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Essential Liberty: They Came for Your Guns

What if the federal government decided to confiscate all civilian firearms? Would you surrender your guns? Would your friends and neighbors turn you in? Do enough Americans remain who are willing to risk their lives resisting disarmament? Would the military support the government, or the people, or both?

What if the Supreme Court rules disarmament is constitutional? Would sheriffs who previously swore to resist unconstitutional firearms laws decide to support disarmament after such a ruling?

The issue these days isn’t that the Supreme Court affirmed Second Amendment principles in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, but that four of nine justices dissented. Similarly, the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks didn’t advance — but 54 senators voted for it. If those opposing the civil right of self-defense elect just a few more representatives and senators, or replace one more Supreme Court justice, the Second Amendment’s “official” interpretation could drastically change; the questions above would no longer be academic.

The novel Essential Liberty serves as scenario training, just like tactical pistol classes help people acquire the skills to survive a potentially lethal attack. Like tactical training, Essential Liberty takes today’s news and political climate and moves them just a little farther into a possible future.

Author Rob Olive understands the basic problem with today’s debate:

Facts and logic mattered not at all, as many firearms rights supporters quickly discovered. When emotions ran as high as they did on this issue, there could be no true debate. (Page 8, Kindle Edition.)

Olive accurately portrays a likely scenario, including a series of actions by the federal government, justice system, and media that have been in play for years, though perhaps more so since the Newtown tragedy. There are deeper, darker aspects to Olive’s story that may have happened in fact, but haven’t been exposed yet. An example: we assume background-check records get destroyed as required by federal law, per below:

In cases of NICS Audit Log records relating to allowed transactions, all identifying information submitted by or on behalf of the transferee will be destroyed within 24 hours after the FFL receives communication of the determination that the transfer may proceed. All other information, except the NTN and date, will be destroyed after not more than 90 days from the date of inquiry.

But consider current events, such as the Benghazi attack on our consulate, the IRS targeting “conservative groups,” and Fast & Furious. Is it reasonable to assume the feds always destroy all copies and backups of legal firearms purchases? Wikileaks is an example of how computer records show up unexpectedly.

Then there’s the latest revelation that the National Security Agency can “intercept almost everything” sent electronically. According to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: “Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.” Is it reasonable to believe that NICS transactions over a government network are secured against another government agency tracking everything it can in the name of national security?

Having been published before all these recent government scandals, Essential Liberty becomes prophetic. When interviewed recently, Olive said: “I have NO confidence whatsoever that some sort of gun registry doesn’t already exist, in light of the NSA revelation, IRS revelation, AP wiretap revelation, etc.”

Essential Liberty opens somewhat heavily, but the reality of disarmament needs explanation. The story is informative enough to keep it interesting. There are a few other detractions, at least for some readers. Olive uses a lot of acronyms, though he initially defines them. Some readers may need to slow down to track who’s doing what. Olive’s characters speak in similar voices, exhibiting a lack of character development. He uses a lot of dialogue to set up plotlines. Great stories show.

For example, the novel contains a bar scene where Marshall Keller and Agent Myers “come clean” with their thoughts about confiscation. It comes off as forced — a device to convey how some government agents don’t want to enforce it. Cops often speak in code, and Keller’s first short answer would have revealed his perspective, making further dialogue unnecessary. According to Olive:

I had in mind for this scene to really illustrate Bobby’s anguish over the whole thing. Keller’s surprise that Bobby would open up, especially to the degree that he did, sort of alludes to the “code” you speak of having been broken in this case. I really wanted to convey more than these two law enforcement officers “coming clean.” I wanted to show how literally torn up Bobby was, as I believe many law enforcement officers would be if this ever came to pass.

Some of Olive’s writing targets “attaboys,” potentially turning off those who are the most important to reach: the undecided middle:

Of course, the mere mention of such historical facts these days could very well result in one being branded a “right-wing extremist.” Mike was always dumbfounded by the fact that the words upon which his country was founded were now considered “extreme.” (Page 6, Kindle Edition.)

Olive explained this focus:

My primary purpose in writing Essential Liberty (besides wanting to write a thriller that — by definition — entertains) was to reach those already on “our” side who take liberty for granted, who don’t pay enough attention, and who refuse to consider the possibility that a scenario like this could happen. I wanted to address complacency within our ranks more than to win over the undecided. Having said that, I’ve been told by a few readers who’ve never owned guns that they viewed Sandy Hook through a different lens as a result of having read my novel. The excerpt you reference above is critical for all of us, regardless of politics, to understand. We’ve strayed so far from our founding principles that the words our Founders used are now considered “extreme.”

Olive makes many salient points in Essential Liberty:

Far too many “gun rights people” focused on the gun issue alone, which was shortsighted and selfish, not to mention hypocritical. Freedom was freedom and it had been slipping away in this country for much of the twentieth century. (Page 62, Kindle Edition.)

Essential Liberty does show how we have lost touch with important founding values that created American greatness. Perhaps more germane in today’s political climate, Olive highlights how the American people are responsible for the politicians currently driving us to ruin; how we’re becoming a nation full of self-centered folks who don’t care if others’ rights are infringed, as long as it doesn’t infringe on our lives. But telling can draw a good story out of the novel realm and into the world of op/ed. When asked about how he worked to balance between showing and telling, Olive said:

I would, of course, argue that it is very much a novel … a thriller, but with a message. This novel was a labor of love for me, having taken more than a decade of my life (albeit intermittently) to produce. While it may seem heavy handed at times, the story conveys what I consider a vital, timely message.

Olive provides lots of material to make you think about what’s happening in America today, and what you can do about it. The pace picks up after the first quarter and the book becomes a page-turner. There are some character arcs and surprising plot twists. Olive occasionally breaks up the flow by explaining characters’ motivations instead of letting their actions tell the story. Some of the moralizing likely reduces the book’s effectiveness as outreach to those not already Second Amendment supporters. Nevertheless, this book is worth reading — most crime/adventure novels fail to address how real political and social dynamics impact current events and social policy. Considering that Olive took on complex and hot-button subject matter, and a threat that most of us prefer ignoring, Essential Liberty is worth reading because it successfully portrays today’s news as a parable of what can happen if good people do nothing.