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January 15, 2013 - Harry Eagar
.Some days, the gun nuts say the reason we have to let them run around unsupervised is that they have a natural right to protect their homes and families from all those scary, lascivious black dudes who are trying to break in. But on other days, they say the real reason for the Second Amendment is that only an armed citizenry is able to resist government tyranny.
Consider the second. Is an armed citizenry competent to resist a centrally organized tyranny? History says no.
The obvious place to look for a yes would be the American Revolution. After all, the men who gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution had just finished rebelling against what they regarded as the tyranny of Britain. It is significant that they did not originally see any necessity to provide guarantees about private firearms.
They knew that the Revolution was not won by "embattled farmers." Although in the 1770s and '80s, the disparity in firepower between a citizen militia and the army was tiny compared to today, the lightly-armed irregulars were unable to prevail against the British army. From time to time, the militias won a battle. They never came close to winning a campaign.
In "The Glorious Cause," a history of the Revolution, Robert Middlekauff wrote that the driver of success was the Continental Army. Irregulars melted away ("summer soldiers," Tom Paine called them, even before the fighting had begun) and could not be relied upon. The regulars endured long seasons of discouragement (Valley Forge) and recovered from defeats (Brooklyn Heights). Irregulars don't do that.
It didn't hurt the American prospects that an important political faction in England thought the government should let the Americans go; nor that the Royal Navy was unable to blockade all American ports simultaneously; nor that the Royal Navy of France managed to defeat the Royal Navy of England when it counted; nor that French regulars joined American regulars in the final campaign.
It would be going too far to say that the "embattled farmers" had nothing to do with the success of the rebellion, but they didn't win the fight.
Recent history confirms that light-armed irregulars cannot stand up to armies. Famous examples include the rising of the maquis in central France in 1944, crushed with great slaughter by a minor effort of the German army that was busy dealing with real armies to the west; the decimation of the Viet Cong in 1968; and the Iraqi Sunni resistance which succumbed to a minor "surge" by an otherwise undermanned and incompetently led American army.
It sometimes seems that light-armed forces impose their will against states, but that happens only when the state is rotten within: Nobody wanted to die for Fulgencio Batista, so Castro's rebels won almost without fighting. Today's newspaper states the situation clearly. The Malian state, corrupt and incompetent, has been unable to resist irregular rebels, but a tiny force of French troops backed by airpower has done so easily. In Libya last year, the rebels were unable to prevail by themselves. .
The idea -- and it seems to be nearly universal among the noisy gun nuts -- that armed but unorganized slobs would be able to resist an American army that (somehow) had turned against its own people is a childish, ignorant fantasy.
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