One of my liberal Yale classmates recently sneered at the idea of the armed citizen making any difference: “The notion that automated weapons are going to fend off an oppressive federal government or foreign invader is complete nonsense in the 21st century.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty, at National Review, had the perfect response.
Who exactly do you think has stymied the U.S. in Afghanistan for 16 years? The Taliban is made up of Afghan Bubbas. The Taliban doesnâ€™t need to defeat nuclear weapons, though they are humiliating a nuclear power for the second time in history. They use a mix of Kalashnikovs and WWII-era bolt-action rifles. Determined insurgencies are really difficult to fight, even if they are only armed with Enfield rifles and you can target them with a TOW missiles system that can spot a cat in the dark from two miles away. In Iraq, expensive tanks were destroyed with simple improvised explosives.
If the U.S. government (and the American people behind them) doesnâ€™t want to use nuclear weapons on foreign fundamentalists in Afghanistan, why does anyone presume theyâ€™d use them against Americans in Idaho?
It is not just our fecklessness. All great powers take into account the moral and manpower costs of implementing their rules and laws on a people. And an armed citizenry, especially if they seem to have a just cause to rally around, will dramatically raise the price of ruling them. The British Empire controlled one quarter of the worldâ€™s territory and ruled one quarter of the earthâ€™s population in 1922. In that very year, they were forced to make an effective exit from the main part of their oldest colony, Ireland. Why? Because a determined group of Irish men with guns made the country ungovernable. The British technically could have deployed their entire navy, blockading the restive island, and starving any rebellion into submission. But they were unwilling to pay the moral price, or the price in blood. It was precisely this foreseeable event that had caused the British to ban Irish Catholics from possessing firearms hundreds of years earlier.
And just as in the 1770s or the 1920s, governments in similar positions today or in the future would have a difficult time maintaining military morale while trying to impose rule on a people who resist it manfully.
You can acknowledge this and still deplore Americaâ€™s gun violence, as I do. You can wish and even work for an American future where there are fewer weapons in untrained and unsteady American hands. And, we all should wish to maintain a law-governed and orderly society that doesnâ€™t inspire thousands or millions of Americans to resist its government in an insurgency. But in the meantime, donâ€™t do violence to history itself. With just the moral support of the society they are living in, and a number of rifles, a small group of men can make it impossible for tyrants to rule.