Guns and Democracy

Is it reasonable to state that countries with less guns are more likely to become tyrannical than countries with more guns?

A series of new comment to a post earlier this month raised the question this morning of whether the Second Amendment and its right to keep and bear arms is a protection against tyrannical government forming in the United States.  The argument seemed to be that the mere presence of an armed citizenry would keep the feds from going too far.  One of the comments noted:  “The final resting place of tyranny is in force of arms. THAT is why the second ammendment [sic] exists.”

I accept, certainly, the notion that all of the amendments are designed to limit what the government can do.  As such, they are protections of citizens against the government.  However, this is different, I would argue, than saying that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to create an institutionalized, armed check on tyranny (i.e., Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies”).   One can go round and round over the purpose of the Second Amendment and the original intent behind it.  For example, while one can focus on the right to keep and bear arms, one, too, can also focus on the phrase “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” and wonder how in the world the purpose of the amendment would be to arm the citizens against the government, per se.

I do find the notion that we need to be armed just in case the government gets uppity to be problematic.   If anything this is because I don’t care how well armed we are as civilians, if the government was actually transformed into a functional authoritarian state bent on tyrannizing us, then the might of the US military would be more than sufficient to put down an insurrection if it was based solely on arms held by private citizens.*

And, really, the basic debate over the Second Amendment is largely moot in a practical sense, given that the Supreme Court recently ruled gun ownership to be an individual right.

So, setting aside the Second Amendment, per se,  the question of whether there is a correlation between gun ownership by private citizens and the likelihood of tyrannical government made me think of some data that I had collected in conjunction with a book project I am working on (a comparison of 30 democracies on a number of institutional variables).  Specifically, I had gathered data on guns per 100 citizens from the Small Arms Survey 2007 (source).  Not surprisingly, the US has the most guns (by a rather large margin) of the 30 cases under scrutiny:

image

So, within the topic that inspired the post:  is it reasonable to state that countries with less guns are more likely to become tyrannical than countries with more guns?  In looking at the chart, this seems unlikely.  There is not reason to assume, for example, that Japan is more  likely to become tyrannical than is the case for the US.

I gave a look at the Freedom House scores for 2007 and really the only significant deviation in terms of levels of freedom is that some of the less developed states on the list (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, India, and Mexico) score 2 or higher on the composite Freedom House score.  The scale runs from 1-7, with 1 being best and 7 the worst (assuming, of course, a normative preference for freedom).   The likely explanation for the deviation in term of the FH score is more likely a result of levels of development than it is anything to do with gun availability.  Note, for example, that Mexico has a gun ownership rate identical to Australia.

As such, we do not see much in the way of proof, at least in this limited examination, of gun ownership and freedom, per se.  Really, what we can see here is that economic development and well established rule of law and institution are the best long-term guarantors of freedom, not an armed population.

And note:  I am not disputing here anything to do with gun ownership rights.  Rather, I am trying to address what I consider a myth in American politics:  that the reason we are allowed gun ownership rights is to protect us from the government.  Again:  the best protection from government tyranny comes in the form of well developed institutions and rule of law.

To conclude:  does this prove anything?  No, of course not.  Still, it is interesting and at least gives us some actual information to consider as opposed to simply pulling opinions out of the air because we like them.

Really, to me the more interesting question about personal gun ownership is its effects on things like crime rates.  This is especially true given that the likelihood that an individual could conceivably use a personal firearm to protect his or her home is substantially higher (to put it mildly) than they are to use said weapon in an insurrection against a democracy gone bad.

—-

*Really, if we want to prevent the chance of the US government becoming a tyranny, the better move would be to disarm it (i.e., do away with a standing military).  If there was no standing military, the potential for central government tyranny would be greatly diminished.  I am not, btw, recommending this policy actions, but if are going to worry about tyranny (and fears from the Founding Era) this one need attention as well.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t think the US Army poses any real-world threat to our democracy.

    But that said, the most dangerous institutional development in the abstract has been the move to a professional force. That right-wingers are hysterical over the individual health insurance mandate while loudly praising the professional military and the bipartisan drug war militarization of the police, shows how little they know or care about history. (Or reality.) No one ever overthrew a government with health insurance. To overthrow a government short of a genuine revolution, your best place to start is with elite military units and a militarized police — exactly what we have now. Add in a strong element of paranoia, a dash of racism and a fearful, credulous population and you have the trifecta.

  2. Dr. Taylor, of course no group of armed citizenry will likely be able to stand up to that country’s military, but there is an implicit assumption here that has been found wanting repeatedly — even in such places as Syria reportedly — that the military will obey its political masters and fire on its own citizens until they have been put down or the “proper” order has been restored. I could be wrong, but I have trouble envisioning our military firing on our citizens much, Kent State notwithstanding, posse comitatus and all that.

    It’s also just about as clear that at a local level citizens should perhaps be prepared to defend themselves from the police from time to time, whether it is out of control SWAT teams or during the temporary and transitory anrachy that rumbles in on the heels of something like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

  3. Boyd says:

    Although I’m a bit of a gun rights activist, I’ve also had problems agreeing with the premise that “the reason” we have the 2nd Amendment is to defend against governmental tyranny, or to protect the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, or similar claims. While I can agree that each of these can be “a reason” for the 2nd Amendment, based on my study of the history of the 2nd Amendment, I can’t agree that “the defense against tyranny” was the sole reason, or even the main one, for inclusion its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.

    That being said, though, I think it’s instructive to consider the countries that are the worst at exploiting their citizens, and civilian gun ownership therein. It seems pretty plain to me that gun ownership by the common man in those countries is rare and essentially prohibited by the government. Whether widespread gun ownership would help them remove the yoke of tyranny is a separate question, and mostly speculative.

  4. @Charles:

    Yes, but that is a rather different question than whether guns in a society are a guarantor against tyranny or not.

  5. michael reynolds, if you could strip away the veneer of a common culture and respect for the institutions, then perhaps that would be something to worry about. The US military is at the forefront of meritocratic institutions and I’d hate to see that go away. The paranoia and racism you are so, um, paranoid about are kind of like poverty, almost a natural state of man that we are much farther away from than you fear, though I will admit that the progressive elements of our society are working overtime to rebalkanize us and get class warfare going as much as possible.

    Oh, and I also think you’re wrong about “overthrowing” the government with healthcare, et al. Bankrupting the country will bring about changes none of us will like very much, whether you choose to call that a revolution or not is a different matter.

  6. mattb says:

    @Steven, one thing I wish that chart had (at least for the US) is what percentage of those 100 people own the 88.8 guns. I’m also curious as to what the survey is counting as a gun.

    Tangentially, I was just thinking about the claim that Obama was going to take away everyone’s guns — which led to a spike in weapons sales right after the election — has their been any major or minor weapons legislation proposed or passed on a national level in the last two and a half years? In part I’m interested because it seems that this is a thread that Glenn Beck recently resurrected on the TV although this one tying the administration in with the UN ( http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201106130022 )

  7. LaurenceB says:

    “Unlike its neighbours, Costa Rica has not endured a civil war since 1948.”
    Wikipedia

  8. Boyd says:

    mantis, I don’t have a link for you because I’m too lazy to LMGTFY, but my recollection is that ~40% of US households have guns in the home.

  9. mattb says:

    @Charles

    The paranoia and racism you are so, um, paranoid about are kind of like poverty, almost a natural state of man that we are much farther away from than you fear

    Can you explain this sentence as it’s perhaps either brilliant or the most naive and (based on your other postings) contradictory thing you have written in a while.

    And btw, on the “paranoia” thing, check out that “Glenn Beck” explains it all for the viewers link I included in my last post .

    In general, Paranoia is alive and quite well out there (both on the left and right). The scary party is trafficking it in pays.

    Keeping in line with guns and paranoia: today Rush Limbaugh was suggesting that “it is not beyond this administration” to be intentionally selling arms to mexican gangs inside the us to prove that those arms aren’t coming across the border in order to weaken arguements for border defense. … seriously, no playing at paranoia there).

  10. Barry says:

    Charles Austin: “but there is an implicit assumption here that has been found wanting repeatedly — even in such places as Syria reportedly — that the military will obey its political masters and fire on its own citizens until they have been put down or the “proper” order has been restored. I could be wrong, but I have trouble envisioning our military firing on our citizens much, Kent State notwithstanding, posse comitatus and all that.”

    Two things – first, the right-wing media has certainly spent a few decades prepping the ground for that (e.g., dividing Americans into ‘Real Americans’ and ‘liberals’, etc.).

    Second, if you look at the policies of the right, they really don’t worry at all about Americans holding guns. Somebody had a joke once that the goals of the right were to leave most Americans poor, at risk, pissed off and armed.

  11. mattb says:

    @Boyd – thanks, still seems high (though it depends on whats classified as a gun), but in the ball park (I would have thought somewhere in the 30’s).

  12. michael reynolds says:

    michael reynolds, if you could strip away the veneer of a common culture and respect for the institutions, then perhaps that would be something to worry about.

    Which is why I wrote:

    I don’t think the US Army poses any real-world threat to our democracy.

    You wrote:

    I will admit that the progressive elements of our society are working overtime to rebalkanize us and get class warfare going as much as possible.

    Which is drivel. And:

    Bankrupting the country will bring about changes none of us will like very much

    Which leads me to assume you were very much opposed to Reagan’s massive increases in debt caused by military spending increases and tax cuts, and equally opposed to the Bush tax cuts and unfunded wars which are the greatest contributors to our current difficulties.

  13. Barry says:

    “Oh, and I also think you’re wrong about “overthrowing” the government with healthcare, et al. Bankrupting the country will bring about changes none of us will like very much, whether you choose to call that a revolution or not is a different matter.”

    Which this is unlikely to do; the results of the past few decades clearly demonstrate that the policies of the right are more likely to do that.

  14. Rick DeMent says:

    The main “reason” for the 2nd was alluded to in the asterisk section of the main post. If you read the anti-federalist papers (N0. 24 and 25) you will find out that the 2nd was a bit of a proxy fight over whether or not the federal government should have a standing army at all. The idea was that a professional standing army was the first step in the road to governmental tyranny. The solution was the 2nd amendment, not because there was a belief that an armed citizenry could repel the army, but that an an armed citizenry would make a standing army unnecessary.

    The fact is that the reason for the 2nd amendment was antiquated almost before the US made it into the 19th century.

  15. Andre Kenji says:

    The Brazilian case is that the country adopts a something European Political model(with a very authoritarian bent), so, that explains both the low score on the Freedom House ranking and restrictive laws on guns.

  16. Boyd says:

    @mattb: Regarding the percentage of households, I feel obligated to point out that much of “somewhere in the 30′s” could be considered “~40%.” 🙂

    And regarding your comment about guns and paranoia, are you familiar with the House hearings currently underway regarding the ATF’s failed Operation Fast and Furious? Given the Obama Administration’s stonewalling in (non-)response to congressional inquiries, “flooding the zone” in Mexico with guns from the US seems like a plausible explanation for a very idiotic policy (letting known straw purchasers buy guns in the US and transport them to Mexico).

    But for once, I’m not going to digress (for long) from the topic under discussion, and return to the good Dr’s original post.

  17. Andre Kenji says:

    Off topic: when I comment in my house my comments are being caught on the AntiSpam. I know that I write in English as someone that writes in English as a second language, but I don´t think that my comments are so bad to deserve that. 😉

  18. @Andre:

    I will see if I can figure anything out in regards to your comments.

  19. @Andre:

    I found a few that were marked as Spam and I released them. If you continue to have trouble, let us know.

  20. Hey Norm says:

    The link between gun ownership and democracy is tenuous at best. When was the last time a citizen needed to bear arms in order to protect himself/herself from tyranny? Far more common is citizens brandishing arms in an effort to undermine the Republic. I’d like to see stats re: gun ownership and crime rates. I would assume a far more causual relationship… but I don’t know that.

  21. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    Given the Obama Administration’s stonewalling in (non-)response to congressional inquiries, “flooding the zone” in Mexico with guns from the US seems like a plausible explanation for a very idiotic policy (letting known straw purchasers buy guns in the US and transport them to Mexico).

    Just want to point out that many of these purchases occur at gun shows where there are no checks and little to no limit on the number of guns one can buy. But to stop that practice would be un-American… at least according to the NRA.

    Meanwhile back to the chart: Canada at 30.8? Seems low to me…. but then the part of Canada I lived in had lots bear moose deer ducks etc. not a city. Very few handguns though.

  22. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    Far more common is citizens brandishing arms in an effort to undermine the Republic.

    Huh? Norm, if you mean the idiot who wore a sidearm to an Obama rally… You are overstating. Otherwise, what are you speaking of?

  23. Boyd says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: The gun laws are exactly (and I mean exactly) the same at gun shows as they are anywhere else in the US. You’re repeating a lie, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t know it was a lie. But now you know.

    Also, the number of guns sold at US gun shows vs. through any other method are minuscule. The FBI puts the percentage well under 5%. I’d link you the report, but once again, I’m too lazy to LMGTFY.

    @Norm: The CDC conducted just the study you’re looking for a few years back. While they wisely refrained from trying to claim any causation, states with high percentages of gun ownership were inversely correlated to crime rates. In other words, more guns, less crime (but I’m not trying to claim that guns were the reason for less crime, but the correlation is pretty clear).

  24. If anything this is because I don’t care how well armed we are as civilians, if the government was actually transformed into a functional authoritarian state bent on tyrannizing us, then the might of the US military would be more than sufficient to put down an insurrection if it was based solely on arms held by private citizens.

    Yes, I mean the insurrgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan were lightly armed and we had absolutely no problem putting them down.

  25. Dave Schuler says:

    Just an explanation for Switzerland’s high rate of gun ownership: Switzerland has universal compulsory military service for able-bodied men from ages 19 to 34 (mostly in the reserves) and gun ownership, too, is compulsory–they’re expected to provide their own personal weapons. It is, consequently, the best-armed country in Europe.

  26. mantis says:

    mantis, I don’t have a link for you because I’m too lazy to LMGTFY, but my recollection is that ~40% of US households have guns in the home.

    Including mine. Don’t really know why you addressed that to me, though.

  27. george says:

    As noted, the days when a citizen militia could fight off a serious army is gone. There are good reasons for allowing citizens to own firearms, but that is not one of them.

  28. Alex Knapp says:

    Steven,

    Really, if we want to prevent the chance of the US government becoming a tyranny, the better move would be to disarm it (i.e., do away with a standing military). If there was no standing military, the potential for central government tyranny would be greatly diminished. I am not, btw, recommending this policy actions, but if are going to worry about tyranny (and fears from the Founding Era) this one need attention as well.

    Personally, I *do* recommend this action. We should have a very small, trained, professional force for small, immediate needs and to provide a command structure. Other than , and every capable adult should be a member of the militia, to be called up as needed.

  29. Boyd says:

    Don’t really know why you addressed that to me, though.

    Because A) I’m having too many OTB-comments conversations this afternoon, and losing my place is all too easy, and 2) my brain apparently latched on to the “ma” of “mattb” and turned it into “mantis.”

  30. Alex Knapp says:

    Boyd,

    states with high percentages of gun ownership were inversely correlated to crime rates.

    No, they didn’t find any such thing at all.

  31. Wayne says:

    Re “Really, what we can see here is that economic development and well established rule of law and institution are the best long-term guarantors of freedom”

    Laws need to be just and not too oppressive. A tyranny has very well established rule of law and institutes. What happens when Presidents and politicians ignore those laws or simply remake them? What happens when the governments take too much power? Elections is a method to “help” control them but are by no means a guarantee against a tyrannical government. Many of those governments have elections.

    Re “the US military would be more than sufficient to put down an insurrection if it was based solely on arms held by private citizens”

    There are some big assumptions there. One that the military as a whole would put down an insurrection. Two a military that has had difficulty in other less well arm, less populated and less well train countries would have an easier time in their own country. It wouldn’t be a matter of who has the biggest guns.

    Re “When was the last time a citizen needed to bear arms in order to protect himself/herself from tyranny?”

    Haven’t you been paying attention to Libya and much of the Middle East? How about many Central American Countries in the last 50 years?

    The first thing you do when you want to control a populous is take away their guns. There is a reason for that.

  32. Boyd says:

    I apologize, Alex. I was confusing my studies. The CDC study didn’t find a correlation between gun laws and firearm deaths, either direct or inverse. I was thinking of a different study.

  33. The key phrase is:

    an insurrection if it was based solely on arms held by private citizens

    But then again, that’s the argument being made by some who interpret the 2nd amendment as I described above.

    Real civil war/civil insurrection would be a much messier affair, one would think.

    Let’s focus on the simple point: an armed citizenry is not a check on tyranny. It is not a sufficient amount of force in and of itself.

    And in re: Libya: one would note that even with NATO air support, the government has not yet fallen. As such, the notion that citizens just armed with the basics can forestall a tyranny is rather problematic.

  34. Here is my response (on my blog, it’s too long for a comment post): http://bit.ly/lQkqD3

  35. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    The gun laws are exactly (and I mean exactly) the same at gun shows as they are anywhere else in the US. You’re repeating a lie, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t know it was a lie. But now you know.

    Boyd, I might well be repeating a lie, but it is a lie perpetrated often. Would you please quote me chapter and verse (with links) otherwise? And no, LMGTFY won’t wash. And Boyd, I know the laws are the same, however, I remember a clause…. that says if the FBI check is not working, well….

    At a gun show, they can ignore it. Maybe I am wrong. I will admit, that of all my firearms, I never once felt the urge to purchase one at a gun show…. But then, I have never been to a gun show… so again, I admit, I don’t know….

    But you do. So please enlighten me.

  36. JKB says:

    Tyranny starts with extra-legal thugs, Brownshirts for the Nazis, Basji in Iran, etc. An armed citizenry makes it harder for them to do their violence without active cover from the officials which can reveal the threat earlier.

    Thugs are less likely to attack if they fear you are armed. A weapon can permit an individual to defend from the group thuggery so popular with those types. And weapons in the home make, organizing a group to terrorize people in their homes more dangerous for the thugs. Although, optimally, in such situations, you wait to the those leading from behind to enter because putting them down usually scatters the useful idiots.

  37. mattb says:

    @Boyd:

    And regarding your comment about guns and paranoia, are you familiar with the House hearings currently underway regarding the ATF’s failed Operation Fast and Furious?

    A little bit — heard a couple reports on it over the weekend. I have little doubt the whole thing was a huge cluster-eff. What I was suggesting is that counter Charles claim that paranoia and conspiracies are going away, they are alive and well on both sides.

    In regards to Rush’s claim that this was a calculated effort to destroy an anti-immigration argument — that’s where I get off that particular bus. Especially given the fact that, other than things like the failed “Dream Act,” there’s little evidence to support the Obama Administration as being that much against existing border policies. Last time I checked prosecutions and deportations have only increased under the current administration.

    So if they were going to try and come up with a secret plan to discredit things, it seem like this one made for an especially convoluted one. Though perhaps time will tell.

  38. sam says:

    @Steven

    “Let’s focus on the simple point: an armed citizenry is not a check on tyranny. It is not a sufficient amount of force in and of itself.”

    And Andy (above) from his blog:

    ‘the abstract purpose of the “well-regulated militia” clause is to prevent a federal monopoly on military force’

    See, Whiskey Rebellion, which, I think disproves Andy’s contention, at least as far as the practical application of the 2d went in those early days– faced with an anti-tax insurrection, President Washington called out the citizen militia to put said insurrection down (that it didn’t come to outright warfare does not militate against the observation). I’d argue the federal government exercised a monopoly on military force even in those days (see, Militia Act of 1792).

  39. steve says:

    If you want to avoid tyranny, not having a large standing army is a better route. This is also, IMHO, more in line with what the Founders believed. As to armed citizens being able to hold out against the military, I would suggest studying the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Committed and well armed citizens will probably lose eventually, but they can extract a high enough cost to make any professional military worry.

    Steve

  40. Boyd says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Seriously? You can’t do a Google search for the same thing you want me to do a Google search for? Seriously? I think this absolves me from any future accusation of laziness. Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to call me lazy don’t read this blog to see what lazy really is. Man!

    I’m not going to let you completely off the hook, though. You’re still going to have to do some reading if you really want to understand the reality of US Federal Firearms law, and it ain’t easy reading. Here’s the deal: there’s no reference to “gun shows” or anything similar in the part of US Code that addresses the “Instant Background Checks.” So when they tell you that, they’re pointing you in a different direction so you don’t notice the man behind the curtain. Or more accurately, the man that’s not behind the curtain.

    The law (Title 18, Chapter 44, Section 922, paragraph (t) of the US Code, to be precise) says (generally) that federally licensed firearms dealers have to perform background checks when they sell a gun to an individual. There are no exceptions for gun shows, whether they’re at their normal place of business, at a flea market, nothing like that. If they sell me a gun, they have to run me through the Instacheck system. Period.

    Conversely, if an individual sells or otherwise transfers ownership of a gun to another individual, there is no required background check under federal law. This is why the gun control advocates say you can buy a gun without a background check at a gun show. That’s technically true. But there aren’t a lot of non-licensees selling guns at gun shows. And most of those that are selling one or more guns privately are very suspicious of anybody that doesn’t look like a gun nut. The net result of this is it’s much easier for a hoodlum (using a term from my youth) to get a gun through typical underground/illegal sources than through a gun show. It just don’t happen much. Not that it doesn’t happen at all, but the degree to which it does pretty much equates to statistical noise.

    One other misdirection the gun banners use to make you think gun shows are evil is to claim that the vast majority of vendors at a gun show aren’t licensed. It’s true that the vast majority aren’t licensed gun dealers, but that same vast majority (with very, very few exceptions) don’t sell guns, either. I call that a lie, although some would quibble with that characterization.

    So, I’ve given you the law citation that answers your question, Tom, but you’re going to have to do the work from here on out on your own.

  41. Boyd says:

    @mattb: I’m not going to address whatever point Rush Limbaugh was trying to make, but here’s what I’ve learned from the hearings so far:

    * It wasn’t a Keystone Kops bungle by the ATF. The policy came down from above rather than bubbling up from the bottom (hang on, this gains significance later).

    * Frontline agents objected, told their bosses that letting guns “walk” from gun dealers to Mexico would have no investigative value and some would inevitably be used to kill American law enforcement agents.

    * When gun dealers objected to selling guns to people they suspected to be straw buyers, ATF leadership used “law enforcement persuasion” to coerce the dealers to go through with the sales.

    * Whistleblowers have jeopardized their long careers with ATF to bring this operation to the attention of Congress and the media.

    * Gun control advocates, who loudly protest that guns from US dealers are the major source of guns in the Mexican drug war, are strangely silent about the US government knowingly letting representatives of the drug cartels buy guns from US dealers. In fact, they attack the Senator and Congressmen who are trying to hold the government accountable.

    * Senator Grassley has been trying to get information from ATF and DoJ about this operation since January, but both have ignored him, then given him non-responsive responses, forcing Rep. Issa to hold hearings to issue subpoenas and get information since Grassley is in the minority in the Senate.

    While I’m not ready to leap to the conclusion myself yet, others feel that Operation Fast and Furious was put into place to put more US guns in Mexico when the lie that “90% of drug war guns come from US gun dealers” was soundly refuted. I do think that’s a possible reason behind the operation, though, so I’m eager to hear how this all comes out in the wash.

    It already appears that the acting ATF Director will be fired over this, so even the Obama Administration is starting to recognize, admit and act on this being a major scandal. Time will tell.

  42. Boyd says:

    I intended to link to the WSJ article on Melson’s impending firing, but I double-clutched it or something. At any rate, it’s here.

  43. @Steve:

    well armed citizens will probably lose eventually, but they can extract a high enough cost to make any professional military worry

    No doubt. But, of course, if (as you note) they “will probably lose eventually” then they aren’t an especially effective check on tyranny (which, again, was what I was addressing).

    There is no doubt that guerrilla warfare can exact a high price.

  44. mattb says:

    @Boyd, thanks for the reading, I’m looking forward to it.

    In general, I’m not anti-gun by any stretch. Though I tend to fall into the camp of raising the bar to get a license to include a handling test. That said, I also think that folks should have to re-certify ever X number of years to maintain a drivers license (if that helps give you an idea of where I’m coming from).

  45. @sam

    Firstly, it’s “Alex”, not “Andy” LOL

    Second: The Whiskey Rebellion wasn’t the only failure of Constitutional principles early on in our country’s history- obviously, a new form of government has “growing pains” to deal with, and that event was one of them. I think using that as indication of a failure of the Second Amendment, would be like using the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts as proof of the failure of the First Amendment.

    Third: With regard to the Militia Act of 1792: The ability of the federal government to involuntarily summon state militia was limited in that act to the following: Invasion or “imminent danger of invasion”; obstruction of federal law “too powerful to be suppressed by the normal course of judicial proceedings”; and insurrection against the government of a state. Further, the act also prohibited the federal government from trying militia members before court martial unless the court martial consisted entirely of militia officers; prohibited the federal government from retaining militia members for more than three months, and limited punishments for infractions to fines. In other words, it created a fairly sensible allowance for the federal government to use state militias under extreme circumstances- as opposed to the current situation, wherein the National Guard is a federal domestic army only tacitly given to the states (when the federal government has no need for them); while simultaneously limiting the government’s ability to coerce militias into extended or unacceptable federal service.

    It also required every able-bodied male to enroll, rather than creating a full-time paid army, because paid career troops are more likely to participate in abuse of government power than volunteer citizens.

    It also provided for uniformity of organization, equipment, and discipline of militias. This is also sensible, since (in case of the extreme circumstances listed above) militias from multiple states would likely be serving together. This is a far cry from the federal monopoly on domestic defense which we have today.

  46. @Alex:

    But the point about the Whiskey Rebellion that causes problems for your position is that the rebels clearly thought their rights were being violated, so they used privately held force. The government countered that force to enforce the law and did not see the rebels are engaging in a legitimate act of protest via violence.

    If holding private arms to use as a check on the government when it acts tyrannically was as valid as the actions the First Amendment protects, then why did Washington put down the rebels? Why didn’t he see it as some sort of protest against tyranny by use of Second Amendment rights?

    And in regards to this:

    This is a far cry from the federal monopoly on domestic defense which we have today.

    All modern states claim not only a monopoly on domestic defense, but on the legitimate use of force. Even under the Second Amendment, the government has the power to regulate the violence in question and how it is applied.

    Even under a militia system, we are talking about actions sanctioned and directed by the state. Once individual citizens have the right to use violence however they see fit solely because it is right in their own eyes is when you no longer have a state, i.e., anarchy in the true sense of the term: rule by no one.

  47. michael reynolds says:

    Alex Knapp:

    Other than , and every capable adult should be a member of the militia, to be called up as needed.

    Are you aware of the fact that my left knee is killing me? Plus I hate camping and refuse to participate in any outside-the-home sleeping arrangement that does not involve room service and a minibar? Are you aware that although I have fired various weapons and have on occasion owned guns, I hate loud noises? Are you aware that under no circumstances will I ever say, “Hoo-uh!”

    Plus, seriously: I do not look good in camouflage.

  48. Boyd says:

    Michael Reynolds:

    I do not look good in camouflage.

    A less charitable soul than I am would say that he has seen photographs of you, and it’s not just camouflage that you do not look good in.

    Fortunately, that soul is not me. Or I. Whatever.

  49. @Steven

    Washington’s actions during the Whiskey Rebellion are no different than every President who followed him- beliefs tend to go out the window once someone holds the Presidency (just like Reagan’s promise to disband the Department of Education, or Bush Sr’s “No New Taxes” pledge, or Obama’s frequent citing of the War Powers Act).

    In regards to this:

    All modern states claim not only a monopoly on domestic defense, but on the legitimate use of force. Even under the Second Amendment, the government has the power to regulate the violence in question and how it is applied.

    Unlike other governments, ours was intended to have a separation of military powers- the federal government, and the states individually, each possessing part of the military “pie”, rendering the unopposed, widespread use of military force domestically by the federal government an unlikely occurrence. That is a situation I’d much rather have than our current system, wherein the federal government alone controls virtually all military force.

    Likewise, eight centuries of English and American common law precendent establish rights of the people to use force, independently and without regard to government sanction (or lack thereof). This includes the right to resist government intrusion into one’s home and the right to use judicious force to defend life and property. It’s an interesting sideline to note that your argument- essentially, the “inadviseability” of using force against the government (because such force is doomed to failure)- is actually an argument which laws in many states prohibit using against persons in court who use force in self-defense.

    In sum: Our Founders intended (though Washington later disregarded, regrettably) for no single body to have a monopoly on force. The federal government is authorized certain military forces, and allowed to use those forces under specific circumstances; the states are authorized their own forces, and authorized to use them under certain circumstances; and the people are affirmed (not “given”) the right to keep and bear arms, and to use force (with or without government sanction) under certain circumstances. This principle is, like all the rest of our Constitutional checks-and-balances, an imperfect protection, made even more imperfect by numerous government acts since 1789; but it’s a mistake to believe that its imperfections render it null and void. To use a common business term, I don’t see this as a failure of concept, but a failure of execution.

    Also, a minor point, which will seem larger than intended simply because I am writing about it: The use of the word “hold” with regard to private ownership of firearms is slightly offensive. It’s a “term of art” used by anti-gun organizations to subtly imply a lack of private property rights over a firearm- i.e. “if we allow people to hold guns…”.

  50. Plus, seriously: I do not look good in camouflage.

    Doesn’t looking good in camoflauge kinda defeat the whole purpose of camoflauge?

  51. michael reynolds says:

    Boyd:

    Bold talk from a man hiding in the shadows of his ten gallon hat.

  52. Boyd says:

    Everybody looks better in a Stetson, Michael.

  53. sam says:

    Firstly, it’s “Alex”, not “Andy” LOL

    Second: The Whiskey Rebellion wasn’t the only failure of Constitutional principles early on in our country’s history- obviously, a new form of government has “growing pains” to deal with, and that event was one of them. I think using that as indication of a failure of the Second Amendment, would be like using the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts as proof of the failure of the First Amendment.

    Third: With regard to the Militia Act of 1792: The ability of the federal government to involuntarily summon state militia was limited in that act to the following: Invasion or “imminent danger of invasion”; obstruction of federal law “too powerful to be suppressed by the normal course of judicial proceedings”; and insurrection against the government of a state.

    Yikes. Sorry for misattribution.

    I do trust, though, that you see that the third thing you discuss directly contradicts your position in the second? If the Militia Act of 1792 was constitutional, how then was Washington’s use of the militia in the Whiskey Rebellion unconstitutional? Or, more broadly, violative of the founding principles as you see them? That is, if the ideas underlying the Militia Act were widely agreed upon as just and legal, how then could Washington’s actions in the Whiskey Rebellion have been seen as not just and legal? And the Act was invoked to justify Washington’s actions, and the Act itself is surely contitutional under the federal government Art 1, sec 8 militia powers.

    I fear that like many libertarians, you are ascribing a modern sensibility to the Founding generation that those folks simply did not possess.

  54. Alex:

    Unlike other governments, ours was intended to have a separation of military powers- the federal government, and the states individually, each possessing part of the military “pie”, rendering the unopposed, widespread use of military force domestically by the federal government an unlikely occurrence.

    This interpretation does not comport with the text of the Constitution, I would argue.

    In sum: Our Founders intended (though Washington later disregarded, regrettably) for no single body to have a monopoly on force.

    The funny thing about the Washington example is this: even though one of the Founders’ actions contradicts your interpretation (and, indeed, the whole of the federal government, as it was not Washington acting alone), this doesn’t cause a re-evaluation of your interpretation, but rather to say “beliefs tend to go out the window once someone holds the Presidency.”

    If that is going to be your position, then I would note the following: The conversation about “what the Founders intended” is pointless because if the politicians who attended the Philadelphia Convention didn’t follow what they themselves designed (at least if your interpretation is correct), then there is no way we are going to do so now (and even to apply those principles now has to be seen as a fruitless exercise).

    Really, it would seem to me that if anyone knew what the “Founders intended” it would be the Founders themselves, and Washington was the presiding officer of the Convention and many members of that convention were in Congress at the time.

    If your interpretation is correct, I would ask: if the Founders couldn’t do what the “Founders intended” is there even any point in talking about said intentions? Indeed, if the Founders didn’t follow their own intentions, then said intentions are naught but a fantasy that never were applied, yes?

  55. mattb says:

    @Alex, following @Steven’s response, I’d also point out a key aspect of his subtle phrasing:

    @Steven wrote:
    All modern states claim not only a monopoly on domestic defense, but on the legitimate use of force. Even under the Second Amendment, the government has the power to regulate the violence in question and how it is applied.

    The modern part should not be overlooked.

    Though the signing of the US Constitution is often talked about as the start of the first “Modern Nation State,” it seems to me that the US as we know it, along with the modern nation state both emerge in the first half of last (the 20th century). Or if you want to push it further back for us/US, then perhaps during Reconstruction.

    The issue of modern is also important to think about in terms of the “Founders Intentions” — its difficult to ever separate intentions from the times in which those intentions are set. And with a century or more of space between the emergence of the Modern Nation and the founding of the US (marked by the writing and ratification of the Constitution), one must ask how those years might have changed those intentions (and our interpretation of those intentions).

  56. @mattb and @Alex:

    Yes, I did deliberately put the word “modern” in that formulation and would agree with Matt’s basic interpretation that the US did not fully develop into a modern state until after its initial founding.

  57. @Steven, @sam, @mattb

    I think the flaw here is the belief that our government worked as anticipated from the outset, and that early failures weren’t “failures” at all, but evidence of the plan. Our Founders had lofty ideas, which take time to fully develop and which may not work out exactly as expected. And, it goes without saying, great leaders don’t always live up to their ideals.

    Washington is a perfect example of this: He despised nepotism, but practiced it; he admonished close friends to be responsible with money, but he was irresponsible with his own; he surrounded himself with educated men, but had little formal education himself; and so forth. It doesn’t strike me as inconsistent at all that he would desire strict controls on military power generally, but exercise military power beyond the scope of his professed ideals. If principles alone were enough to ensure good governance, and individual or systemic failings played no part in the course of events, we wouldn’t need a Constitution, nor would we have had numerous constitutional crises early on.

    And as far as the modernity argument goes- abuses of authority are certainly not a “modern” phenomenon, and the idea that safeguards are rendered obsolete because they were conceived “more than a hundred years ago” doesn’t carry water to me. It seems absurd that our Founders would craft a system of with elaborate checks and balances on virtually all significant actions of government, but somehow neglect to place similar restraints on military force- especially when they’d recently been on the recieving end of unjust military force.

    In other words (@sam) it’s not a matter of placing “modern sensibility” on the Founders, but rather, recognizing that human nature hasn’t changed in the span of two centuries.

  58. @Alex:

    A major problem with your position is that you are assuming that Washington, in fact, engaged in abuse of authority in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. However, you have not actually demonstrated this.

    How was it unconstitutional to levy an excise tax on whiskey?

    How was it legitimate for those who didn’t like the tax to resort to violence?

    How was it illegitimate or unconstitutional to use force against citizens violating the law and engaging in violence to further their own lawlessness?

  59. Wayne says:

    The number of citizens in U.S. with guns far outnumber our military even if every member of the military stood with the government which is unlikely. Those citizens also have a great advantage of blending into the populous. Even with your bogus parameter of standing toe to toes and slugging it out, the Citizens would probably win. The mlitary would be overwelm by the numbers.

    Yes the military have better weapons but they don’t have the numbers. The Zulus defeated the British who had better training and weapons. Also military bases including ones flying jets out of them would be in hostile territories. Most of the Air force bases are not placed or design against popular uprising. They are often right next to or inside major cities. There are some who are not but they still can be gotten too. Also their supplies would run out quick. There are other tidbits about their supplies but I won’t get into that. Another exceptions are carriers but they would have their own problems. The government and their leadership would also be in hostile territory unless the leadership skips off to another country. Skipping out of the country usually hurts their cause more than help.

    An arm population poses a great deal more threat to a tyrannical government than an unarm one.

    If you don’t think an arm citizenship gets those in power attention, watch the reaction when rallies with guns are held and those are simple peaceful rallies.

  60. @Wayne:

    The problem with such scenarios is that they ignore the fact that if the US were to become some sort of authoritarian tyranny that said government would have some significant level of support in the population, either directly or through acquiescence.

    Also: there is a rather substantial difference between throwing off a colonial master (because they can go home) and overthrowing an existing government (because they are already home).

  61. michael reynolds says:

    Wayne has thought about this waaaaay too much. And still come up with nothing.

    We can start with the fact that hillbillies with shotguns are not Zulu warriors.

    And we can move along to the obvious fact that the first thing an authoritarian government would do is to exploit pre-existing social tensions, given that this is the US, they would almost certainly be racial. Any possible authoritarian government would be a white majority government.

    In other words, Wayne, I suspect you and the rest of the gun-totin’, right-wing patriots would be on the side of the government. So, not so much firing at troops from the bushes as ratting out future Anne Franks.

  62. Alex Knapp says:

    Michael,

    In other words, Wayne, I suspect you and the rest of the gun-totin’, right-wing patriots would be on the side of the government. So, not so much firing at troops from the bushes as ratting out future Anne Franks.

    I have to call you out for this. That’s a low blow and not fair. Wayne and I don’t agree on a lot of things but he’s never expressed any opinion deserving of this comment, or any racist sentiments.

  63. @Steven-

    A major problem with your position is that you are assuming that Washington, in fact, engaged in abuse of authority in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. However, you have not actually demonstrated this.

    I haven’t made any such claim. I said the Whiskey Rebellion was “a constitutional crisis” (because the Constitution technically allowed a wholly unfair tax), “a failure of Constitutional principles”, and that Washington’s actions contradicted principles he espoused beforehand (i.e. not using federal military power domestically). Also, I haven’t once claimed that the “Whiskey Rebels” were justified in rebellion.

    The basic principle of separation of military power, with a portion of that power reserved for the people (via the Second Amendment), was clearly expressed by the Founding Fathers, both in the construction of the Constitution and in the arrangement of state militias. Clearly, our Founding Fathers intended checks and balances on military powers, as they created checks and balances on all other significant government acts.

    The Whiskey Rebellion, in my opinion, is not proof of the intent of the Founders, but rather, one of the numerous “growing pains” our country went through early on. Another example of such a growing pain was the Alien and Sedition Acts- the Founding Fathers held ideals of free speech and free press, yet fell short of these ideals in practice. That’s the nature of having high aspirations- they take time to develop, and won’t be fully realized immediately. It’s one thing to have inviolable principles in an academic vacuum; quite another thing to maintain perfect fidelity to those principles in “the real world”. All in all, the Founders did a pretty good job of adhering to their beliefs, though they did fall short sometimes.

  64. @Alex,

    I am now totally confused as to your position on the Whiskey Rebellion and how it illustrates Washington betraying his values.

    And this is a tautology in the context of this discussion:

    The basic principle of separation of military power, with a portion of that power reserved for the people (via the Second Amendment)

    Further, given the clear powers to raise and maintain the military, as well as Congress having the power to declare war (Art I, Sec 8), I don’t see the Constitution as creating “separation of military powers.” Indeed, I am not sure I have ever seen that phrase prior to this discussion.

  65. michael reynolds says:

    Alex and Wayne:

    I did not mean to imply he was racist, but I wrote the comment lazily and I can absolutely see where a reasonable person could draw that inference.

    For that I apologize.

    The longer version — the one I was too lazy to write — is that an authoritarian government would begin by ensuring a loyal base. Given the history of race politics in this country that would probably involve a racial element. Given the statistics it would presumably be a predominantly white government. And from that fact would arise said government’s identification with the right side of the political spectrum.

    Of course not everyone on the right is racist, far from it.

    But an authoritarian government in this country would come from the right, and it would be race-based and religion-based. So I would not expect much help from the right. On the contrary, I’d expect them to cheer on and collaborate with a right wing authoritarianism.

    In fact I think the right’s gun fetishism, its love of violent rhetoric, its history as defenders of militia and anti-abortion terrorists, its identification with apocalyptic religion, its open contempt for illegal immigrants, its dismissal of the rights of unpopular minorities, all argue very strongly that an authoritarian threat would come from the right.

    I believe in short that if there is danger to American liberty it comes from the right. Which is not to ay I think Wayne is a racist, and I apologize again for that lazy conflation on my part.

  66. @Steven

    I am now totally confused as to your position on the Whiskey Rebellion and how it illustrates Washington betraying his values.

    My position on the Whiskey Rebellion is this:

    The Whiskey Rebellion, in my opinion, is not proof of the intent of the Founders, but rather, one of the numerous “growing pains” our country went through early on.

    Stated differently: You and Sam seem to believe that the Whiskey Rebellion is proof of the Founders’ (and specifically, Washington’s) intent to create a federal monopoly on military force. I contend that there was no such intent.

    You cite this as further proof:

    Further, given the clear powers to raise and maintain the military, as well as Congress having the power to declare war (Art I, Sec 8), I don’t see the Constitution as creating “separation of military powers.”

    The Constitution authorizes Congress to “provide and maintain a Navy”, but doesn’t authorize Congress to maintain an army. The Constitution authorizes Congress to raise an army, but can fund it for a period not exceeding two years. If the intent of the Founders was to authorize a federal monopoly on military force, these limitations wouldn’t exist.

    Further, the Militia Act of 1792 doesn’t grant the federal government authority to raise an army for domestic use, but permits the use of state-run and state-controlled militias for domestic purposes, subject to a series of limitations on their use.

    Further limiting executive authority on military force, is the requirement that Congress declare war, issue letters of Marque and Reprisal, appropriate funds for military actions, and approve extended deployment of forces. This limited the military authority of the President to immediate emergencies.

    The intent is clear: The federal government is authorized forces sutiable to dealing with external threats (with extended use requiring Congressional approval and subject to time limits), while domestic threats were the responsibility of state militias (which could be utilized by the federal government under limited circumstances). And no single governmental body possessed a preponderance of military forces. If this isn’t a system of separation of powers/ checks and balances, then I don’t know what is.

  67. Alex Knapp says:

    Alex,

    The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the militias of the several States.

  68. Dave Schuler says:

    <
    The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the militias of the several States.

    Illinois State Constitution, Article XII, Section 4:

    SECTION 4. COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF AND OFFICERS
    (a) The Governor is commander-in-chief of the organized
    militia, except when they are in the service of the United
    States. He may call them out to enforce the laws, suppress
    insurrection or repel invasion.
    (b) The Governor shall commission militia officers who
    shall hold their commissions for such time as may be provided
    by law.

    Sounds like a shared responsibility to me.

  69. @Dave:

    except when they are in the service of the United States.

    In other words, subordinate to the federal government and hence POTUS.

    Likewise, Mr. Spock is in charge of the Enterprise until Kirk resumes command.

  70. Rick DeMent says:

    Likewise, Mr. Spock is in charge of the Enterprise until Kirk resumes command.

    Well OK if you want to put it terms we can all understand … sure 🙂

  71. mannning says:

    Seems to me that the driving question is “What issue causes the population or a significant portion of it to revolt fully against the government?” If the issue is sufficiently odious and motivating to the population, it could result in a majority, including a large number of current and former soldiers, to join in the effort, and even entire army units joining the insurgents–if the cause is right.

    Their first step would be to rectify their deficiency in weaponry of all kinds, and I suggest they have the power now through their privately owned weapons to capture many National Guard armories spread throughout the nation, including tanks, artillery, transport, and all manner of small arms and ammo on the army side, and quite a number of aircraft of fairly late issue, the question being would any number of NG or other trained pilots join up to fly missions. Key generals might go over to the insurgent side and would exert a significant force on troops to follow, if the cause is right.

    With perhaps half of our voluntary army posted overseas, and with a high percentage of the 60 million gun-owning citizens joining the revolt, it is not clear to me that the outcome would be a pushover for the existing government and their loyal military. The idea of fighting our own citizens is highly unpalatable to soldiers, and if the issue has a large influence on them, even the hard core of our military might balk.

    It all depends on the power of the issue or issues that would spark such a revolt.

  72. mannning says:

    Perhaps it is the left that by their creation of an unrecognizable America to the general population, say a socialist or communist and atheistic government, that would spark a revolt.

  73. An Interested Party says:

    Ohhhh…the scary left, with their supposed attempts to create a socialist, communist, atheist America! Chilling stuff! Makes you want to go out and buy a gun right now, eh? Meanwhile, we don’t need to talk about revolts in the abstract, as our country has already had to deal with a revolt, as some people were worried about the creation of an unrecognizable America where slavery would eventually cease to exist…yeah, there was something to stage a revolt over…

  74. mannning says:

    “yeah, there was something to stage a revolt over…”

    And so would a radical change in the structure of our republican form of government by those who wish for a communal form of government cause a general revolt across every state in the Union, once the actual change was clearly identified to the people There would be a new Declaration of Independence set forth, modifying the grievances to fit.

    Since you chose to downplay the Radical Left’s program and deflect the idea to a historical situation 166 years ago, I assume that you are yourself of that radical left persuasion that would not mind seeing the US convert to a Socialist form of government.

    (There is no need for me to go out and buy a gun. I have a number of them, large and small, and I hug them now and then, too, when they do what I bought them for well.)

  75. An Interested Party says:

    I’m not surprised that you own several guns and hug them regularly, with your paranoia that I must be part of the evil radical leftist conspiracy since I dismiss your rambling…I wonder if all your guns will be able to protect you when my comrades come to take you to the reeducation camp…

  76. mannning says:

    You would not succeed.

  77. mannning says:

    You sound as if you are totally and completely ignorant of the existing radical left and their plans for America. Being so unaware must be bliss. You must be just an ordinary sort of harmless leftie… given to dramatics.