Are Guns Effective Protection from Tyranny?

The Volokh Conspiracy invited guest blogger Ivan Perkins to talk about his book, “Vanishing Coup.” Judging from the comments, this went over like a lead balloon with Volokh readers:

Thus, new gun regulations are necessary for many reasons, including the long-term preservation of our Constitution. The widespread availability of high-powered military-grade weaponry does not keep us secure from tyranny — in fact, it increases the probability that one day, our great-grandchildren will live under thuggish warlords and tyrants.

It’s funny, because if you look at his analysis of countries that haven’t had coups, most of them have strong traditions of allowing civilians to be armed. The United States and Canada have among the most armed civilian populations in the world. Britain’s population, which he holds out as an example of guns not making a difference in stability, have until only very recently been well armed, and still rank in terms of world standards.

Britain had one of the strongest traditions of armed citizens until the past few decades. Norway, Sweden and Finland have strong traditions of civilian gun ownership. South Africa’s restrictions on firearms are also very recent. Traditionally South Africa put few restrictions on civilians owning and carrying firearms. None of these countries, save Japan and possibly the Benelux countries have the kind of gun free populations he imagines. In fact, these stable countries contain some of the most heavily armed populations on the planet.

He also uses the specter of what’s going on in Mexico as an example of where widespread gun ownership leads. Is he joking? Legally, guns are difficult to obtain in Mexico. The only progress the government has been able to make against the cartels has been when local communities, sick of being terrorized, armed themselves illegally and started fighting back against the cartels. Mexico is not a shining example of the effectiveness gun control has on a nation’s stability, unless you’re living in a cave, or perhaps an ivory tower.

25 thoughts on “Are Guns Effective Protection from Tyranny?”

  1. Not to mention that one of his examples, Japan, actually did have a totalitarian government just 70 years ago.

  2. Soo… does he also fret about the widespread availability of free speech and how letting “fringe” ideas would increase the probability that we’d live under censorious prudes and thought police.

    It’s funny how the remedy for his fears of X happening in the future is to have X happen right now.

  3. Don’t know him, don’t want to. He and all like him are sated to death we gun owners will only take so much then like a junk yard dog will go for him.
    What he fears the most is, he can’t figure out where that line is.
    We know but are not telling.

  4. Not 100% on point with the article, but this topic in general amazes me when I see thing that talk about how guns are useless against a modern military. I’ve seen an meme poster that shows all the military high tech weapons and basically says your gun can fight all these. I just want to point out how well have all those weapons worked for use in Afghanistan the past 10+ years vs. Their guns and explosives. An moderately armed, determined populace has been proven time and time again to be effective against a better armed military, which is something not only antigunners forget but also our military commanders and politicians do as well. Iraq right now is a perfect example of this too, ISIS has much smaller numbers and isn’t armed with a bunch of new US weapons but they are winning for now.

    1. Another thing to keep in mind is how many weapons systems would be off the table. Starting from the top, there’s no way the US military is nuking US territory. Many of the larger conventional bombs would be out of the question as well. Drone strikes could be a possibility, but civilian casualties are an even worse PR nightmare when they’re attached to pictures of little blond girls.

      So it would most likely come down to folks with rifles vs other folks with rifles. The US military would still have an advantage, but not as much as one as it might first appear.

      1. < 1 million total military, only a few hundred thou anything close to being trigger pullers in a ground combat rifle sense, plus a couple hundred thousand LEO's to try to fight, much less control, 40 million admitted gun owners in a population of 300 million?

        Even if they all obeyed illegal orders and forswore their oaths they don't have an "advantage."

        Given the proportion of recent pro-gun vets with the same or better combat skills and experience as the newer troops who didn't fight in the recent wars, who will only get rawer since we are out of the ground combat game for the near future, their purported "advantage" is not likely to get any better the later it drags on.

        1. They have some force multipliers they’d still be able to use. They’ll have established communication and intelligence networks, supply chains, and technology such as night vision. Balanced against the numbers on each side, overall, I think it comes to somewhat of an advantage for the military.

          1. The “government forces” also have additional vulnerabilities that they DO NOT face overseas.

            1. Their core logistics support is right here amongst the insurgents. Not thousands of miles away from the action across an ocean. Much easier to ambush critical supplies when you can hit them on the 18-wheeler leaving the factory and pulling on to I-95. . .

            2. All it takes is a few people in key positions (which aren;t really that sensitive of senior) who simply feel that using the full force and might on US citizens, on US soil, for a political argument, is uncalled for. The same E4 who runs electronics checks on your afvionics is the same E4 who can subtly sabotage it in a way that it won’t show until your F16 departs controlled flight. (ALL of our current strike aircraft, except the A10, are “dynamically unstable” – if the black boxes fail a smoke check mid-flight, the airplane CANNOT fly.)

            3. Stateside military bases are not set up like a FOB in a combat zone. And teh authoritarians would never accept arming all soldiers at all times. Plus, most of your leadership at many bases lives off post, on the economy. It is much easier to kill pilots, intelligence officers, etc., in suburbia than in a FOB in a war zone.

            A civil war that pits the US military (presuming any significant portion of the military goes along with it) against the gun owning commuinity would be a nightmare for both sides — but absolutely unwinnable for the authoritarian side. And the mass post-war treason trials will not favor the authoritarian supporters, either.

          2. Plus, even with the massive force multipliers working the way the advocates expect them to work perfectly (Hiya, Secretary Rumsfield! Hiya, Secretary McNamara!), you still need about a 6:1 troops:guerillas force ratio and a supportive (or at least neutral) civilian population. Or the “government” forces will lose.

            More realistically, it takes about 8 or 10:1, even with modern force multipliers.

            Keep in mind that force multipliers like SF ODAs training and leading CIDG-style counter-insurgent operations won’t work here. You see, the people who would be either remotely interested or any good at those operations will, by definition, be on the insurgency side! There will be no “Northern Alliance” or “Montengnard Mike Forces” made up of Mommies Demanding Action and Obamacare Pajama Boy types.

    2. The long and the short of it is, when you compare the total number of troops the US has, across active duty, guard and reserve and compare it to the land area of the US, it works out to something like 1 soldier to control every 5 square miles. If you’re generous and say you don’t have to to control the vast wide open spaces of the west, then it’s 1 for every 2 square miles.

      That math doesn’t work for even a relatively small insurgency and gets even worse when the realization hits that some of those troops are floating on boats and can’t be used in land warfare and others are pilots, and others are parts of tank crews and even more aren’t really combat troops and oh by the way, there’s no guarantee that when you ask the guard/reserve to go kill their friends and neighbors, that they will actually do it.

      The likely end result would be the military controlling their bases, some parts of cities and some major transport routes and with limited operations outside those areas and that’s about it. The only way to even begin to control the vast territory of the US without the consent of the governed is with the cooperation of state and local LEOs and even that’s not guaranteed, especially when it comes the local sheriffs.

    3. “Not 100% on point with the article, but this topic in general amazes me when I see thing that talk about how guns are useless against a modern military.”

      That argument has always struck me as odd.

      The usual argument is cooing to us reassuringly that somehow this US government is special, that it’s paranoia to think that it might possibly follow the path of so many governments before it.

      *This* argument takes the opposite tack that it’s too late, the US government has already grown so powerful that we ought to just surrender our useless guns right now.

  5. CarlosT is correct: It’s one thing for there to be “collateral damage” and civilian casualties on the opposite side of the World, in areas where the news media can’t effectively report it for fear of being kidnapped and beheaded.

    It’s quite another for them to report on the drone strike down their own street, where in order to take out some militia member the government managed to kill 20 people (including 7 kids) at a backyard barbecue.

    That’s the sort of thing that makes insurgencies grow.

    Plus, there is another factor that isn’t often talked about. Many of the very same people who would be involved in an insurgency in the United States have actual military experience, and indeed may actually have friends and/or relatives still in the military.

    Or they may even be in the military themselves.

    It would be an extremely nasty, ugly business. We really don’t want to go down that road if we can avoid it. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been pretty “sanitary” from the viewpoint of most people in the US. You don’t see a lot of images of death on the news. You would if it was a domestic insurgency.

  6. Let’s not forget, Japan isn’t even allow to have an “offensive military”…

    Japan is a nation that was disarmed and under subjugation (under post-WWII America). One cannot negate that stabilizing influence.

  7. We all know that if I and the men/women of my Suburban Cul-de-sac took up our civilian owned weapons and marched onto the plains outside of Denver to fight the 3rd armored division in open open battle we would probably lose. People who mock the 2nd amendment as a protection against tyranny assume a fully functional government with the army firmly standing behind them.

    But the 2nd amendment isn’t so people can revolt against a legally elected President they don’t like, it so that when elections have failed and the people are ignored they are still empowered to protect themselves.

    To pull off the kind of coup we’re talking about for a plunge into tyranny — i.e. a President decides not to stop down from power and cancels elections for whatever reason — requires a bit more than a presidential executive order and the wholesale support of Rachel Maddow and the MSNBC bunch.

    You’d have to do a massive purge of your military and other political groups, clearing out a lot of Army officers and using precious resource to house hordes of Fox News watchers in Soros financed prisons. Many army members would desert, with some taking weapons and intelligence docs with them and/or leaving behind a damaged military infrastructure. Some might stay behind, but with an allegiance to the Constitution rather than blind hope and change.

    This is where the armed citizenry makes the difference. Without an armed citizenry the tyrant seizing power doesn’t have to worry about his/her flank, just about rounding up all the right people. The peasants can be ignored while dealing with those who are dangerous to you or at least dealt with with minimal resources. If the ballot box and the soap box have been taken away by government and there is no ammo box available — citizens have no power.

    But an armed citizenry is dangerous and therefore another force to be reckoned with. I’m not taking up arms or marching off to war to fight EPA policies/immigration policies/etc. that I don’t agree with — that’s what elections are for. Violence is for when free speech and elections have been completely and clearly subverted by those in power, and there are no other options left.

    1. Well put. My biggest fear is that this great country moves away from it’s founding principles slowly, so much so, that it’s hard for the majority to realize where we have come to. it’s like putting a frog in a pot of cold water and then heating the water to cook/kill it. By the time it knows it’s in trouble, it’s too late.

      If we end up in a civil war over defending our constitutional rights, it will be an ugly war. And there are many who profess to believing in the cause, but will not have the stomach to engage in it.

    2. Very well said. All people have a ‘line in the sand’ in their head. Right now a fraction of a percent of those lines have been crossed with no great repercussion. If the .gov continues on its downward spiral, more and more individual ‘lines in the sand’ will be crossed, and citizens will begin to take matters into their own hands. People will notice. Once the tide begins to turn not even the government and its armies will be able to hold that ocean back. The fall of communist Germany is a perfect example. As someone mentioned in another post, no one knows where that line is until it is too late. Lets hope we can use the government to our advantage and right the course before it’s too late!

  8. Isn’t it amazing how weapons like tanks, fighter jets, and nuclear bombs “aren’t particularly useful against an insurgency” when we are talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam, but they are “proof” that a domestic insurgency armed with small arms must fail?

    1. Exactly. Of course, the people espousing both of those positions generally have no personal professional experience with any of those systems or situations.

      Hell, I was light infantry, and we spent a LOT of time training on how to defeat fully mobilized modern mechanized forces in modern Western terrain. We had a LOT of concentration on how to do it after being cut off from any outside commo or support (including supplies), chopped up into very small isolated and heavily attrited units (usually squad size or so), and miles behind enemy lines (because the enemy forces were going to overrun our not-very-self-mobile asses).

      Doing it in a place where I speak the language like a native, blend in perfectly with the local culture, blend in visually perfectly with the normal range of local appearance, and can count on at least some direct support (including hiding me temporarily) from the local population? Not even an SF ODA that has specialized for a specific nation ever had it so good! (JNote — ODAs aren’t normally specialize to a particular subnational region or even nation — they are specialized for a theater, so they can be deployed anywhere in that theater as needed. We don’t – and could never- have enough SF guys to have a full team set for ever single nation we might ever have to fight. To do so, SF alone – and I mean just Green Berets, not everyone who is SOCOM – would be about the size of the current US Army.)

  9. Asymmetrical warfare is not always fought with guns, it would be the BGs that started out surrounded. Attacked indirectly through their logistic chain, water supplies, food borne pathogens, power grids, and other less savory means, many GIs would defect and join the 10,000s that have already terminated service, all having inside knowledge on how the .Mil Systems worked

  10. The reason that the dear leader is so interested in getting rid of the second amendment is because then his brand of tyranny can run unchecked, no one and no civilian organization would be able to resist his brown shirts! Perhaps the easiest way to reduce gun crime is to remove those responsible for it!

  11. Two thoughts:

    First, I’m not even convinced that a coup is necessarily a bad thing. Is it really all that difficult to imagine a coup that increases stability and freedom? I suspect that the Pinochet coup in Chile is one such example, since he was acting to prevent his own death via another coup planned by communists.

    Second, I’m not sure if the United States should even be considered in the “coup free zone”, at least, for the first map (fifty years before 1960). It’s my understanding that there was a “Business Plot” that sought to overthrow Apparently the plot isn’t widely known…

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