You Can't Outgun the Government


In the wake of the Parkland shooting last month and the ensuing March For Our Lives events held across the country this past weekend, many opposed to stricter gun control laws have flooded social media with the following George Washington quote: “A free people should not only be armed and disciplined, but should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”

Comedian Jim Jeffries had a bit about gun control a few years ago that I love because it’s hilarious, snarky, and most importantly, because he puts forth a genuinely excellent argument. Perhaps the most significant point he makes relates to the idea that we need guns to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government. I will admit, even as a staunch advocate for stricter gun laws, I do find this to be the most compelling argument in favor of the Second Amendment (by this I mean the perverse interpretation of the Second Amendment that many on the political right have adopted). In my view, it is the only argument why someone would need a weapon like an AR-15. This is not exactly the level of weapon one needs to protect his or her home from burglars, but it would certainly be useful in defending against a more capable adversary - in this case, the US government.

The point that Jeffries makes, and that has been echoed by many others recently, is that the government’s arsenal is so devastating that a civilian rebellion, even with weapons as violent as the AR-15 would not stand a chance. And, I hate to break it to you, he’s right. That’s not conjecture. It’s not my opinion. It’s just a fact. The government has tanks and drones and countless other technologies that go along with our immense level of defense spending (which the people who argue that they need arms to defend themselves from the government probably also supported at the voting booth). Basically, if the government goes rogue, we are screwed.

If your rebuttal to my argument is that we need to level the playing field and give civilians access to tanks and drones in order to ensure our security, we can have that conversation. The conversation will start and end with my suggestion that you seek counseling.

We can also have the slightly less insane conversation about whether states should have access to the same technologies as the federal government, since that is the entity that the Second Amendment is actually written for anyway. As you might have guessed, I’m not sold on that idea, either. There are countless ways that this could go wrong: states warring with each other, starting conflicts with other countries, etc. Most importantly, though, if someone like Sarah Palin can be elected governor, I am wary of expanding governors’ arsenals.

George Washington made the aforementioned remarks in an entirely different technological era. The argument that citizens need weapons to protect against a potentially tyrannical government made sense then because an organized civilian militia would actually stand a chance; that is not the case now. The AR-15 and weapons like it would make no difference in a fight with the US government, but they do make a difference in the hands of deranged people with intentions of carrying out indiscriminate mass murder.

I don’t like it any more than anti-gun control advocates, especially in this political moment (trust me) but at the end of the day, it seems everyone will simply have to put a little more faith in our government, and in the institutions that defend our democracy, because if we end up in a war with the federal government, we’ve already lost.

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