EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on gun rights. Each addresses a common anti-gun trope.


“Thinking that you need guns to protect you from the government is stupid. America will never become Nazi Germany!”

The history and origin of the Second Amendment are pretty clear. In the words of Edward Abbey, “an armed populace is the final bulwark against a tyrannical government.” The Founding Fathers and writers of the Constitution knew this, in their hearts, souls and bones. Consider just a few of countless quotes:

Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good. —
George Washington

 

To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them. — Richard Henry Lee

 

What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms. — Thomas Jefferson

 

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote! — Benjamin Franklin

 

For it is a truth, which the experience of ages has attested, that the people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion. — Alexander Hamilton

 

Of course, these are quotes from old, rich, and sometimes slave-owning white men, spoken 230-240 year ago, and so it behooves us to ignore them. Besides, the world has changed, the culture has changed, and tyranny is something that can never happen here in America. Or so the anti-gun narratives go.

Nothing could be further from the truth, because if there’s any lesson of history, it’s that tyranny, totalitarianism, and authoritarianism are forever lying in wait, ready to pounce on any momentary lapse of vigilance. Does this sound excessive? Hyperbolic, even?

Consider the rise of Soviet socialism. It started with a popular movement: young people embracing Marxist philosophies, a totalitarian government arose, half a planet was kept in poverty for decades, and tens of millions of dead bodies piled up.

Consider the rise of Maoist communism. Again, a popular/populist political movement culminated with a totalitarian government and tens of millions dead.

Consider the rise of Nazism. Again, a popular/populist movement, born of envy and resentment (as they all are), arose, led to a totalitarian government, and tens of millions died.

And those are just the biggies. We also have Cuba, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Venezuela, Burma, and many other examples to go by.

What makes America so different from all these examples that people assert it could never happen here? Why do people feel we are so unique and so immune to the forces that brought about tyranny so many times in history?

Is America exceptional? Could tyranny never happen here?

If you ask the people who argue this essay’s trope, you’ll probably find they’re among those who feel the idea of American exceptionalism is a false or dangerous one. The irony that this undermines the “it could never happen here” argument is lost on them, of course. You’ll also probably find that they are likely to think Trump is an existential danger to the nation, that he’s a Nazi, that he’s a dictator-wannabe, that the Republican Party (currently in the majority in both houses of Congress) is evil and an existential danger to the nation, and that the conservatives on the Supreme Court are the spawn of Cthulhu. Again – the irony that these people think only the government should have guns is both obvious and lost on them.

If it is to be believed that America could never become tyrannical, how can movements like Black Lives Matter be justified? How can automatic distrust of police be reconciled? Why would people who think that the front-line agents of the government are part of a systemic problem and that one of the two major political parties is evil nevertheless believe that only the government should be armed? Doesn’t that sound nuts?

Consider the trend among young people towards embracing socialism, despite the very obvious lessons of its repeated and spectacular failure, and despite the 200+ million dead that are testament to that failure. Isn’t it the young and idealistic that, throughout history, have led the catastrophic marches to socialism, totalitarianism and tyranny? Didn’t the Bolshevik Revolution have deep roots among university students?

Now, consider the flip side. Look at the people who do believe in American exceptionalism, and you will very likely find them to be believers in the Second Amendment’s core purpose as the final protection against a tyrannical government. Perhaps, just perhaps, the fact that America’s citizens are armed is at the core of their feeling of exceptionalism. Perhaps, the fact that totalitarian regimes have, throughout history, set as their first order of business the disarming of the populace, is not lost on them.

Will it be necessary for an armed populace to stand against a tyrannical government? I fervently hope it’ll never happen, and as a libertarian, I do my best to embrace the Non-Aggression Principle. But, as someone who’s paid attention to history, I don’t delude myself into thinking that it can’t happen. It’s not as if our government has never turned on its people. Wounded Knee, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Waco, the Stonewall Inn, Jim Crow, Ruby Ridge, Tuskegee, McCarthy, Lois Lerner, Freddie Gray… there are countless examples, big and small, federal, state and local, of government’s bad actions against citizens. As bad, or worse even, are the people who defend or rationalize these actions by government against its citizens. These are the people that can ultimately elevate a tyrant. Mixed in with them are the people who assert that thinking armed citizens can stand against the government is stupid and ridiculous. I address their “concerns” in GRL 633, but in most cases they are merely using this line of thinking as a rationalization for their anti-gun mind-set. This crowd will be the “wait – what just happened?” crowd should a tyranny actually take root.

Tyrannies do not rise despite the people. They rise with the support and urging of the masses. Of course, the masses don’t think they’re getting tyranny in exchange for that support, but the masses have, throughout history, been conned and lied to by demagogues and tyrants, and that’s not about to end any time soon. Even today, mired in life-threatening poverty, many of the citizens of Venezuela continue to support the socialism that ruined their lives. Even today, many in Cuba and North Korea continue to support the regimes that have made their lives relative hells.

So:

Gun rights lesson #999: If you think tyranny could never happen here, you’re a fool. History makes this amply clear that there is nothing so exceptional about any nation that cannot be overcome by the selfish, the immoral, and the tyrannical. Ultimately, the Second Amendment is about preventing the rise of tyranny. Recognize and embrace this reality before it’s too late.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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