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SOPA, Guns, and Freedom

Internet control and gun control are not the only examples of government infringements on our liberties in an attempt to stop a few people from acting badly or irresponsibly. We must now show photo IDs to buy Sudafed at the drugstore because someone might use it in an illegal meth lab. Under ObamaCare, we must purchase government-approved health insurance because some people can’t or won’t pay their medical bills. Honest political advocacy groups must abide by campaign finance laws that mandate burdensome spending restrictions and reporting requirements, because some people might theoretically attempt to “buy influence” in an election.

To fight these bad laws, it’s not sufficient to fight merely the individual issues. We must also fight at the level of broader principle. In other words, we should not fight merely for internet freedom or firearms freedom or medical freedom, but for freedom as such. This means promoting the concept of limited government.

The proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as our rights to free speech, property (including intellectual property rights), and contract. Only those who initiate physical force or fraud can violate our rights. A properly limited government thus protects our rights by protecting us from criminals who steal, murder, rape, and so on, as well as from foreign aggressors. But it should otherwise leave honest people alone to live peacefully.

If someone uses a computer to violate individual rights, say, by disseminating pirated material, then he should be punished. Admittedly, it may be sometimes difficult to enforce intellectual property rights against overseas copyright thieves. But in the process of seeking to stop the bad guys, the government should not violate the rights of innocent people engaging in legitimate internet activities. This is just a variation on the basic principle of Western jurisprudence, “Better let ten guilty men go free, rather than convict one innocent man.”

You do not protect honest online content producers from pirates by breaking the internet for the innocent. You do not protect innocent people from criminals by disarming the good guys. You do not stop the guilty by punishing the innocent. You do not protect individual rights by violating individual rights.

The successes of gun-right activists and of anti-SOPA activists also show how to create positive political changes. In both cases, academicians, think tanks, and grass-roots activists all worked hard to shift public opinion in the right direction. As a result, gun control is now “a movement without followers.” Similarly, most previously pro-SOPA politicians have backpedalled furiously, at least for now. When Americans demand their freedom, the politicians will follow. Let’s make sure these two positive examples are just the beginning -- and not the end -- of the fight for freedom in America.