If You Shouldn't Fight for Guns, for What Should You Fight?
This Review’s publication of a series of articles tackling the debate on gun control from several viewpoints has been immensely satisfying to read. Ethan Peikes’ introductory piece covering the mismatch between government and civilians when it comes to waging war was parried by Will Rierson’s rebuttal, delving into the potential difficulties of actually confiscating guns. Chris Donahue’s exceptional piece delving into the military industrial complex and its sinister influence on domestic politics covers some of the same ground as Peikes while also addressing Rierson’s points, but I have some points of contention with it.
To begin I’d like to tackle the premise of the government’s martial advantages. It’s true that any government is likely to have an overwhelming advantage against its citizens should war break out, particularly in the age of drones and chemical weapons, but the ultimate victor of such a war isn’t the point. When Donahue suggests that no tyrannical government would decide that “winning” is more trouble than it’s worth, he misses that Rierson’s point wasn’t that tyrants wouldn’t try to hold on to power as long as possible, but that the tyrannically minded would avoid a war against an armed populace altogether. The Second Amendment acts as a form of deterrence; the more capability citizens have to retaliate against the government, the less likely the government will be willing to overstep its boundaries. Without knowing our potential tyrant, it is of course rather difficult to know if they will be deterred by a well-armed citizenry, but you can be fairly certain a completely unarmed populace will do little to make a despot reconsider overstepping legal boundaries.
The second major argument the article makes is that the government and/or the military industrial complex, in waging wars for their survival, would utilize their vast resources to influence public opinion and manipulate the population into surrender. I agree on the hypothetical action but disagree on the result. Certainly, small scale disturbances could be quietly squelched and nascent anti-government movements could be effectively smeared into obscurity, but in an all-out civil war? There is no reason to believe the government could adequately contain the undoubtedly horrific stories inundating the country about drone attacks on civilians. Indeed, if one takes Peikes’ premise is to its logical extreme, as Donahue does, and envisions the hypothetical despotic government literally going nuclear to attain victory then surely there is no manipulation or explanation that could make a rational citizen side with the regime. Donahue’s own assessment of the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars support this; if those wars “were wars that lacked purpose and total motivated support from the US government and its people,” then how could a war on the very people who should support the government ever be embraced?
However on Donahue’s general thesis I wholeheartedly agree. Merely breaking down the reasons why a tyrannical government would or would not be successful isn’t altogether helpful in the debate on guns. Rather than debate who wins in a scenario where everyone loses, let’s address Peikes’ argument from the position that he is unreservedly correct. The government is utterly superior to any imaginable civilian resistance, and thus the Second Amendment is a triviality to it. Where does this leave us? If the Second Amendment can only ever facilitate suicides, accidental shootings and mass casualty events, then why shouldn’t we restrict it? Before you answer, take a moment to replace the Amendment above with another Amendment, perhaps the 4th. I’ve argued in this very review the power of technology when misused by governments. As for the reach of governments into said technology, the NSA and CIA have collected a trove of hacks that allow them to, among other things, access wireless router data and record people via Smart TVs. With the revelation that the NSA was collected data of millions of Americans without their consent, and recent revelations that at least two presidential campaigns used data mining firms that skirted the law there is little doubt that if the government wanted to, it could completely subvert your right to privacy. Are you ready to throw the 4th Amendment out? I imagine far fewer people would be on board with legitimizing government intrusion into the privacy of its citizens based on the premise of its inevitability. Proponents of a less restrictive Second Amendment are cognizant of this when they argue against the calls for gun control.
Of course, as Donahue notes, the ultimate weapons in the war against tyranny are the democratic process and the rule of law, weapons powered by free speech and open debate. Which is why discussions of gun control need to continue happening, but the supposed futility of resisting a tyrannical government is not a reason to reject any part of the Constitution, Second Amendment included. Just because the government has the capability to overwhelm a well-armed militia, doesn’t mean we should roll out the red carpet for tyranny. If you’re not willing to protect one of your rights just because the fight would be hard, why protect any at all? May the debate continue!