It appears we’re going to engage in some sort of impassioned public debate about the possession of firearms. This debate, while unlikely to change anything, is long overdue.

One of the talking points trotted out by the gun huggers is the idea that ownership of a gun is what allows ordinary citizens to stand up and oppose their government. Gun ownership is seen as a way to prevent tyranny.

Just to be clear: I’m as concerned as anybody about the assorted tyrannical abuses perpetrated by our current government. You and I might not agree in every instance about what’s a tyranny and what isn’t — I happen to think Obama didn’t go nearly far enough in the direction of socialized medicine — but I think we can all agree that the federal government is a hella dangerous mess. The point I want to make is simply this: Guns do not offer you any effective protection against tyranny. That idea is nothing but a fantasy. Gun ownership was probably effective 225 years ago, when the United States was a small, sparsely populated nation with a new and uncertain form of government, but a lot has changed since then. Opposing tyranny today is not nearly as easy as owning guns!

Thinking gun ownership provides you with some sort of political autonomy is right-wing bullshit in an especially naked and stupid form. Fortunately, crushing this argument is not difficult. It might even be fun. So let’s give it a shot.

The first thing that needs to be asked, since there’s already quite a lot of gun ownership in the United States, is, “How’s it working so far?” Now, I’m not fond of the way our governments (state and federal) operate, and I’m sure a lot of other people aren’t either — perhaps for different reasons. Conservatives tend to feel the government is trampling on their sacred rights far too energetically, while liberals tend to feel the government ought to be doing a lot more than it’s doing to rein in certain abuses.

The conservatives, of course, are the ones with the guns. So … how’s it working for you, guys? Is the fact that you own guns keeping the government off your backs? Are you enjoying your wonderful freedoms? No? If you already feel the hot breath of government encroachment on your neck (and I’ll bet a nickel that you do, or think you do), then we would have to conclude that, as a preserver of freedom, gun ownership is pretty much a bust. It’s not working.

Second point: I’m more than a bit curious about how exactly gun ownership is supposed to provide the expected benefits. Eldridge Cleaver, whom younger people may never have heard of — he was a big wheel in the Black Panther Party, an activist group that the government stomped to death back in the ’60s — was at one time fond of quoting Mao Zedong, who said, “All power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Cleaver was promoting the idea that the Black Panthers should be allowed to arm themselves with, you know, assault rifles and such paraphernalia, as allowed by the Second Amendment.

Somebody should have pointed out to Cleaver that, to the extent that Mao was right (and we could have an interesting discussion about that), he — Cleaver — ought to be very quiet about it, because the government had at least 10,000 times the number of guns the Black Panthers did. The Panthers were angry about a lot of things, and quite rightly so, but their insistence on the right to arm themselves was not only a bunch of stupid macho posturing, it got them killed. By the government.

Of course, that will never happen to you, Mr. Right-Wing Gun Owner, because … well, why? Maybe because you’re white. But the fact remains: The government can take you down any time they feel they need to, because they’ve got a LOT more guns than you do. They’ve got stockpiles of munitions from here to Chicago, and thousands of men who are trained to use them. Oh, and also, the people who give the orders to use those munitions to get rid of troublesome dissidents are almost entirely free from accountability. They can do whatever they like, congratulate themselves, and then go home to a nice dinner with the wife and kids.

How exactly is your pathetic little stockpile of AK-47s going to withstand the firepower of the United States government? The drones? The phosphorus grenades? The armored vehicles? The high-tech surveillance gear? The infiltrators and provocateurs who join your little band of militiamen while on the payroll of ATF? You have no hope of protecting yourself against any of that stuff. You’re just having a bullshit fantasy because you love your guns.

Or what about Waco? There are no good guys in that story. From what I’ve read, it seems clear David Koresh was a psychotic menace. On the other hand, Attorney General Janet Reno’s handling of the situation was a raw and heinous abuse of power — tyranny on the hoof. If the feds had used less aggressive tactics, a lot of innocent children wouldn’t have died. But if Koresh had had enough sense not to start stockpiling weapons, it’s a good bet he and his sad bunch of acolytes would still be alive today. They died because they were convinced they needed to stockpile guns to protect themselves from the government. Didn’t work out so well, did it? And was Reno inconvenienced, even for a moment, by the Branch Davidians’ weaponry? Silly rabbit, do you even need to ask?

Third, let’s look at the real-world evidence of how terribly the powerless citizens of a nation suffer when they aren’t allowed to own guns. Let’s look at Sweden. Or maybe New Zealand. Or Belgium. Wikipedia is not always reliable, but if these statistics are off, they’re not off by a whole bunch. According to an article on Wikipedia, the United States leads the world in guns owned per capita (88.8 per hundred residents). Sweden has a mere 31.6 guns per hundred, New Zealand 22.6, and Belgium a pathetic, emasculated 17.2.

Those nations are all in the grip of evil tyrants who wantonly trample the citizens’ liberties, right? Well, no. Wrong. Dead wrong, in fact. All three are thriving democracies whose citizens enjoy a high standard of living. Also, and not by coincidence, the citizens are far less likely than folks here in the U.S. to die in gun violence. I’ll leave you to learn more about conditions in Sweden, Belgium, and New Zealand at your leisure. I’m sure all of them have domestic problems and power struggles. Also an occasional murder by gun. There is no paradise on Earth. But still, they’re doing pretty well — and without the alleged benefits of gun ownership.

In sum, the notion that guns protect the citizenry of the United States from tyranny is just a lot of hooey. Please stop trying to use this argument on us, guys. The rubber on it is so thin there’s no tread left. You’re just spinning your wheels.

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8 Responses to Tyrant-Be-Gone

  1. Melanie Escott says:

    Love it Jim!

  2. Ron Greenman says:

    Jim, I’m not going to disagree with anything you’re saying that relates to the current times, which is what your discussion is about, so anything I say is historical background. I also like guns but not because I fear my government, or if I did (as perhaps I should), because I think I’ll be able to a squad of armored cavalry troopers with my 19th Century Martini-Henry or WW II Mauser, much less my Brown Bess or my converted to concussion Brown Bess, neither of which, among other older firearms I own, I’d have the guts to actually shoot. So on to the Founders and the Second Amendment.

    The current National Guard, the one regarded as the modern day militia, “…was established as a federally funded reserve component of the nation’s armed forces on 21 January 1903 with the Militia Act of 1903 under Title 10 and Title 32 of the U.S. Code.” (Wikipedia) It likes to trace it’s lineage to the Massachusetts Bay Colony called its first muster of three regiments of militia in the spring of 1637 on Salem Common. I’d suggest the concept of militia in America, and the reasoning behind the 2nd Amendment begins there and ends in 1903 when the states passed the control and the cost of their respective militias to the Federal government.

    I do though think that in the newly formed United States there was a fear of tyranny from the Fed. The Constitution itself gave the Fed the right to raise an army, and these framers had just gotten over a war fought solely with militia until just before Bunker Hill when the Continental Army was established. The opening shots of the Revolution were due to the British Army marching towards Concord and Lexington to sieze stores of ammunition, food, and artillery stockpiled as reserve for the Massachusetts Militia, but the Minute Men that made their stand on the Boston/Lexington Road brought their own weapons from home, and of the same types the British regulars carried. So we have well-drilled British regulars standing off against well-drilled Massachusetts militiamen, each group similarly armed, if the latter were not as well led.

    That balance of State militia to regular army remained at least to the Spanish American War, and probably something wasn’t working so well, modern small arms, the machine gun, modern artillery, offshore adventures, just the huge cost of waging the emerging modern war? I don’t know but something significant enough to change nearly 300 years of doing business.

    Then there’s the Civil War. That pretty much determined that we were a single nation and not a confederation of independent states, an argument that had been going on for four score and seven…. Militias had a significant role in defending the nation, and were held as the State armies that could defend the state if the US decided to invade Rhode Island and make it a province of Connecticut, or if Connecticut invaded Rhode Island on its own. And these militias were made up of citizen volunteers that kept their small arms at home, at the ready, mush as the members of the IDF do today.

    So when the faction known as the anti-Federalists were debating that a Bill of Rights be appended to the Constitution before ratification that were arguing that a central government, even their own, could not be trusted, remembering clearly the tyranny they felt their former central government had invoked, and that the citizens of the various states needed a declaration of individual rights, amending the Constitution. That the bearing of arms and the restriction against forced quartering of troops are two and three of ten is also significant when trying to understand the mindset of the times.

    Does any of this apply today? Well, I suspect that that should be what the debate hinges around but it will probably be an emotional slugfest that will distract and exhaust everyone and never will the real issues arise. This debate does not need to center around assault weapons. I could have done a s much damage as any of these whack jobs with small capacity magazines, no pistol grip, etc. When you’re just wandering around in a crowd randomly shooting unarmed people in panic mode rapid reloading is not an issue. Particularly if you’re on a suicide mission, which they all seem to, either prepared to kill yourself when someone armed arrives, or to be gunned down in a firefight. I really doubt if these guys, as long as they take to prepare for these events, have a particular timetable timed to a minimum body count that will signify success or failure. These are nut cases. The same number of mass killings have occurred each year, with the same number of victims, for the last 100 hundred years. It’s not he type of weapon. It’s not the ability to get weapons (they’re always available), it’s the mental state of the perpetrator. Humans. Go figure.

    As an aside, in the mid 1840s John Fremont, Kit Carson, Jim Bridger and nine other less famous mountain men came down out of the Sierras to Sutter’s Fort. This band represented the most heavily armed and dangerous army in California. While Governor Alvorado freaked out and ordered their deportation, and Vallejo hastily ried to assemble a counter-force from the onesy and twosey man Mexican garrisons spread throughout the state, Fremont and his men moved down to Natividad where the only whiskey still in Alta California was located. Hearing that Vallejo was coming with about a hundred Mexican troops, Fremont set up a fortified camp on Mount Natividad. When the Mexicans arrived there was a short exchange of fire and the Americans agreed to depart California, but their exiting was slow and followed a circuitous route as they collected intelligence for he coming war. Alvorado fumed at Vallejo to hasten them along but Vallejo thought California and the Californos would be better off under US administration and so left Fremont and his troop alone. Note that there was no Mexican militia mustered among the Californios although they all had their personal weapons. This event is known as the Battle of Natividad. A similar small event took place in Washington between the Americans and the British and is known as The Pig War (the only casualty being a pig).

    • midiguru says:

      Thanks for the historical perspective, Ron. Much appreciated. You’ll note, however, that I very carefully said nothing at all about the Second Amendment in this post. What’s more, I didn’t even say whether I favor restrictions on gun ownership. All I did was take apart one particular rationale for gun ownership.

      I accept that that rationale made good sense 220 years ago, in a sparsely populated agrarian nation with an untried and uncertain form of government — a nation, moreover, in which the only weaponry more potent than a single-shot, muzzle-loading musket (that is to say, the cannon) had to be drawn from place to place along muddy roads by teams of horses.

      Whether, or in what manner and to what extent, the Second Amendment remains useful or relevant today is very much open to debate. And the way to conduct a debate is not to consider the conclusion sacrosanct and untouchable, as gun-lovers all too often do. We need to have a healthy discussion about what tyranny IS today — how it operates, how it affects us, and how it can most effectively be forestalled. Maybe with guns, maybe with quite different measures. That would be an interesting discussion!

      • Ron Greenman says:

        Got that but that’s where one of the arguments should be. And I’m not concerned about your preferences. They are what they are. As I said the Civil war punctuated confederation of individual states or a single nation. Apparently, as regards militias anyway, by 1903 the nation asa whole (majority) had accepted this reality, just as by the 1960s the majority had determined that the time had come for racial civil rights, as just this year the majority in at least Washington have determined that same sex couples have the same right to marry as heterosexual couples.

        A big problem with the Second Amendment itself is that it is an Amendement to the Constitution, and the second one of the original ten collected as the Bill of Rights. Getting rid of an unpopular amendent that was only 13 years old and not entrenched in mythology and lore of the creation, was hard enough, imagine the trouble with this one. Then you have the Supreme Court judging we have the individual right to bear arms. Chasing this chimera is not where the discussion needs to go as its a dead end.

        Unfortunately, even though your argument against needing weapons to protect ourselves against tyranny is valid, it’s moot as the argument will always turn to the meaning of the Second Amendment, rather than is the argument valid. We’ll never have a rational public discussion around the Second Amendment, any more than we’ll get one as long as the issue is “gun control,” an inherently meaningless phrase, but one that carries a particular gut reaction. That the anti gun nuts and the pro gun nuts will focus on their respective predispositions rather than on communication, understanding, and compromise will also derail any public debate as emotions overcome thought.

        The last part, and the saddest, is that the politicians that should, when public debate fails, turn into statesmen and lead the nation when the citizenry cannot lead themselves, will not. Civility is no more the form political debate occurs within the halls of Congress any more than in the public square, perhaps even less.

        But what can you expect from a nation that hits the gun stores hard after each election in which the public perceives the elected candidate is somehow going to take away their guns by decree even though the candidate never suggested, nor even hinted, that that was on the agenda or that he thought he would have such power. And then another trip to clean out the gun stores every time a shooting event occurs and the slightest whisper of “gun control” is mentioned. Someday we may see a reasonable discussion but not under the current political climate. The nonsense from the NRA the other day proves my point.

    • I think the biggest issue with our attempt to follow the Swiss model here was the start of the temperance movement. The first temperance target, the banning of alcohol at militia meetings, brought a quick end to the institution as originally intended shortly before the war of 1812.
      As I have received it, apparently the Swiss annual gathering for militia target practice is one of their biggest celebrations of drinking, yet no one ever gets shot.
      Current US culture simply is unable to follow this model in any safe or meaningful way.

      • One thing for sure is that it is no longer so easy to capture heavy weaponry with personal arms. In 1782 having an armed militia organized was one simple step from taking any cannon deployed to your area, harassing supply trains, and even pinning down an army in certain terrain conditions.

  3. While I have quite a bit of sympathy for some reasonable further controls on the 2nd amendment as it is now codified, or even for expansion of it to include a meaningful ability to present repercussions to those wielding heavy mobile modern arms, I must point out that arms manufacturing has entered the domain of open source DIY manufacturing.
    I was going to refer an article here, but googling “3d printer gun” is so much more informative in this widely commented upon and rapidly moving area.
    Suffice it to say that someone recently designed a receiver that turned a 22 handgun into an automatic “assault” style weapon, and then published it as an open source pattern. It seems it would be easy to scale it to other calibers and other firearm types.

    • Ron Greenman says:

      Good point Monte. I thought exactly the same thing and laughed at banning large capacity magazine manufacture. Right know I can draw up a printable 3D one in SolidWorks or Inventor, link with my computer at school,and send the drawing to the printer, where it can spit out parts all night long. The spring is a bit tricky but obtainable I’m sure. I’m not sure about plastic guns though. Certainly many parts, and maybe even a complete one at .22, but not for a powerful round.

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