The Washington Times

July 15, 1994, Friday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 847 words

HEADLINE: Frightful 'freedom from fear'

BYLINE: James Bovard

President Clinton, touring a Chicago housing project on June 17, sought to
morally glorify warrantless police sweep searches of residents' homes. Mr.
Clinton, commenting on the searches' impact on residents' rights, declared, "The
most important freedom we have in this country is the freedom from fear. And if
people aren't free from fear, they are not free."

Mr. Clinton's statement is a triumph in demagoguery: Calling for police to
be granted carte blanche power to violate the Bill of Rights in order to give
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people freedom from fear. Unfortunately, Mr. Clinton fails to recognize that
many people have good reasons to fear the police themselves, and to fear the
failures of the police.

Gun seizures are a major goal of the housing sweeps. Yet, the public
housing authorities have grossly failed to provide police protection to the
innocent residents of the high rises. In the Robert Taylor Homes project, the
violent crime rate is 13 times the national average, and more than 20 times the
rate of safer neighborhoods in Chicago. One federally funded survey of public
housing complexes found that 40 percent of the residents considered it "very
dangerous" to be alone in their apartments at night.

The more successful gun control is in disarming citizens, the more dependent
people become on government officials for protection. But crippling citizens'
rights to defend themselves has far more impact on poor people than on rich
people, since low-income inner-city neighborhoods have far higher crime rates.

In inner-city Miami, crime is so rampant that police are often afraid to
respond to calls for help. As gun-rights expert David Kopel notes, "In
Brooklyn, New York, 911 callers have allegedly been asked if they are black or
white." A 1984 national survey found that 94 percent of respondents believed
that police did not respond quickly enough to their phone calls for help. And
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100 percent of black and Hispanic respondents stated that police should have
reacted faster.

It will be only a small step from imposing warrantless sweep searches on
public housing tenants to imposing similar searches in private apartment
buildings in high crime areas. Some local governments have confiscated
apartment buildings from their owners because the owners have failed to
successfully ban drug dealing in their buildings. In July 1992, several
Cleveland landlords informed the police of drug dealing in their buildings; the
city responded by quickly seizing the buildings and evicting all tenants, even
in a building where drug-dealing occurred in a single apartment. Local
governments even confiscate apartment buildings from owners who have been fully
cooperative with the police in fighting the drug dealers on their property. If
an apartment owner faces an ultimatum of having the police seize his property or
permitting searches of all his renters' apartments, he will likely bow to police

Gun bans in response to high crime rates mean closing the barn door after
the horse has escaped. The higher the crime rate, the less right the government
has to restrict or impede people's ability to defend themselves. Police
protection in most places is typical government work - slow, inefficient and
unreliable. According to gun ban advocates, government has a specific,
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concrete obligation to disarm each citizen, but only an abstract obligation to
defend the citizen.

The precedent of achieving "freedom from fear" by sweep searches to seize
public housing residents' guns will almost certainly be expanded in other ways.
The Clinton administration is championing the crime bill provision to ban
so-called assault weapons. The definition of assault weapons is vague, and some
senators have proposed that the ban be expanded to include all semiautomatic
weapons. If that happens, the police would have the hefty challenge of
confiscating 35 million guns.

Before putting blind faith in Mr. Clinton's promise of "freedom from fear"
via increased arbitrary power, Americans should consider his administration's
record. In April 1993, Attorney General Janet Reno publicly declared that she
was concerned about the children in the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas,
so she gassed the compound and sent Army tanks smashing through its walls. A
Justice Department report afterward concluded that the agency had done nothing
wrong - indeed, that the FBI had exercised "remarkable restraint" in the final
day's assault.

Mr. Clinton's "freedom from fear" is based on a blind faith in government.
The essence of Mr. Clinton's "freedom from fear" is forcing people to depend
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on the state - even when the police cannot or will not defend them - as if it
were better for people to die martyrs to "freedom from fear" than to stand up
for their own rights with the weapon of their own choice in their own homes.

Jim Bovard is the author of "Lost Rights: The Destruction of American
Liberty" (St. Martin's Press, April 1994).