Why the “We need assault weapons to protect ourselves from government tyranny” argument is invalid

After the mass school shooting at Sandy Hook in late 2012, a fellow gun owner in my church agreed with me that legalized guns, such as those used for hunting, are fine, but nobody needs a gun that can kill 30 people in 30 seconds. Within earshot was a devout Republican Christian, however, who chimed in with the argument that we need high-powered assault rifles to protect us from a tyrannical government. My response was, “Paint me a picture in which it would be right for Christians to shoot police officers or soldiers, since they would be the ones representing the government that was ‘coming to get us.’” I can’t recall his exact words, but I believe they had something to do with Hitler and the Jews.

Ben Carson promoted a similar argument in his most recent book, and he received media criticism for it. He claimed that the Jews would have been able to defend themselves from Nazi tyranny, if only they had been allowed to have guns. The good news here is that rather than debate the hypothetical, we can look to American history, where guns of nearly all kinds have been legal, to see if gun rights protected Americans from tyranny.

Japanese internment camps

One might argue that the U.S. didn’t starve and kill Japanese-Americans the way the Germans did the Jews. True. But did Japanese-Americans know that our government wouldn’t do anything tyrannical to them when they first required them to live in camps? How did they know they wouldn’t be slaughtered and enslaved? It’s funny how Republicans are silent on what would have happened had the Japanese-Americans fought back, guns-a-blazing, when our government “came for them.” It’s hard to imagine that it would have gone well for them. Rather, it’s likely they would have been seen as Japanese sympathizers and would have been killed as though they were Japanese combatants. Regardless of what we can imagine, the fact is that loose guns laws didn’t protect Japanese-Americans from being forced into camps.

The Palmer Raids

During the Red Scare, in the years following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, J. Edgar Hoover oversaw the seizure and arrests of over 10,000 people who were suspected of being communists. A few thousand of them were detained, and several hundred, including Emma Goldman, were deported. The vast majority of them were non-violent. There were, however, some who were violent anarchists, and they were armed with bombs and guns. Yet, the government still managed to arrest, detain, and deport the violent ones, despite the fact that they were armed, because our police and military are experts in how to capture violent, armed extremists.

The Latimer Massacre

In 1897, the Luzerne County in Sheriff’s department in Hazleton PA shot 19 coal strikers dead, despite the fact that the strikers were unarmed and not destroying property or making threats.

The Ludlow Massacre

In 1914, the Colorado state militia burned down the tent village housing the families of striking coal miners, killing 25 people, including 12 children as young as age two.

The Bonus Army

In 1932, WWI veterans camped out and demonstrated in Washington DC for the government to pay them a bonus they had been owned for their service in the war. President Hoover responded by sending in General MacArthur, who repelled them with tanks and tear gas and then proceeded to burn down their temporary village. (Here’s a video of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNOsIB5VMSQ)

While these examples are just the tip of the iceberg, the truth is that if the government, federal, state, or local, wants to come and get you, they have the ability to do so. In the case with the Latimer and Ludlow massacres, the victims didn’t even know the government was coming for them. But even if you carried an assault rifle with you at all times to protect yourself, an FBI SWAT team could simply pull up alongside you in a van, as you’re walking to your car from the office, pull you into the van and then lock you away somewhere. Even if you shot at them in defense, they would be wearing bullet-proof vests and possibly other riot gear, and your shots would do nothing but bring about a more brutal response from them. The government has always had the ability to “come for you.” And that will never change.

All of these fantasies of the government coming to get conservatives and lock them up are a waste of time, however, because we will not experience Hitler-like tyranny in our lifetime at the hands of a Democratic president. If tyranny comes, it will come from a Republican (like Trump). And guns won’t protect the victims, because the gun enthusiasts will support the Republican president. As long as the Republican president locks up or deports blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, or Democrats, right-wing gun enthusiasts will be happy with that. In fact, they just might volunteer to lend a hand in enforcing the tyranny. It’s almost as if the Republicans have built up their own citizen militia that will reinforce right-wing policies and perhaps even rise up against Democrat-controlled administrations. Effectively, the people who have the guns have the power, and that gives more power to the Republicans.

And that brings me to my greatest concern – heavily-armed right-wing terrorists. If guns were limited to hunting rifles and shot guns, all of which require pumping another bullet into the chamber between shots, then it might possibly take a majority of the people to overthrow the government. But if we continue to let extremists hoard large numbers of semi-automatics that can kill 30 people in 30 seconds, then a small minority of the population can overthrow the government. We saw the beginning of this with Cliven Bundy’s militia friends in Nevada, who used assault weapons to prevent federal law enforcement from enforcing the law, and then they harassed the townspeople (with checkpoints, etc) in a display of force. Think about it…these extremists supported a racist, thieving lawbreaker to the point where they were ready to slaughter law enforcement. Do we really want people like that in charge of our country?

Therefore, I am far less concerned with the tyranny of our democratically-elected government than I am with the tyranny right-wing extremists will impose on us after they overthrow our democratically-elected government and take control of it to serve themselves. Remember, the last time heavily-armed racist extremists decided our federal government was tyrannical (even though all that happened was that a man who never proposed abolishing slavery in the South was elected president), it resulted in a Civil War that killed more Americans than any war in history. And if those rebels had won, America would probably be the world’s most oppressive nation today. My concern is that heavily-armed rebels of a similar mindset might turn violent in the near future, and the bloodshed will return.