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Will a cashless society breed a gunless society?

Gun owners are undoubtedly one of America's most heavily regulated groups. For example, each time that you buy a new firearm there are forms to fill out and records to be made. At the very least you can always count on confronting the federal government's form number 4473 for each new firearm purchased. But, in most cases, there is also some combination of state and local forms that must be completed before your newly acquired gun can be taken home. Then again, there are those among us who live in particularly enlightened communities where, in addition to requiring that forms be filled out, also demand waiting periods, permits, references, justification, training courses, and sometimes I suspect a letter from Mom.

I am told that there are more than 20,000 laws in this country at all levels of government that are directed at regulating the purchase, possession, transportation, and use of firearms. That is a lot of laws! Unfortunately, only a few of these laws have proven to be of any value in fighting crime. The few laws that have been of any value to society are characterized by the fact that they are directed at the criminal misuse of firearms and not at simply making life difficult for the average law-abiding gun owner. I suspect that if all of the useless regulations were laid end to end the only thing that they would lead to is some bureaucrat's job security.

The point that I am trying to make is that gun owners as a group (I am including hunters) know what it is like to live under government control. In addition to existing controls, gun owners are constantly fighting off the efforts of various elitist groups that have committed themselves to accelerating the evolutionary process of gun control with the ultimate goal of bringing about the extinction of that species known as the Great North American Gun Owner.

Because of their need to constantly be on guard, America's gun owners have been able to develop a very sober attitude about excessive government regulation. They are able to see with greater clarity just how a creeping bureaucracy smothers individual freedom for the sake of some mythical greater collective good. I believe that the key to preserving individual freedom in the future may very well depend on groups like America's gun owners. Because as technology advances, our right to keep and bear arms will no longer be a separate issue, it will become entwined with our other basic freedoms facing the same collective assault. It will be up to America's gun owners to sound the alarm because we should be among the relatively few groups to clearly see the danger ahead.

Exactly what does the future hold for America's gun owners? Controls and regulations like nothing you have known in the past; however, everybody will be affected and everything will be involved. It is a future with the built-in potential for being oppressive far beyond anything that you could presently imaging. The future may very well produce an America where no one will be able to hide from the eyes of technology.

The words in the preceding paragraph are strong, perhaps even hysterical. I sincerely hope that they are eventually proven to be more paranoid than prophetic. But, the technologies that I will be discussing from this point on can easily be perverted so as to totally smother individual freedom. The future that I am concerned about is one of several possible futures. Unfortunately, I believe that it is, at this time, the most likely.

What do the big bankers dream about? They dream of a "cashless society", an economy absolutely devoid of currency, coins and checks. They desire only plastic and the electronic transfering of funds. To the financial bigwigs of our time, Utopia would consist of fortunes recorded on tape. From a purely business point of view it's not hard to understand why bankers dislike all of that paper and metal. Checks and cash are cumbersome, expensive, and very time consuming to process. Checks, in particular, are viewed by the financial elite as a real pain in the you-know-what, because of the seemingly unlimited number of errors associated with them. It is easy to see why bankers have been drooling over the most recent advances in computer technology and communications. The hardware necessary for a truly cashless monetary system is nearly here.

Is it really possible for the average citizen to go about his daily routine without the benefit of dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels and even pennies? Yes! The speed and capacity needed to process the hundreds of millions of transactions that take place each day in this country are just around the corner. To truly understand how rapidly this technology is advancing, we need to go back a few years.

It was in the early Fifties when the first true electronic computers were built. State of the art back then usually meant a machine large enough to fill one or more huge rooms. I understand that at one university, graduate students were required to shuffle up and down banks of vacuum tubes pushing shopping carts filled with replacement tubes. The average citizen and small business man did not have access to these early machines, only governments and large corporations could afford to buy time on them. Then came transistors, integrated circuits and chips among the many other innovations. The result: in a mere 30 years, you can now go down to your local department store and for a few hundred dollars, purchase a computer that you can easily hold in your hands.

The astonishing thing is that some of these compact contemporary machines, now available to anyone, offer a calculating capacity and rate of speed that exceeds the monster machines of 30 years ago. The speed at which this technology is advancing has also accelerated greatly. So much so, that the state of the art computer that you buy today will undoubtedly be made obsolete by some other company's offering within a year or two.

The keys to making a cashless society work are capacity and speed. Today's typical computer is capable of approximately seven million mathematical operations a second and the most advanced machines are even faster. However, before a cashless monetary system can be imposed on society, the speed at which computers work will have to reach the level of the current world record holder, the human brain. The human brain races along at about one billion operations a second. But, experts in the field are confident that computers will not only be able to match the speed of the human brain, they will in time surpass it. How long will it take to reach the magic billion mark? Ten years or less! This is the time frame; ten years and the few technical barriers left will be gone. However, all of the other elements needed for this brave new world exist now. Some of these elements will soon be deployed while others have been around for years.

The question now is, how will this cashless system work on the individual level? In the future when you go into a store to purchase a copy of Guns & Ammo, exactly how will you pay for it? You won't have any cash; instead you will hand the clerk (if there is a clerk) your "smartcard" and the transaction will be completed in a matter of seconds. What is a smartcard? A smartcard is something like a credit card except that it has a permanent memory that contains vital financial and personal information about you. The secret of this card is a small computer chip embedded within it. When the card is inserted into a terminal, it tells the terminal who you are by providing your bank account number from its electronic memory. This smartcard will also provide the information needed to identify you and this allows the merchant's terminal access to your account. If everything checks out okay, you are who you say you are and your account has sufficient funds, the amount needed to cover your purchase will be deducted from your account and credited to the merchant's account.

Actually, my simple explanation grossly understates the potential of this smartcard system. By increasing its memory, it can not only function as a checkbook but also as a credit card, a savings passbook, security clearance card, drivers license and so on. There is really no limit.

The smartcard is not some futuristic vision; it exists and is in use today. The army is experimenting with an early version of this plastic and silicon marvel. What the army has done is replace the familiar G.I. identification card with the smartcard in a few cases. If the army likes the card, a soldier's ability to lose himself in the military's notorious bureaucracy will become a thing of the past.

Perhaps the thing that will be the most impressive part of the smartcard system is the security. The card will contain, in its permanent memory, some information about some physical characteristic unique to you. A good example would be a fingerprint, although I doubt if fingerprints would be used in this case. Several possible methods of identifying the legitimate owner of a card have been proposed. I will discuss just one of those methods; it is the one that fascinates me the most, although I do not know if it will become the standard means of identification. That method is the "retina scan."

The retina is the light sensing tissue at the back of the eye. It can be viewed optically and used to identify people in much the same way as a fingerprint. Each person would have his unique retina pattern recorded in his smartcard's memory and also at his bank. Every terminal would have a retina scanner as one of its basic components. This identification system would work this way. You hand a merchant your card, he then inserts it into a terminal. You are then asked to look directly at a small lens (this lens would probably appear like a button on the terminal). This lens is the retina scanner and it will read your retina in a fraction of a second. Now if the retina pattern that the scanner reads is the same as the one in your card and also identical to the one in the account that has been called up, fine, you are in. However, if these three retina scans do not match up perfectly, your card will be rejected and the police notified that an illegal transaction has been attempted. This system seems to be nearly foolproof. I cannot see how your typical credit card thief can beat it.

As for personal transactions at home, no need to worry. You can still have your garage sale or pay off your football bet by using your phone. Laws will be enacted requiring all phones sold to be equipped with terminals or you will be able to use a public terminal much like a pay phone. It is even possible that televisions will be outfitted so that you can conduct business via cable.

Originally the smartcard concept was developed for credit card companies as a way of combating the considerable fraud problem that they face. Because it is nearly impossible to forge such a card and useless to steal one, you can expect to have one or more of these wonders in your wallet in the not too distant future.

When the smartcard system, or a similar system is deployed, it will obviously tell anyone or any government agency with access to the bank's new super-fast computers exactly where you are spending your electronic money. A large part of your right to privacy will be gone. But, in most cases, no one should know exactly what it is you are buying. Right? Unfortunately, this probably will not be the case. The Universal Product Code (another labor saving and efficient idea) will be able to tell the computers what products you are buying.

The Universal Product Code (UPC) is a system of product identification and control that has been in use for several years. It is used primarily at supermarkets now and undoubtedly you have seen its most prominent feature. This prominent feature is the code itself and can be found on nearly every packaged product in the supermarket. If you are not sure exactly what it is that I am talking about then look at the cover of this magazine. You will find a small white rectangle with many vertical lines of varying widths on it along with a few numbers. When this coded information is passed over a holographic laser scanner, at some store's checkout counter, it will tell the store's computer that this is a copy of Guns & Ammo magazine. The code will also reveal the exact issue purchased and call up the most recent price from the computer's memory.

I know of at least one supermarket chain that has gone over to the UPC system. Each store in the chain is able to produce a constant flow of information about which products are selling as well as keeping extremely accurate records concerning the store's receipts. The data produced by each store is also channeled to the computers at the chain's central offices and as a result it has been possible to know exactly how to restock each store the following day. The only bit of information missing in the UPC system is who is buying the product. But, add the smartcard to the UPC setup and it becomes technically possible to know who is buying what.

Let's not forget about other systems that are also in operation. There is what's known as "direct deposit." This is an arrangement that has your employer sending your wages directly to the bank. You never see a paycheck. In addition you can have "automatic bill paying" along with the direct deposit. This service can automatically pay some of your bills for you. No cash, no checks, everything is done with cool computer efficiency.

Oil companies are now experimenting with totally automated gas stations. When you drive up to one of their new computerized pumps, you simply insert a credit card into the appropriate slot. If the card checks out okay, you then are free to fill up. No expensive human attendant is needed.

One recent development that makes me a bit uneasy concerns law enforcement. In San Jose, California the police department has outfitted its patrol cars with computer terminals. If you should be so unfortunate as to be pulled over in this Northern California city, the police officer will be able to feed your license number as well as other bits of information about you into his terminal. The computers at city hall will respond and tell the officer if you're wanted for anything or if you are driving a stolen car and so on.

What makes me uneasy is the fact that with the proper hookups, computers around the world can talk to each other. Should this situation develop, it could result in you standing with your legs apart and your arms outstretched on the roof of your car while the officer sits in his vehicle reviewing your life history. The potential for abuse in this application of technology is considerable.

There is one interesting bit of information about the preceding example that may be of significance. It certainly adds to my uneasiness about this particular example. The current police chief of San Jose was one of only a couple of police chiefs to actively campaign in favor of California's Proposition 15 in the 1982 elections. Nearly every other police chief in California went publicly on record against the notorious anti-gun Proposition 15.

If you are a gun owner in Illinois you are undoubtedly familiar with the Firearms Owner's Identification card (FOI card). Illinois requires that all persons wishing to own or purchase a firearm or ammunition to first obtain one of these cards from the state's Department of Law Enforcement in Springfield. The purpose of the card is to make it more difficult for the criminal element to obtain guns through legal channels. As you can well imagine there are many thousands of FOI card holders in Illinois, and keeping track of them all would be impossible without the aid of modern technology. So, what you have in Illinois is a master list of all of the legal gun owners and their guns. You can imagine how much a list could be abused by anti-gun officials. Recently some anti-gun city officials tried to obtain such a list from the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement.

Shortly after the village of Morton Grove implemented its notorious handgun ban, its neighbor Evanston, Illinois followed with a nearly identical law. But, Evanston went a little farther than Morton Grove. The police chief of Evanston contacted the state's Department of Law Enforcement and requested a list of all of the FOI card holders living in Evanston. He said that he only wanted to notify the card holders about the existence of the new law. Oh sure! If you believe that then drop me a card, I can make you a real good deal on some left-handed screw drivers. Fortunately, the state refused to supply the list.

I included this example from Evanston because it clearly illustrates just how dangerous computer lists can be. But, with technology advancing as fast as it is, anti-gun bureaucrats, like those in Evanston, may soon be able to get the information that they want without having to go to the state capital for it.

Nearly everyone should now be familiar with the "automated teller" at their local bank. These human substitutes again require a card and the customer's private identification code or account number. Bankers love these machines because they make transactions more efficient and are much more cost effective than human tellers.

Recently a New York bank installed automated tellers and also radically altered the ways in which depositors were allowed to conduct business with the bank. The new rules allowed only large depositors to enter the bank to transact business with human beings. If you were a small or average depositor you could only use the automated tellers. The public outcry was so great that the bank was forced to abandon its new policies and revert back to a more normal routine.

This attempt by a New York bank to place efficiency and profits totally ahead of human concerns is a good example of the general attitude held by many of the banking and corporate elite in this country. I do not believe that they consciously wish to set up machinery that is dehumanizing, but I do believe that our banking and corporate leaders are often afflicted with considerable tunnel vision and can only see those things that will improve their situation.

As you can see, innovations in the fields of electronic finance and communications are coming hot and heavy. By making extensive use of some of the systems mentioned here and others not discussed, some people are for all practical purposes, living a cashless existence already.

Exactly how does a cashless society threten the liberty of all law-abiding citizens and gun owners in particular? Well, first you need to understand that most Americans basically trust their government. The idea that someday our elected officials, fireproof bureaucrats, and tenured jurists could turn on us and impose a totalitarian state represents to the average person an unreasonable degree of paranoia. However, our founding fathers did not feel that such paranoia was unjustified. This is why the framers of our constitution included so many checks and balances. They wanted to come as close as possible to a government whose very structure would prevent the kind of oppression that, at the time, diminated the rest of the world. So far the creation of these inspired benefactors has stood the test of time and proven itself to be among the greatest of human achievements. Because the basic design of our republic has worked so well, most Americans do not take seriously the idea that it could ever fail form within.

Our founding fathers were able to foresee most of the things that could destroy the constitution that they were drafting and as a result included protections within the document itself. But, the one thing that they could not foresee or even conceive of, is the threat posed by today's awesome technology. The creators of our nation knew very well that economic freedom and political freedom are indivisible, you can not have one without the other. They also knew that the right of each citizen to privacy concerning his personal financial affairs is essential for there to be true economic freedom.

A truly cashless monetary system (with its nearly unlimited ability to remember the most trivial of financial transactions) is a temptation that even virtuous administrations would find hard to resist. For example, some decidedly liberal administration in the future, with a collective social agenda to impose would be able to tap into the national monetary network, find the financial support of any individual or group that opposes its Utopian programs and use the power of perhaps the IRS to destroy that support.

Let's say that you are a member of a church that opposes the government's foreign policy or perhaps some of its social programs. Should the opposition of your church become too bothersome, the administration's bureaucrats could easily search the cashless monetary network and come up with the identities of everyone supporting the church. Then through the use of various forms of harassment like tax audits, the threatened exposure of publicly offensive transactions (prostitution, gambling etc.) or the just plain freezing of accounts (try to survive for several months with no money) the economic foundation of the church would be destroyed. For all practical purposes the church would no longer exist.

Now for the gun owners. With a totally cashless system in place, the sales of all new firearms, ammunition and accessories would automatically be recorded along with everything else. It would be a simple matter for an anti-gun administration to produce lists of new gun owners from the nation's electronic monetary network. I also firmly believe that any administration that would indulge in the kinds of abuses that I have already suggested would certainly seek to fulfill one of the anti-gunners' fondest dreams--that of national gun registration.

Keeping in mind that all new gun sales would automatically be registered through the chasless system, the anti-gun bureaucrats would then seek registration of all other firearms. Many law-abiding citizens would grudgingly comply with the law and register their guns. But, of course, many others would not. In order to force compliance with the law, this not too distant future anti-gun administration would take advantage of the fact that all of the country's information systems would be fully integrated into essentially one gigantic system. They could easily tap into state, county and city gun records in their quest to find unregistered gun owners. Any computer list that might lead to a gun owner would not be safe.

In the past when I have talked to people about the evils of gun control I would occasionally run into a gun owner who was unconcerned. When I would inquire into their ambivalence I would get an answer like the following. "I've got a couple of guns that my dad brought back from the war as ouvenirs. There is no record of them anywhere. If they start grabbing guns I will simply bury them in the back yard till the heat lets up. After all, they can't confiscate what they don't know about."

Well, if you are one of those gun owners with hidden treasures, you had better think again. Because, in the future, the anti-gunners and their super computers stand a very good chance of finding out about you. How could the caretakers of the government's gun control system find out about a gun that has literally no official past? Simply by waiting for you to tell them about it. The following sequence of events will show how you could tip your hand.

Let's say for example that you have Dad's old war souvenir, a P-08 Luger. The time period for registering all firearms with the federal government has come and gone. But, you decided not to register the Luger because not even your wife knows that you have it, let alone any level of government. You figure that when the day comes and everybody else loses their guns via confiscation you will still have yours. However, before finding a permanent hiding place for your contraband, you decide that it needs a good cleaning. After all, Dad was a great guy, but not particularly known for his neatness; he certainly never cleaned his souvenir Luger.

So, you make a trip down to the local sporting goods store to select the stuff (pistol cleaning rod, 9mm brass brushes, patches, etc.) needed for cleaning your handgun. Remember, this is now a cashless society so you pay for these cleaning supplies just as you do for everything else, with your smartcard.

What you do not realize is that the UPC codes for all of the cleaning supplies that you just purchased are a bit different from the codes of other products. Any produce related to firearms (ammo, spare parts, accessories, cleaning supplies, etc.) will automatically be directed to the master gun registration computer in Washington D.C. This master computer will check its memory to see if you legally own the type of gun for which the cleaning supplies are intended. Since you have not registered Dad's war souvenir the computer will show that you do not own a legally registered handgun. This information will automatically be transmitted to the computer at your local police department. When local law enforcement receives this type of computer notification they can, in this new society, use it as probable cause for obtaining a search warrant.

The result, in a few days you will be on your way to an all expenses paid vacation courtesy of the federal government, while Dad's dirty Luger is sent to the foundry to be melted down into "Jane Fonda for President" campaign buttons.

Perhaps all of these sinister possibilities could be avoided by passing laws that would prohibit the development and deployment of this amazing new technology. This approach, although well intentioned, would be wrong. Prohibition has rarely worked in the past and certainly can not be stopped by legislation. Besides, it is not the technology that is bad but rather it is the people or agencies who would misuse it that are evil. In this case, guns make a good analogy, because as you know, the problem is the criminal abuse of guns, not the guns themselves. Like guns, there is a great deal of good to be had from this new technology.

Maybe then we could have laws enacted that would limit access to the cashless society's enormous flow of personal financial data. In other words, through legislation, perhaps we can protect an individual's right to privacy by restricting the access to computer memories in the same manner that your home is protected from illegal search and seizure. It's a fine idea, but I am not very optimistic for two reasons.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court has already handed down a major ruling on the subject. A few years back the question of whether or not a government agency could go to a bank and investigate an individual's personal financial records came before the court. It was argued that these records were the private property of the individual depositor and therefore constitutionally protected from improper invasion. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not see it that way. The court said that these records are the property of the bank and not the depositor, therefore the individual's right to privacy does not apply. Secondly, I seriously doubt if any administration could resist the tremendous amount of power and control that can be had by dipping into the memories of a totally cashless monetary system. I believe that well intentioned laws would ultimately fail to deter bureaucrats faced with such an enormous temptation.

There are other examples of our wondrous electronic present and future that we could discuss so as to further illustrate our increasing vulnerability. But, at this point, it would be redundant. I am sure that by now you can see that the future must be looked at with a very sober attitude. We must find a way to protect our freedoms and still be able to take full advantage of the marvels of technology that lie just ahead. Is it possible to have it both ways? Yes, I think it is possible, if one essential element in our society is maintained.

That element is "cash". The American people must stand up and demand that currency, both paper and metal, remain as the basic means of settling all debts. We need to also demand that all individuals and institutions continue to be required to accept cash when it is presented as payment for a debt. In this way you could still have the smartcards and the electronic transfering of funds, if you want them. As long as cash is around, there will be at least one way in which the Utopian do-gooders will not be able to enslave us.
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Author:Kavey, Fred
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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