who must comply no matter what.
If there is to be an open and honest debate about this subject, we’d be wise to approach the subject as adults, with a focus on actual data, as Delegate Nicholas Freitas suggested recently in Virginia. See the video of his comments here.
Likewise, the objections to Ivory’s proposed change to Utah’s red light law have met with deep concern that allowing citizens to exercise their judgment will lead to traffic chaos.
Keep in mind that nothing in Ivory’s bill suggests that people ignore traffic signals. It simply clarifies that, after stopping and ascertaining that it is safe to proceed, a motorist could lawfully go through a red light.
Such a clarification would free up traffic cops to go after those who are genuinely creating unsafe driving conditions by not having to pull over those who safely proceeded through a red light, after stopping. How hard is that?
Unfortunately, we’re now several generations into the kind of mental conditioning that has led too many to believe that an average citizen is incapable of safely using his or her judgment without the official prompting of the state.
Ben Sasse, in writing about the vanishing American adult, describes what made America a great nation in its earliest years:
In a nation in which creed was not handed down from on high, Americans developed a tremendous capacity for self control. Their culture was unique, entirely new and, yet, not made from whole cloth. Americans were free to draw on the legacy of the past as they saw fit, to worship as they chose, to read, speak and publish as they pleased. It was a nation of adults governing themselves by means of their reason and conscience.
It wasn’t omnipresent government or the efforts of micro-managing bureaucracies that led to America’s greatness, it was our capacity for self government. We once knew and defended our inalienable rights.
Today, we find ourselves begging to be treated as perpetual children by the growing nanny state. Instead of acting as adults, we run to the state, as imaginary victims, and implore it to be our protector and master.
Can we blame those authoritarians, whose controlling nature thrives on such attention, from obliging us by seeking to rule as many aspects of our lives as they can?
In this respect, none of us should aspire to be an average citizen.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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