First Endorsement!

So I’d like to take a little break from policy discussions and talk about personal things for a little while.

The first cool thing I’d like to mention is that Robison Wells, a speculative fiction author (and fellow Mormon) whom I greatly admire, contacted me today, telling me how much he’d loved my book and asking if I wanted a cover quote from him.

Of course I said yes!

Rob is best known for his Variant series, but I was privileged to work with him as a copyeditor on his novel Airships of Camelot. I really enjoyed both the book and the process of working with Rob, and if you like good YA SF/F books, you’ll like his work too. Here’s what he said about my book:

I remember attending a devotional at BYU where Senator Harry Reid spoke. He said “I am not a Democrat in spite of being Mormon; I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon.” I feel the same way, and Daniel Friend’s book, Why More Mormons Should Be Democrats dives into this concept head first, showing, with scripture and the words of modern-day prophets and apostles, how Mormon doctrine is fully compatible with Democratic policies. This down-to-earth, reasoned approach is a must read for Mormons of any political stripe.

I’m geeking out now for several reasons:

  1. It’s always cool when someone likes your book or anything else you’ve created artistically. (And yes, nonfiction is still creative.) That feeling of happiness mixed with humility is something that I hope never goes away.
  2. It’s really cool when someone you respect likes your art—especially when they’re working in the same field! Winning the approval of your peers makes you feel like you’ve done something right.
  3. It’s really cool when someone approaches you about endorsing or promoting that piece of art. There’s nothing wrong with asking for an endorsement, but that’s not what happened in this case. Rob said this because he wanted to. And while I don’t want to disparage solicited endorsements (they can be honest and heartfelt!), somehow coming from this direction seems even more genuine.

So that’s it for now, though there will be more news to come soon. In the meantime, if you have read my book, please leave a review on Amazon. Reviews do more than anything else to boost a book’s visibility on Amazon.

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On Well-Regulated Militias

I think I see the Second Amendment differently than almost everyone else in the country. I wonder if that’s because I actually read the whole thing:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

As I read that sentence, it’s clear to me that the whole purpose of letting people keep and bear arms is so that our country can have a “well regulated militia” to help with security. Without changing linguistic meaning at all, you could flip the sentence around and make it read: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state.” If the Founders weren’t expecting to get a militia out of it, I don’t expect the rest of the amendment would have been written at all. This exact kind of citizen militia, epitomized by the minutemen, was basically our national army in the Revolutionary War. It worked really well in that war, and the Founders wanted to make sure we kept it.

We’ve never had a militia like that since.

In the War of 1812, militia units spectacularly surrendered Detroit (and therefore Michigan Territory) to an inferior British force. In the 1830s and 40s, the mobs that chased The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Missouri and Illinois were comprised primarily of militiamen, sometimes acting in their official capacity. There might be a case to be made that militias defended frontier towns against Indian raids (or at least helped deter such attacks), but when it comes to actually defending the country, we’ve found over the years that a professional army does it a lot better. And America has the biggest, best army in the world.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the “original intent” of the Second Amendment was, as its own text says, to provide for “a well regulated militia.” How might we legislate so that America has a well-regulated, modern-day equivalent of a minuteman militia? (Please note that the following is intended more as a thought experiment than an actual policy proposal.)

  • Make gun ownership equivalent to militia membership. You want to own a gun? Congratulations! You’re part of your local militia. If we ever get invaded, we’ll call on you to help. In the meantime, militia members are free to use their firearms for hunting, sporting competitions, and personal protection, just as 18th-century militia members did.
  • Make sure militia members meet basic requirements. Militia members should have reached the age of majority, should be mentally stable, should not be convicted of violent crimes, and should not have any connections to gangs, organized crime, or terrorist organizations. We’ll have to do a background check to make sure these conditions are met.
  • Make sure militia members know how to use their weapons. Militias will do our country no good unless they know what they’re doing. As part of ensuring that our militias are “well regulated,” we should make sure that each militia member knows how to properly store, care for, and shoot with his or her weapons. As with our professional military, they should prove that they are competent in each of these areas before they get to keep their weapons (in the case of the militia, taking them home with them). This will probably take the form of a training course, one for each weapon type.
  • Make sure we know our militia’s capabilities. If we ever do get invaded, we’ll need to know how many militia members we can call on and what type of arms they can bring to the fight. This is actually pretty easy if all militia members are already trained; from the training tests, we’ll know what weapons each militia member has passed off and purchased. This might sound like a “gun registry” to conservatives, and it basically is, but from a purely military and tactical perspective, it is absolutely essential to “know thyself” in any armed conflict. And the militia must know exactly what resources it has at its disposal before it goes into combat. If you’re worried about security, you can keep the list at a local level.
  • Make sure militia members stay competent over time. Militia members should practice with their units! We hope we never get invaded, but we might one day, and the militia should be ready at a minute’s notice. Militias certainly need to be practiced in order to be well regulated, though they don’t need to be at the same level of proficiency as our professional troops. One day of drills every month or two might be enough, but states and municipalities should be able to require more if they feel it necessary. Attending such training days should be compulsory requirement of remaining in the militia—and remember, the Constitution’s rationale for letting you have a gun at all is so that you can be in the militia. We should also make sure, periodically, that militia members stay proficient with their weapons and continue to meet the requirements of the background check—after all, those things can change over time.

I’m hard-pressed to think of a reason why these rules would not be good for a militia organization. (Though if you can think of some, please post them in the comments!) And believe it or not, these rules would actually go farther than some of the things that gun-control advocates are proposing. This thought experiment imagines not only universal background checks on gun buyers, but continuing background checks every few years (or less). It requires people to become proficient and pass a safety exam before taking a gun home—and that’ll probably take more time an arbitrary “waiting period” would impose. And it requires an (at least) monthly time commitment in order to keep the gun.

I’m pretty sure the NRA would call these measures “onerous.”

But they would all be essential to making an even halfway decent militia.

And proposed as militia regulations, they would all be perfectly constitutional according to the Second Amendment, which calls for “a well regulated militia.”

Now, true gun nuts (I know a few) would probably go through these hoops to keep owning their guns. A lot of them do the sort of training I’m proposing on their own time anyway. They’re exactly the kind of people we want in a militia, and we could even look at ways to encourage them to participate beyond the threat of not having their guns. The people who cause most of our country’s gun violence aren’t gun nuts, but they are the kind of people who would wash out of the militia in one ot more of the steps I’ve outlined above (and their fellow militia members wouldn’t feel safe giving them a gun anyway). Anyone who can’t be bothered to go through all of this wouldn’t have a gun, which would very probably reduce the number of firearm-related suicides and murders of passion.

Now, the one argument in favor of Americans owning guns that has an ultimate value is this: one day, the government may become tyrannical and need to be changed or replaced by force of arms. This is not an academic question to Americans; we’ve done it once before in our Revolution, and as I mentioned, citizen militias played a large role in that struggle. I personally don’t think we’ll have to worry about this unless we do something as asinine as electing Trump president, but even that could happen. Brad Torgersen said today:

“The ultimate expression of freedom, is being able to resist or deny those who would take it from you, or your family. The firearm is not just a symbol. It is a tool. Like all tools, it requires training, experience, and discipline to use effectively. Laws don’t prevent tyranny. The status quo doesn’t prevent tyranny. Individuals with free hearts and spirits, and the means and the will to say, ‘No,’ prevent tyranny.”

Surely a well-regulated militia, trained, experienced, and conditioned by the steps I’ve outlined above, is going to be heck of a lot better at resisting governmental tyranny than a bunch of random American citizens who happen to own guns. Dove and deer hunters have less than a prayer of overpowering America’s professional military. (We just saw how that would go in Oregon, and that was with law enforcement, not the military, and they were holding back.) But to ensure that power in our society is ultimately held by the people, as it should be, the people need an ultimate method of enforcing that power against a government that might turn tyrannical. The militia approach can satisfy this real and valid need for firearms.

Maybe it should be less of a thought experiment. Maybe this is one case where the “originalist” approach of the late Justice Scalia should actually be applied to the wording of the Constitution. If we truly believe that “a well regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State,” then we should have actual, regulated militias. And we should keep and bear our arms for that purpose, which is the only one explicitly called for in the Second Amendment.

And just in case you were wondering, I do go shooting every once in a while:

The troublemaking editor with a friend's AR-15.

Does Donald Trump Fulfill Prophecy?

Could Donald Trump’s candidacy really be a fulfillment of prophecy?

I think it might be. Just not the good kind.

Mosiah 29:21-24 states:

 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.

For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;

And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.

And now behold I say unto you, it is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you.

We might well replace the word king with president or ruler in its generic sense. I think this is how most Mormons would commonly interpret the scripture.

And these verses are scarily accurate in describing what a Trump presidency would look like.

“He has his friends in iniquity”

It’s not yet clear who Trump’s “friends” might be, but he will need an ally as Vice President, allies in his cabinet, and so on. Power attracts the power-hungry, so the volunteers will come from somewhere. And Trump seems much more likely than any presidential candidate to appoint actual friends of his to these powerful positions, rather than competent professionals who might actually know what they’re doing. I mean, he thinks running a real estate empire has prepared him for the presidency. There are some skills that cross over incidentally, but the two jobs are not the same. The United States of America can’t just declare bankruptcy and move on the the next investment without real consequences.

“He keepeth his guards about him”

As a presidential candidate, Trump already has a Secret Service detail guarding him. That guard would continue to protect him as president. This is as it should be; we don’t want presidential assassinations. Just because Trump is a despicable person doesn’t make murdering him any less wrong. But Mosiah’s point is that such guards make it harder to get rid of a bad ruler, and that is still salient.

And because of Trump’s narcissism, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get paranoid at some point and dramatically expand the amount of protection around himself.

“He teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him”

To a certain extent, this is standard practice for both political parties, especially where executive orders are concerned. And we do want our laws to change to reflect the will of the people. Trump seems to take this to a new extreme, however. He not only wants to tear up Obamacare, he’s willing to tear up NATO and our free trade agreements with other nations. (I know I’ve veered from talking about laws to talking about treaties, but according to Article VI of the US Constitution, “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State notwithstanding.”)

“He trampleth under his feet the commandments of God”

I wrote a whole book about how Democratic policies follow God’s commandments better than Republican ones. It’s available on Amazon for $3.99. As for Donald Trump specifically, he brags about breaking the law of chastity, and he is consistently demeaning to women, Hispanics, Muslims, and basically anyone who disagrees with him. And sure, Bill Clinton also broke the law of chastity, but he at least felt guilty enough about it to hide it. That does almost nothing to credit him, but he’s not the one running for President this year. Hillary Clinton is. And as far was we know, she hasn’t broken that law. (Why they stayed together afterwards is their own business . . . but shouldn’t we be glad to see a marriage not end in divorce?)

“And he enacteth laws . . . after the manner of his own wickedness”

This, for me, is the clincher. By his own admission, Donald Trump loves to sue people. It’s how he gets back at people he feels have wronged him. And now, he wants to change libel laws so that it’s easier to sue news organizations! Despite the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press that has been upheld by judges on both sides of the political spectrum. If that’s not a law “after the manner of his own wickedness,” I don’t know what is! Look for more proposals like this in the future.

“It is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you”

The rest of the verses I quoted above will apply if and when Trump is sworn into office. I don’t want to let it get that far. He’s not our president yet, and he doesn’t have to be! The next few chapters of the Book of Mormon give us an example of how this election could play out. We’re not yet to the day of the election, when the people will “assemble . . . themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against [Trump] . . . having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another” (Alma 2:5). I believe we’re one chapter before that, where the two groups are beginning to persecute each other:

Yea, they did persecute them, and afflict them with all manner of words, and this because of their humility; because they were not proud in their own eyes, and because they did impart the word of God, one with another, without money and without price. . . .
Nevertheless, there were many among them [the persecuted] who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists. (Alma 1:20-22)

This just happened on June 3rd. As the Washington Post reported:

Protesters jumped on cars, pelted Trump supporters with eggs and water balloons, snatched signs and stole “Make America Great” hats off supporters’ heads before burning the hats and snapping selfies with the charred remains. Several people were caught on camera punching Trump supporters.

As I’ve said before, Trump is a candidate that appeals to nothing but our base, natural-man tendencies. We should not be surprised when violence is the result. In the example from Alma, it was the good guys—members of the church—who were throwing the punches. So it was on June 3rd. But once they crossed that line, they stopped being good (see verse 24). No matter how important the cause, violence is not justified in a free society. But the parallel is nearly exact.

The Book of Mormon was written for our day. We have the example of Alma and Amlici in its pages because the very same type of event is happening right in front of our eyes. I hope and pray that our 2016 election does not lead to the same violence and bloodshed as the insurrection of Amlici in the Book of Mormon. I think that we Americans are better than that. And I like to think that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are more aware of their own scriptures than that. (As one blogger noted, Mountain West Mormons could be the demographic group that denies Trump the presidency.)

I hope we understand our scripture well enough to liken it to our day (1 Nephi 19:23). Please prove that we do.