The United States has a long history of civil disobedience as a means to protest injustice. Sometimes civil disobedience takes the form of a peaceful protest. Other times, it takes the form of disobeying an unjust law. The right to civil disobedience has been acknowledged by prominent thinkers in every generation:
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”
“Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.”
– Albert Einstein
“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
One of the earliest and most iconic acts of civil disobedience in America was the Boston Tea Party. On 16 Dec. 1773, “a group of Massachusetts Patriots, protesting the monopoly on American tea importation recently granted by Parliament to the East India Company, seized 342 chests of tea in a midnight raid on three tea ships and threw them into the harbor.” (History.com). The action was illegal, but essentially peaceful. It was a protest of unjust taxes and of restrictions on commerce imposed on the colonies by the British government.
Now how does this concept apply to prepping? As previously discussed in this post: Laws that Interfere with Prepping, it is conceivable that some new laws might be passed that would be contrary to our shared goal of prudent and reasonable emergency preparedness. [Note that I am not an attorney, and this is not legal advice. It is nothing other than a discussion of possibilities by a layperson.]
Already, in some localities, the collection of rainwater is illegal (Colorado.gov). If the current U.S. drought continues, similar laws might be passed in other States. Another point possible of conflict between preppers and the law concerns bartering. You might run afoul of the law if you attempt to barter cigarettes. If new laws are passed restricting the transfer of guns and ammunition, you might not be able to barter those items as well.
But perhaps the most likely conflict between preppers and the law revolves around owning firearms. Some proposed gun control measures would make continued ownership of certain types of gun or high-capacity magazines illegal. The most recently-passed New York State gun control law requires that certain high-capacity magazines “be sold within one year to an out-of-state resident or turned into local authorities” (Wikipedia). Some news sources claim that an earlier version of this NY State bill contained additional proposed restrictions, including:
1. Confiscation of “assault weapons”
2. Confiscation of ten round clips
3. Statewide database for ALL Guns
4. Continue to allow pistol permit holder’s information to be replaced to the public
5. Label semiautomatic shotguns with more than 5 rounds or pistol grips as “assault weapons”
6. Limit the number of rounds in a magazine to 5 and confiscation and forfeiture of banned magazines
7. Limit possession to no more than two (2) magazines
These proposed restrictions did not make it into the final law. However, it is conceivable, in the current political climate, that a law might be passed in one State or another, or at the federal level, that would require gun owners to surrender certain types of guns or magazines. In other words, there would be no grandfather clause, as the 1994 Clinton-era law had.
If any type of unjust or overly-restrictive law passes, on the topic of guns, or rainwater, or bartering, or the like, should you engage in civil disobedience? To be perfectly clear, I am not recommending that anyone break the law, and end up with a criminal record and a prison sentence. But I know that some prepping and survival blogs and discussion groups are discussing this topic. Some commentators have suggested that they might hide guns or magazines that become illegal to possess (absent a grandfather clause).
I am against overly-restrictive gun control laws, such as the recently-passed New York State law. However, my opinion is that it is better to comply with such laws, than to be continually at risk of arrest and prosecution. Perhaps such laws can be changed by peaceful protest, by writing to legislators, by joining and supporting the NRA, and by voting for more reasonable politicians. But as long as the law allows a citizen to own some type of firearm that is suitable for self-defense, I suggest that compliance under protest is the better option.
As for civil disobedience on other topics, if the penalty is merely a fine, and the need is dire, I might be convinced to engage in some type of limited civil disobedience. This might apply in the case of bartering; a transaction between myself and a neighbor would likely go unnoticed. The collection of rainwater falls into the same category; on a small scale, local authorities might not notice or care. However, civil disobedience always involves some risk, even when you are convinced that you are doing the right thing. So the risks and consequences must be weighed against the need.
At the present time, it is easy to be involved in prepping, in emergency preparedness, without violating any laws. My main concern is future laws, especially if some type of problem arises in society. More shootings might lead to reactionary and overly-restrictive gun laws. Any type of long-term disruption in the food supply might lead to laws that prohibit storing large amounts of food. I think that storing food is prudent and reasonable, but I wonder if society will one day regard prudently-stored supplies as hoarding instead. Politicians around the nation can certainly be relied on, in any such dire situation, to over-react and pass some crazy new law that treats citizens who are behaving reasonably as if they were criminals. Whether or not civil disobedience becomes the most reasonable course of action depends in large part on how unreasonable lawmakers become in the face of some disaster.