Editorial: The Armed Citizen; Would Guns Really Thwart Tyranny?
Enfield Police Sgt. Scott Thompson’s heartfelt defense of the people’s right to own assault weapons, delivered at a gun control forum in Hanover a week ago Sunday, was remarkable in several respects.
One is that Thompson admirably displayed the courage of his convictions by speaking out publicly before a crowd of about 70 people, most of whom were hostile to the views he expressed. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to express an unpopular opinion in such circumstances.
A second unusual aspect of his remarks is that police officers are usually careful not to become publicly identified with one side or another in controversial issues, save for those that affect their own wages and benefits. Moreover, many cops are worried by the potential for being outgunned by criminals, so Thompson might hold a minority view even within his own professional fraternity. Pretty clearly, he feels strongly about what he had to say.
And finally, it is deeply ironic and a little scary that an armed agent of the government feels called upon to warn his fellow citizens that, from time to time, armed resistance to the imposition of tyranny by the state is required.
As staff writer Ben Conarck reported, Thompson ranged over a number of historical events in trying to make his point that sometimes ordinary citizens need to have the firepower to defend themselves, not only from civil unrest but also from governmental abuse of their freedoms. Among the latter, he cited the now-little-remembered Bonus Army of 1932, when World War I veterans suffering from the hardships of the Depression sought early payment of service bonuses due them in 1945 and were driven violently from Washington in a military operation authorized by President Herbert Hoover and commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur; and the notorious internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which Thompson likened to Hitler’s treatment of Jews.
The notion that armed resistance is the answer to a government determined to deprive its citizens of liberty has deep roots in political paranoia, and it is an article of faith with Second Amendment absolutists. But the U.S. military is the most powerful the world has ever known, one now capable, for example, of launching a lethal drone strike through your kitchen window from hundreds of miles away. The idea that even thousands of partisans armed with semi-automatic assault weapons and hiding out in the wilderness would have the faintest chance of successfully opposing the military imposition of totalitarian government appears absurd. (Anne Applebaum’s new book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, documents just how a similar scenario played out in post-war Poland.)
Totalitarian regimes do have certain other characteristics that are worth reflecting on at this moment in American history, however. One is that they often gain power by subverting democratic political institutions and rendering them unworkable. Another is that totalitarian states, in the name of security, create secret police organizations to closely monitor the day-to-day activities of enormous numbers of ordinary citizens, thereby effectively extinguishing the notion of private life. For a variety of reasons, the U.S. political system is now gridlocked in such a way that one wonders whether government is capable of governing any longer. At the same time, a massive security bureaucracy has been created to collect and analyze vast amounts of information about ordinary citizens who are not even suspected of wrongdoing. That strikes us as a more potent threat to liberty than the feds coming to confiscate Americans’ guns.