I ran into my friend Bill Wentz down at the auto parts store yesterday. When I said "Hello," he just kept staring straight ahead
with a glazed look in his eyes. After waiting an uncomfortable minute for him to respond, I snapped my fingers in front of his
face. He gave a start. "Oh, hi," he said. "Sorry. Didn't see you there."|
"You sure didn't," I laughed. "What were you seeing?"
He reddened. "It's something that happened to me yesterday afternoon in Parkersburg," he said. "I'm still in a daze."
"'You look it," I said. "What happened?"
He hesitated. "It started with me making an assumption," he said. "It was all downhill from there."
"What kind of assumption?"
"Well, I was looking for a thermocouple for my furnace, and running around to different heating and air conditioning shops. I
went into this little one-man operation, and there was a sign in big letters on the wall behind the counter. It was that quotation
from Benjamin Franklin about liberty and security, warning that focusing on security can cost you your liberty. It's always been
one of my favorites. So I gave the guy at the counter a thumbs-up: 'Those words ring as true now as they did two hundred years
ago,' I said."
"Amen to that,' he said. 'Maybe more true, considering what we're going through."
"A kindred spirit, I thought. It was good to find somebody else who was passionate about freedom. 'The Bill of Rights is the
heart of our democracy,' I said. 'It's scary how people are willing to see those rights ripped away with nary a peep."
"Well I'm sure not giving up without a struggle,' he said. 'And I've got plenty of friends who feel the same way."
"Have you gotten anything organized?' I asked."
"Damned straight,' he said. 'Letters to the editor, phone calls to Congress, call-ins to radio talk shows, bumper stickers, the
"Wow! That's impressive!' I said. 'A few of us are trying to get something organized in Calhoun County. Maybe somebody
from your group can come and help us get started."
"We'd be glad to come,' he said. 'Any friend of liberty's a friend of mine."
"How about some evening next week?' I suggested."
"Sounds good to me,' he said. 'I'll bring some pamphlets and literature. Maybe we can get somebody from the NRA to come
"The NRA?' I said."
"Sure,' he said. 'The NRA. They'll bring copies of the Constitution with the Second Amendment in red letters. The red-letter
edition. They'll give you all kinds of material and support."
"I didn't know they cared about due process protection, habeas corpus, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, things
like that,' I ventured doubtfully."
"Due process? Habeas corpus? What the hell are you talking about?"
"You know. Due process. Where the legal system has to give everybody the opportunity to know the charges against them,
have effective counsel of their own choosing, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the right to appeal. All those basic
protections that keep the government from grabbing anybody they want, tossing them in the clink, and throwing away the
"Listen,' he reassured me, "as long as John Ashcroft is Attorney General, you don't have to worry about the Constitution. He's
the best friend the Second Amendment ever had."
"John Ashcroft!' I said incredulously. 'The man is frightening! When it comes to the Bill of Rights, he's deaf and dumb! If the
country follows the route he charts, America will become a police state!"
"You can't be serious,' he said. 'When people wanted records of gun purchases by the airplane hijackers, he turned 'em down
flat. No way he was going to trample on their Second Amendment rights."
"The Bill of Rights has ten amendments! TEN!' I screamed. 'You can't even count past TWO, and you skip ONE!"
"That got him hot. 'I can't say as I like your attitude,' he said. 'People like you are almost as big a threat as the terrorists. You
know what Ashcroft said: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your
tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve."
"So basically he implied that you were pro-terrorist because you supported the Bill of Rights," I said.
"Yeah, that's what it comes down to. The scary part is that when he told me that I was aiding terrorists, and that a well-armed
citizenry is the backbone of our freedom, not our system of guaranteed legal protections, I could have shot him if I'd had a
"What's your point?" I said.
"He wasn't apathetic. He cared about freedom in his own way. We started out using the same language, thinking we were
talking about the same thing. I used to worry about guys like him. Now I worry about me too."