Scott Greenfield emailed me to ask if I enjoyed the exchange with personal-sovereignty proponent Bernard Weckmann (EDITH’s husband) here. In fact I do. Weckmann is monomaniacal and essentially delusional—he thinks that the Australian Government formed a corporation called BERNARD WECKMANN when he was born, and that any document referring to him in uppercase letters refers to this corporation, so that if the government files papers with his name in uppercase letter he can ignore them and deprive the government of jurisdiction. (Woe betide Weckmann and the other “personal sovereignty” hobbyists and hucksters when the government discovers 21st-century typography.)
Engaging with Weckmann (or WECKMANN) is probably a violation of Rule One. But there is always a grain of truth in delusion, and Weckmann’s delusion is no exception. It is born of practical experience: he stopped registering his car; a magistrate wanted to impound his car for three months; he denied the magistrate jurisdiction; two years later the car is still impounded. Along the way Edith got arrested. Weckmann still doesn’t have his car, he and Edith haven’t been compensated for their lost time and property, and nobody has been punished for all the wrongs done to them. But she’s not in jail, he’s not in prison, and he has ginned up liens against the cops (not publicly filed, so without effect) so to Weckmann personal sovereignty works.
It is true that “the government has pledged its citizenry as collateral, by selling their future earning capabilities to foreign investors, effectively enslaving all Americans”—that’s an accurate description of the government borrowing money from overseas to be paid back by future tax revenues—but that borrowing did not require the formation of 300 million uppercase-named corporations or “strawmen,” and the citizen, his future earnings pledged, cannot simply opt out. There is no government-formed BERNARD WECKMANN corporation (Weckmann offers no proof that there is), and the courts will exercise jurisdiction over whom they want regardless of acquiescence. Weckmann extrapolates from his own picayune experience to the entire legal system, but the inalterable truth is that there are are many people who have diligently made all of the personal-sovereignty arguments (UCC, admiralty, fringed flags) and wound up incarcerated or dead.
Ethically, the decision to enforce a law should be based on whether the enforcer is willing personally to use violence against the violator. Arrest and prosecution are the use of violence—if there is not violence backing the decision to arrest and prosecute, the accused can just walk away. If a police officer (or a prosecutor) doesn’t think that violence would be an appropriate response to the violation, she shouldn’t be supporting the use of violence by prosecuting.
The lesson of Edith’s non-incarceration, for those who still cling stubbornly to the truth of the matter (which is that the law is what armed men enforce, through violence, with impunity) is this: that the armed men are not always willing to use violence to enforce every law.
What government officers are not willing to enforce is not the law, so if Edith violates a statute and law-enforcement officers decline to prosecute her, that statute is not the law, at least at that time and place. If Edith’s behavior (whether “sovereign” or simply “crazy”) made it less likely that the police would bother with her, then it worked: she effectively nullified the law (as applied to her then—there’s no guarantee that someone else would get the same result elsewhere, or even that Edith would get the same result twice).
Which brings us to this. In New York:
Assault-rifle owners statewide are organizing a mass boycott of Gov. Cuomo’s new law mandating they register their weapons, daring officials to “come and take it away.”
New York officials estimate that there are a million EBRs (“evil black rifles”—a more-accurate description than “assault rifles”) in the state; the new law there requires them to be registered by April 2014.
I asked the question here if those who support outlawing EBRs would be willing to point the gun themselves at a peaceable EBR owner to deprive him of his property. The one guy willing to is (ironically) so frightened of guns that he’s willing to use one to get rid of them.
To force New York’s EBR owners to register their guns, it’s going to take cops and prosecutors willing to apply violence to them—in other words, hoplophobic cops and prosecutors unsympathetic with the EBR owners. There may be a few such prosecutors, but I doubt that there are enough such cops or prosecutors to make much of an impression on New York’s EBR owners.
If the gun owners decline to participate, this law is DOA.