[Author’s note: if you’re tired of Trump or the election, try this short story. I had the idea for this story a few days ago, after I heard a Planet Money podcast about the history of smart guns. Parts of this story — about the Colt Company’s attempts to manufacture smart guns, their disastrous demonstration with the Wall Street Journal, and Barack Obama’s executive order — are true. The rest is an educated guess about what might happen in the future.
This is not a pro-revolution piece, as you will see if you read all the way to the end. That said, there is a reason I wanted to publish it today. Lazy leftists’ opinions are not welcome. The rest of you: enjoy, and let me know what you think. — Patterico]
“But what about our Second Amendment rights, President Broadsman?” Tony Mark asked theatrically.
Cass Long tilted his head slightly to the right, as both men had seen President Pierre Broadsman do countless times on 3V. “What is this Second Amendment of which you speak?” Long intoned, as if addressing the entire tavern.
“Our God-given right to bear arms?” Mark asked.
Long tilted his head even further. “Who is this ‘God’ of whom you speak?”
“Excuse me, Mr. President,” said Long. “What gives you the right to seize the firearms of the law-abiding citizens of this country?”
The tilt of Long’s head reached nearly 45 degrees, and his face bore a mock-serious expression. Mark imitated the expression, and tilted his own head likewise. Both men slid off their stools to their feet. “IT IS FOR THE GOOD OF SOCIETY!” they intoned together, as their exaggerated serious expressions broke into laughter.
A couple in a booth turned to look at Long and Mark. Long held the man’s gaze until the man turned away.
The men sat back down on the stools. Long quoted the Conservative Party’s knock on Broadsman: “‘Broadsman: Ignoring amendments from the Second to the 22nd.’ Not this time, pal. Your fifth term is your last.” Long took a sip from his bottle of beer and said: “Putting that son of a bitch up against the wall is going to be the best part of this whole thing,” he said.
Mark looked at Long steadily. “I think freeing Reisman is going to be the best part.”
Long returned the look. “When it goes down, Reisman will be freed. Everyone will be freed. Nobody will ever be imprisoned for exercising their rights again.” Long spat angrily. Mark knew what was coming. “To secure these rights,” Long said, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
“I know,” Mark replied. “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends…”
Long finished the sentence with Mark: “…it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.”
“Damn straight,” Long said. He added: “Mark, I love Reisman too. But I also love what he stood for — what he stands for — and I know you do too. He wouldn’t be happy if all we did was bust him out of jail. Don’t you see?” Long leaned forward towards Mark. “We’re not just going to alter the government, Tony. We’re going to abolish it.” He straightened up, nodded, and took another sip of beer. “Come April 20, Reisman will be free. The whole damned country will.”
Mark looked down at the table and said nothing.
* * * *
Mark had to admit, the plan actually might work.
It all went back to the 1990s, when an investment banker from New York named Donald Zilkha bought the legendary Colt’s Manufacturing Company. Zilkha had an idea that sounded like a stroke of genius — if you were, like Zilkha, a New Yorker who had never fired a gun. He wanted to build a “smart gun”: a gun that would fire only when its owner was the one pulling the trigger.
But there was a problem. There were a lot of problems, actually. Cops and gun enthuasiasts didn’t trust the guns to work. And even gun control advocates didn’t like the idea, fearing that guns would become too mainstream if everyone thought they were safe. Ultimately, the idea became toxic after a demonstration to a Wall Street Journal reporter ended in disaster. The CEO of Colt put on the special wristband that was supposed to communicate wirelessly with the smart gun, and then picked up the gun and pulled the trigger . . . and nothing happened. The publicity from the front-page story killed the smart gun program at Colt.
But Democrats were enamored of the smart gun idea. President Barack Obama ordered government agencies to conduct feasibility studies to evaluate whether government agencies could employ smart guns. Surreptious funding under the Hillary administration kept the gun manufacturers’ research going over the decades. It continued under the Chelsea administration, and intensified under Broadsman. But the programs were very secretive. Nobody wanted to repeat the Colt disaster.
But then, nobody expected the Z-series microtransmitter.
The Z-series made possible, among other things, the wonders of the 3V — an entertainment experience that many swore rivalled reality itself. 2055 was the year that the handwringing of the early 21th century about limited “broadband” access suddenly seemed as comically antiquated as the giant Harvard Mark 1 computer of the 1940s had seemed in 2010. Movies, gaming, and all other digital entertainment was, in a matter of months, utterly smooth, three-dimensional, and almost literally endless.
And, among many other consequences of the Z-series, the on-again-off-again smart gun research was revived with a vengeance. Within 13 years of the introduction of the Z-series, wireless smart-gun technology was deemed foolproof. In 2071, the NRA celebrated its 200th birthday with a campaign against the technology — but even the NRA could no longer credibly argue that the technology would prevent guns from firing. When President Broadsman declared: “Z-series wireless technology is as reliable as a trigger,” the NRA couldn’t deny it. Instead, the NRA tried to tell America that computerizing firearms would give the government more control over their operation — a claim that leftists ridiculed as rank paranoia.
Neither President Broadsman or the NRA knew about Sabine Hessler.
They didn’t even find out after Reisman was arrested. Which was the greatest testament to Reisman’s loyalty that Mark could imagine.
* * * *
Mark would never forget the day that Long brought him the news.
“Mark, Reisman has been arrested,” Long said.
“What? What happened?” Mark asked.
“Weapons violation,” Long said.
“Of course it was.” Mark had a sudden, awful thought. “Did they find out about Sabine?”
“No,” Long said. “But it’s almost certainly a matter of time.”
Sabine Hessler was a top programmer at Smith and Wesson. What the government didn’t know — what nobody except Mark, Long, and Reisman knew — was that she was also a member of the notorious Heller Group run by Long, Mark, and Reisman. The Heller Group had been on the U.S. Government’s Domestic Terror Watchlist for 20 years. It was an open secret that the movements of top H.G. leaders were routinely monitored by FBI agents. Outwardly, Long and Mark acted as though they had no idea. They still routinely mocked President Broadsman in public, and talked with abandon about their Second Amendment rights — as if they didn’t care that their statements could end up as part of an affidavit in support of a warrant to search their houses.
And, as it happened, all H.G. leaders had had their homes searched at least half a dozen times. Broadsman and his goons were not known for being subtle. As Broadsman would always say: “It Is For the Good of Society!”
But Long, Mark, and Reisman were more clever than Broadsman gave them credit for. They had secret places to meet that Broadsman didn’t know about. And they had Sabine Hessler.
Hessler had come to them in 2068 with a microchip that she said contained a secret that only the tinfoil-hat crazies at the NRA had dreamed of. Only the NRA thought the government would get the secret . . . not the Heller Group! As one of the developers of S&W’s smart-gun technology, Sabine Hessler had developed a way to defeat the wireless technology of S&W’s smart guns. The Z-series wireless technology! Countless editorials in the New York Times and Washington Post had assured the public that no such thing was possible. And here, Sabine Hessler held that impossibility in the palm of her hand.
With Hessler’s secret, any smart gun could be jammed. All of them could. All of them.
Long and Mark saw the implications immediately. This microchip, dwarfed in size by one of Sabine’s fingernails, could overthrow the entire United States Government.
It all went back to President Broadsman’s order that the U.S. Government replace all conventional firearms with Z-series smart guns by July 4, 2076. “On that day, the 300th anniversary of the founding of our nation, we will declare independence from the menace of uncontrolled firearms!” Broadsman declared in his 2064 State of the Union speech. The executive order would apply to all law enforcement agencies — and even the military.
This had not been a popular order among the federal rank and file. FBI agents and other federal law enforcement agents had quit in droves. There had even been a minor rebellion at Fort Leonard Wood, as soldiers — resisting the order to surrender their conventional firearms — temporarily took over the Major General’s office. President Broadsman signed an executive order allowing summary execution of the rebels, and not long after, he presided over a public ceremony in which all conventional federal weaponry was destroyed. The tricentennial pledge had been fulfilled two years early.
Broadsman and the Democrats always maintained that this was just a federal initiative. But states had been passing their own smart-gun legislation for years. Long and Mark knew it was just a matter of time until all citizens were restricted to smart guns.
But, with the information on Sabine Hessler’s microchip, it was enough that the entire U.S. Government had “smart” guns. Because Sabine Hessler — in Mark’s mind the greatest patriot since Nathan Hale — had given the Heller Group an unparalleled opportunity.
With the ability to render useless any firearm wielded by any member of the U.S. government, the Heller Group was the first rebel group in U.S. history with a real chance of taking over the entire federal government.
They had the arsenal, Long said. All they needed was enough people. And to keep Sabine’s secret safe. The date was set: April 20, 2075. On that day, Long said, the tree of liberty would be refreshed — but not with the blood of patriots. Broadsman’s blood, and the blood of the rest of the feds, he said, would be enough to nourish the tree.
But Mark didn’t know if all that could happen. Even if the government could be disarmed, he said, how could the Heller Group get enough people to overtake the entire federal government? He wanted to free Reisman. He saw Long’s proposal as overly ambitious. Doomed to fail.
Reisman would never be free.
He decided to confront Long.
* * * *
“No,” said Long. “Absolutely not. Out of the question.”
Mark had spent the last ten minutes outlining his case. He barely mentioned his concerns that the revolution might not work. Long would not take that argument well. So Mark hit on the theme of loyalty to Reisman. He wasn’t saying the revolution would fail. But Reisman was critical to their mission — and Reisman had been there from the beginning. They owed it to him to make freeing him a priority.
Long trained his grey gaze on Mark. “The revolution is the top priority. Freeing Reisman before we utterly crush this government is too great a risk.”
“But Long –”
“No, hear me out. Do I need to list the transgressions of this administration for you? Armed raids on anyone who disagrees with them? Laws that forbid political advertising not approved by Broadsman’s hand-picked ‘Free Speech Commission’? The abolition of any notion of freedom of association? Reisman is far from the only political prisoner in this country. Are we going to free them all with Broadsman still in power? No. He goes first. It’s the way it has to be.”
“Listen, Long, if anyone has a right to be upset at Broadsman, it’s you. If I had a wife, and Broadsman did to her what he did to Evelyn –”
“This is not about Evelyn!” Long snapped. “I’ll never forgive him for that, but there is so much more at stake.” He paused, and for the first time in Mark’s memory, Long’s notoriously steady stare failed him. Long blinked several times and looked at the table. But when he lifted his head, the gaze was back, as pitiless as ever. “You’re a valued member of the organization, Mark. But I’ve made my decision.”
I’m the original member of the organization, pal, Mark thought. I was here years before you were. But Mark said nothing.
And so, desperate, three weeks later Mark approached Smith, a top Heller Group agent, with his plan to free Reisman before the revolution.
* * * *
To his surprise, Smith signed on to Mark’s plan one week from the time Mark first brought it up. Mark had started the conversation gently, by talking about his loyalty for Reisman.
It wasn’t long before Mark started recounting to Smith his conversations with Long — conversations that, Mark said, showed that Long had gone off the deep end.
“And then I asked him: what if someone held a gun to your daughter’s head?” Mark said to Smith. “And Long says to me: ‘Is he a government agent?’ I said, ‘Well, no.’ And Long says: ‘Then you can’t take his gun.'”
“So then I asked him, ‘What if he said he was going to rape her?'” Mark said. “Long says to me: ‘Is he a government agent?’ I said no. And Long says: ‘Then there is never any justification for taking any firearm away from a citizen.'”
“The guy is a total fanatic,” Mark continued, warming to his subject. “He’s fine with the worst criminals having guns — as long as they’re not working for the government. Is that crazy or what?”
“Well,” Smith said. “I get what he means. I mean, Broadsman is the guy who wants to take guns from the citizens. Not us.”
“I know,” said Mark. “But Long’s just nuts. He’s totally unreasonable. And I’m really worried that he’ll never pull this off.” Mark paused, wondering if he’d said too much. “I mean I hope he does,” he added. “But I just really want to get Reisman out first. Just think about it, OK?”
“OK,” said Smith. And to Mark’s surprise, one week later, Smith said he was in. He would help organize a break-out of Reisman from custody before the revolution went down. If everything went south, at least they’d have Reisman.
“I’m so glad you’re helping me,” said Mark. “You know what Broadsman would say.”
Smith nodded. “It Is For the Good of Society,” he said — and smiled bitterly.
They set the date: April 19. One day before the revolution. It would give Broadsman the least amount of time to react. Mark reached down, as he often did, and grabbed his own personal handgun as if to reassure himself that it was still there. “From my cold, dead hands,” he said.
Smith nodded. “From our cold, dead hands,” he said.
* * * *
Mark awoke the day of April 19, tired. He felt like he could barely sleep. Yet he felt a grogginess that he couldn’t attribute to his tossing and turning. He reached habitually for his weapon.
It wasn’t there.
Mark took a step towards his door. He didn’t remember leaving it closed. He turned the knob.
It was locked.
What in the hell was going on??
Mark pounded on the door. He waited, and pounded again. This time he yelled. He waited, pounded, and his yelling turned almost into screaming.
When the door opened, Long and Smith were standing together on the other side. They did not look surprised. Then they both drew firearms and pointed them . . . at Mark.
Smith did all the talking. Long just stared at him, as Smith said: “You have probably figured out that I went to Long the day you mentioned your traitorous plan. Long had been concerned about you for some time. We couldn’t permit an independent raid to rescue Reisman. Broadsman would have found out how we did it. He would have found out about the Z-series microtransmitter. It would have killed the revolution.”
“But the revolution won’t work!” Mark said. “You still have time to call off this madness! The federal government is just too big!”
Smith and Long both looked at Mark. Long’s mouth turned up, ever so slightly, in one corner. Smith said: “Mark, there’s something you need to see,” said Smith.
Smith switched on the 3V, and suddenly the room was filled with footage of people being marched out of offices, and TV anchors with professional but panicked looks on their faces. Mark recognized some of his friends, pointing guns at people in uniform. Mark looked in shock as a man he had met last month pointed a gun at Broadsman’s head and pulled the trigger.
“My God,” he said, not sure if he was talking to himself or to Long and Smith. “It’s really happening. It’s working!”
He looked at Long and Smith again. “But why today? It was supposed to happen tomorrow.” He felt again for his waistband. “And where’s my gun??” He turned to Long, who gazed at him coolly. “Cass. You can’t tell me you took my gun. I’m a civilian. I’m not a government agent!”
Smith shook his head. “As I told you, Long had suspected you were a problem for . . . some time now. You were told the wrong date, as a precaution.”
Smith continued: “Anyway, surely you recognize the significance of the day, Tony. April 19, 2075.”
“Of course. The anniversary of the shot heard around the world,” Mark said. Not only had it been all over the 3V in recent days, but he had overheard H.G. members mention it — albeit, he now realized, always in somewhat hushed tones.
“How could we wait until tomorrow?” Smith asked Mark. “How could you ever think we could wait until tomorrow?”
Mark looked back at the 3V, and noticed footage of Heller Group members entering private homes and pulling people out at gunpoint. He looked at Long. “Those people aren’t government agents either, Cass. What the hell is going on, Cass? Why is this happening a day early? Where’s my gun? Why are you taking everyone’s guns, Cass? What gives you the right?!”
And, at that moment, Long spoke for the first time that morning. And somehow Mark know what Long was going to say. It was a phrase he had heard Broadsman say so many, many times. Yet, somehow, when Long said it now, it didn’t surprise Mark at all.
The only thing that surprised him — just a little — was that when Long said the words . . . he said them without a trace of irony.