A government's credibility is its only asset. It's simply not possible to hire enough police to force everyone to obey the law, and even if you could, who'd make sure that the police themselves would follow the law?
The only way a society can survive is if the vast majority of the population - significantly north of 90%, some say 95% - actually agree that the government is doing a decent job and that they ought to give at least tacit support. Any government that loses most people's confidence will fall.
Confucius pointed this out 2,500 years ago:
“Before the sovereigns of the Shang (Dynasty) had lost (the hearts of) the people, they were the mates of God. Take warning from the house of Shang.”
“… if the people have no faith (in their rulers), then there is no standing (for the state).”
Our Founders put it more explicitly when they said that government rules with the consent of the governed, but the idea is the same. Governments fall when they lose too much credibility.
That's why it's disturbing when ABC reports polls which show that public confidence in our government is declining:
Confidence in the US system of government has dropped to a new low in more than 35 years, with public attitudes burdened by continued economic discontent, soaring gasoline prices, record opposition to the war in Afghanistan -- and a letdown in hopes for political progress after a bout of bipartisanship last fall.
We agree with the result of the poll, but we don't think that ABC understands the basic reason for the decline: people are deciding that our government is simply incompetent.
Citizen's actions show that many voters believe that government can't even keep order and prevent crime. This was brought home to us when gun and ammo purchases skyrocketed after Mr. Obama won the 2010 election.
Guns cost a great deal and it's a lot of bother to get a permit. Why would sensible people go to the bother and spend all that money? It's not for hunting or target shooting, those industries haven't prospered in the same way as gun shops. People are losing confidence in the government's ability to keep order.
Loss of confidence in the police started long before that, however. USA Today reported:
Trayvon Martin's death Feb. 26 at the hands of a Neighborhood Watch leader in this small, gated Florida community has rippled through many corners of the nation's justice and political system and raised questions about the relationship between the black community and police in small towns.
Mr. Martin was black; Mr. Zimmerman, the shooter, is Hispanic. He wasn't arrested because he claimed self-defense, offering a bloody nose and a wound on the back of his head as evidence. The right to self-defense is recognized by a Florida law known as "Stand Your Ground" which says that citizens are not obliged to retreat when threatened and can take violent action in self-defense. Infamous black leader Malcolm X himself would probably have supported the right not to retreat:
We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.
—Malcolm X, 1965
Despite the New York Times' report that blacks and minorities commit 98% of all violent crimes in New York City, race-baiting victimologists such as Al Sharpton have been yelling about "profiling" and calling for mass protests.
The anti-gun crowd is criticizing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law which asserts that a person can initiate violence in self-defense if he "reasonably believes" that he's in danger. Although the right of self-defense is fundamental to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, only 24 states have similar laws. Other states require that a person being threatened retreat. Some even require retreating out of one's own home instead of initiating self-defense.
We see this incident as a warning to our rulers that they're losing our trust. The shooter had a license to carry a gun. He was a leader of the "Neighborhood Watch" in a "small, gated community."
Back in the Middle Ages, cities had walls to keep criminals out. Why do 10% of American homeowners spend the money for walls around their neighborhoods? Why do people who live behind walls need neighborhood watches in addition? Why are there more privately-paid guards than public policemen? Because people have lost confidence in our government's ability to protect us.
Why did Mr. Zimmerman have a concealed carry permit? Because he was tired of living in a victim disarmament zone. He'd lost confidence in his government's ability to protect him.
The New York Times gave us a bit of background:
The neighborhood watch movement came together some 40 years ago through the efforts of the National Sheriffs’ Association. Chris Tutko, the national director for the program at the association, said there were 25,000 registered neighborhood watch groups in the United States today, and far more unregistered groups like the one in Sanford.
Citizens began to lose confidence in their government and started taking responsibility for protecting themselves 40 years ago. There are now 25,000 registered groups and far more that have so little confidence in the authorities that they haven't bothered to register. Guard duty is the most boring military activity imaginable, why do so many Americans think it necessary?
USA Today points out that 12 states are considering laws which would remove the requirement to get a permit to carry a gun. Their political leaders and voters have noticed that crime rates are low in the four states - Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming — that do not require carry permits.
In New Hampshire, Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell's bill has cleared the House. Hoell points to the recent school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, as a failure of gun control. "Gun-free zones kill people," he said. [emphasis added]
For many years, we watched more and more anti-gun regulations become law. More and more states became victim disarmament zones. Over the last few years, however, we've seen many changes like "Stand your Ground" which are favorable to gun owners.
Why the change? Because people are losing confidence in government's ability to perform the most basic function of government, ensuring public safety. As people feel less and less safe, they're beginning to understand that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away. Once people decide that they can't depend on government, they get ready to defend themselves.
We mourn Mr. Martin's death; it seems that he did not in fact violate any law, certainly nothing worthy of capital punishment. There may be ambiguities in Mr. Zimmerman's statement that he had to shoot in self-defense - he may have initiated the interaction by following Mr. Martin, something the police operator told him not to do. Following Mr. Martin isn't a crime in and of itself since they were both on a public street.
In any case, we regard the right of self-defense as fundamental. The recent shootings in France and Norway, which have very strict gun-control laws, show that guns are available to anyone who really wants one.
Who wants to live in a victim disarmament zone? That might be OK if we could depend on government for our safety, but we can't.
Instead of seeing this as a wake-up call, however, pro-government forces are calling for more and more controls. The media go along, downplaying the number of crimes that are prevented by armed citizens and pretending that people should leave their safety to the government.
Mr. Martin's unnecessary death is a tragedy, but it shouldn't obscure the full breadth of the ongoing social tragedy:
Who wants to live in a victim disarmament zone? We don't, and an unfortunate mistake by a well-meaning Hispanic gentleman fearing for his own safety and trying to protect his home shouldn't force us to.