When reading Raza Habib Raja's recent article in The Huffington Post, I was struck by the number of comments claiming that guns were needed "to keep a tyrannical government in check" and that guns were a "means to overthrow an unjust/tyrannical government." I was also embarrassed by the number of comments calling for Mr. Raja to head back to Pakistan, since as an American I welcome genuine and intelligent debate from anyone -- even if they're not a citizen. Although I disagree with Mr. Raja's views that an advanced nation shouldn't allow widespread gun ownership (the 2nd Amendment is an important aspect of American life), there was something unrealistic about the vitriol and contempt elicited from his article.
First, not everyone has the same definition of the word "tyranny." Some conservatives view Obamacare as tyrannical while many liberals view it as not going far enough in terms of nationalized health care. Furthermore, a law or tax viewed as despotic by some citizens might also be regarded as a necessity by the government. In the late 1700s, some Americans viewed the Founders in the same manner that many of us view Bush or Obama. Whether it was anger of taxes in the Whiskey Rebellion, or unfair treatment of veterans in Shay's Rebellion, armed Americans have never been able to overthrow their government, even in the early years of the country. In a Baltimore Sun article by Richard Brookhiser, the historian and senior editor at the National Review explains how Washington, Hamilton, and other Founders crushed two early insurrections:
Shays' Rebellion, an uprising of farmers in western Massachusetts in 1786, and the Whiskey Rebellion, a movement of frontiersmen in western Pennsylvania in 1794.
...The Massachusetts government mustered an army of 4,400 to put down Shays' Rebellion.
The Whiskey rebels held a meeting outside Pittsburgh that drew 7,000 people; to restore order, the federal government marched nearly 13,000 men over the Alleghenies -- five times as many troops as George Washington took across the Delaware in 1776.
"If the laws are to be so trampled upon with impunity," he [Washington] warned, "there is an end put at one stroke to republican government."
The Founding Fathers were concerned about law as well as order...If the laws turned out to be unpopular, they could be changed.
But they had to be repealed in the same way they had been passed -- by political effort and legislative action. Self-government is a responsibility, not just a right.
Therefore, whereas the Founders might have given citizens the right to bear arms, they viewed any rebellion to their authority as a mortal threat to the republic. Also, as Brookhiser states, it's the responsibility of citizens to vote or debate, not engage in violence in order to change legislation.
As for Shay's Rebellion, the insurrection helped convince the Founders that a stronger federal government was needed to keep order and preserve the nation. George Washington worried that future insurrections similar to Shay's would, "like snow-balls, gather strength as they roll, if there is no opposition in the way to divide and crumble them." In fact, Shay's Rebellion contributed to the creation of the Constitution and Washington's presidency. As stated by Mount Vernon.org, "The United States emerged after Shays' Rebellion a stronger nation, with a new Constitution and George Washington as its first President." As for the Whiskey Rebellion, PBS writes, "By the time the federal force arrived, the rebellion had collapsed and most of the rebels had fled...The fledgling federal government had proven it could keep order -- a necessity if the U.S. was to avoid instability." Unlike the belief of certain gun advocates, Washington and Hamilton were never frightened of angry farmers with muskets or maligned whisky traders.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the government's willingness to keep states and citizens within a federal framework as the Civil War. The NRA is nothing compared to the Confederate military under Robert E. Lee, and even though it possessed knowledge of its terrain and highly skilled soldiers, the South lost its battle to secede from the Union. In all, about 750,000 Americans died in the Civil War, including over 23,000 dead Americans in one day at the Battle of Antietam. It's doubtful the NRA and "2nd Amendment option" people recall this day in U.S. history when claiming a well armed citizenry can frighten the government.
Finally, there is another argument made by gun advocates; one that states that had Jews been armed during the Holocaust, they could have protected themselves from the Nazis. First, it took the combined might of the USSR, U.S., Great Britain and other militaries to defeat Hitler, so even 1,000 NRA organizations would never have stood a chance in protecting the six million Jews and millions of other human beings murdered in the Holocaust. Why? The reason is because from the Armenian Genocide to Darfur, the mass extermination of human beings is planned and orchestrated by a superior military power. As stated by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, only the Allied victory ended the slaughter:
As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they began to encounter tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners...
The Soviets liberated Auschwitz...
US forces liberated the Buchenwald...
British forces liberated concentration camps in northern Germany...
As illustrated by the end of the Holocaust, genocides end only when the murderers lose a war. Regimes from the Third Reich to the Khmer Rouge ended their slaughters because of advancing armies, not because of well armed citizens.
The 2nd Amendment might state, "A well regulated Militia," but in reality it doesn't mean a way to combat the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Guns might protect one's home, or enable one to hunt, or provide a symbol of freedom, but gun ownership won't overthrow the government or change laws. What is tyrannical to you might have been a necessary Whiskey tax to George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, and what is tyrannical to me might be your desire to wage a war overseas. When the word "tyranny" is subject to so much debate, it's best to let discourse, voting, and participation in government provide a means for change in our society.
Any illusion that owning one gun, or one hundred guns, would frighten or alter the way government behaves is not only unrealistic, but something George Washington would find unacceptable. The view propagated by the NRA that gun ownership keeps the federal government "in check" is not only historically inaccurate, but also contrary to the actions of our Founding Fathers.
Lastly, if gun advocates think that Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz, or even new Tea Party star Dave Brat will defend one's right to "keep the government in check" through armed insurrection, just remember the treatment of a rancher in Nevada by a Republican media pundit. Sean Hannity's abrupt abandonment of Cliven Bundy should tell people exactly how the GOP establishment will respond to even the most loyal NRA members (pandered to by politicians espousing "2nd Amendment options") who become political liabilities.
Not only is the government unafraid of gun owners, but one political party will immediately distance itself from those who take its secessionist and firebrand rhetoric and hyperbole too seriously.