Whenever gun control advocates have gone on the offensive, gun owners find themselves in the position of having to explain why they need their firearms. They find themselves in this position especially frequently in the debate over so-called assault weapons. In the minds of gun-control proponents, “acceptable” uses of firearms (hunting, self-defense, target shooting) rarely justify 100 round drum magazines and collapsible stocks; ergo there’s no good reason to have them. When confronted with this question, conservatives and libertarians will commonly reply with the argument that an armed citizenry is the most effective defense against tyranny.
They’re wrong. I’ll explain why later.
Not surprisingly, the appeal to future tyranny rarely wins over the anti-gun crowd. For many of them, the image of the state has been thoroughly scrubbed, sterilized, and disinfected. The image appears to be so pristine that they find the idea that the state could pose an existential threat to its own people to be laughable on its face. Therefore, even considering the idea that the U.S. government could become tyrannical must be a sign of paranoia, or a childish fantasy.
Take Jon Stewart. In a recent tirade against gun control opponents Stewart referred to the idea of American tyranny as the fear of “imaginary Hitler”. His comment might have been good for a cheap laugh from his audience, but in reality it goes to the heart of a serious question: do most Americans even know what a tyranny is?
The tyrants of the 20th century produced such a vast ocean of blood that it should be unthinkable that anyone –even a cheap clown like Stewart– could insist that a government that is a threat to its own people is “imaginary”. But somehow, less than a century after the fall of the real Hitler, we’ve managed to achieve the unthinkable.
The reason for our nation’s quick turnaround from witnessing unimaginable horror to blissful ignorance is surprisingly simple: the men and governments we most often associate with tyranny have become caricatures in our collective consciousness. In absence of their exaggerated features most people can’t even imagine what tyranny looks like.
There’s tyranny afoot you say? Where are the jackboots? Where are the book burnings? Where are the grandiose parades and foreboding pep-rallies?
Every American from the ages of 8-80 can identify a Nazi symbol or draw a squiggle under the nose of a portrait of a politician they don’t like. But ask even an educated person about the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (the Nazi law which dismissed all non-Aryans from the civil service) and they’re likely to draw a blank.
The association of these accoutrements with tyranny is so powerful that many Americans have come to confuse them with tyranny itself. It has lulled us into the belief that tyranny is something obvious and immediately recognizable. In other words, we think we’ll be alarmed by the synchronized footfalls of jackboots, the lights from the bonfires, and the rants of some charismatic speaker. In this respect, Jon Stewart was right: it’s a complete fantasy.
What many have lost sight of is the fact that jackboots, book burnings, and emotionally charged rallies were just one particular way in which tyranny was manifested. These were the specific means by which it was maintained. By the time these things appeared on the scene, it was arguably too late for Germany. Its nascent republic was doomed.
But if these things will not portend the coming of tyrannical government, what does? What is the first ingredient a budding tyranny, be it German, Russian, or American needs to facilitate its aims? A society that is utterly willing to acquiesce.
Governments start down the road of tyranny aided by the willful acquiescence of many of those they come to rule. Rarely does it push its way in by brute force. Rather, it comes to the party with an invitation in its hand. It shows up at the doorstep as your benefactor, not as a lawless thug.
This brings us to why conservatives and libertarians are wrong about an armed citizenry.
If we are to truly understand the nature of tyranny, we must acknowledge that the first and most effective defense against it is to not acquiesce to it in the first place. The only time that an armed citizenry becomes necessary is if that first defense should fail; which history shows it all too often does.
That’s the reality.
Nick Rizzuto is the Supervising Producer of Real News on TheBlaze.