Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What Those Guns Are Actually Good for

Doug Muder posted an addendum to his post on guns as security blankets. He separated it because he didn't want to distract from the main point he was making in that post, but this argument stands on its own and deserves notice:

Guns don’t protect freedom, they threaten it. One of the what-if fantasies that justifies a well-armed civilian population is: What if the government becomes tyrannical? Won’t we want to have the ability to launch a Red-Dawn-like insurgency?

A bunch of things are wrong with this fantasy, the biggest being that my handgun or hunting rifle wouldn’t be much use against the U.S. Army, if it ever came to that. The historical references people back this point with are also usually dead wrong. (No, Hitler didn’t confiscate the German people’s guns.) The actual examples of tyrants being overthrown in recent history aren’t stories of civilian militias shooting it out with the army. Instead, they involve mass demonstrations by unarmed people, raising the prospect either of the army or powerful foreign protectors turning against the government. (See: Arab Spring, or the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.)

There is, however, one example from American history that fits the civilian-militia scenario perfectly: the Ku Klux Klan’s resistance to the occupation of the South after the Civil War. (I have written about this before; for a more detailed discussion, read the recent book After Appomattox by Gregory Downs or Eric Foner’s Reconstruction.) At the end of the Civil War, the U.S. government recognized that simply freeing the slaves on paper wasn’t enough, because the white-supremacist power structure of the Southern states would quickly re-assert itself and deny any real rights to black citizens. Tens of thousands of Northern troops occupied the South for several years, attempting to establish a social order in which blacks and whites were equal under the law.

To the former rebels, this was tyranny imposed by a distant government in Washington DC. They wanted to restore the pre-war whites-only power structure, in which blacks were subject to separate, harsher laws that they had no voice in either making or enforcing. To that end, the KKK unleashed a campaign of political terror, attacking not Army units, but political gatherings of blacks and pro-government loyalists, and assassinating numerous public officials who attempted to enforce the federally-mandated laws.

Ultimately, the KKK succeeded in throwing off the “tyranny” of Washington, resulting in the Jim Crow era.

In other words, in the historical example that best fits the pro-gun rhetoric, it was the federal government that was fighting for real democracy and freedom, while the armed civilian militias were fighting to take rights away from the new citizens (who we think of as minorities, but who actually constituted a majority in Mississippi and South Carolina).

Something similar is happening today in the recent abortion-clinic violence: The federal government protects the right of women to make their own decisions about their pregnancies, while an armed minority wants to make those decisions as dangerous as possible, and ultimately to intimidate citizens into not using their rights. The point isn’t to fight the Army, it’s to assassinate doctors and terrorize pregnant women.
This fits well with the historical analysis that finds the Second Amendment was intended to legalize armed slave-control patrols in the South.


Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Wow. Sometimes I forget that, and then when I'm reminded of it I wonder who's going to win the struggle in the long run.

Gina said...

I love The Weekly Sift. Doug Muder really makes me think, and his voice is so calm and reasonable. Now I'm wondering about my American History class in high school -- I don't recall studying Reconstruction and the KKK activities during it. Thanks for posting!

Daughter Number Three said...

I did learn about the KKK during Reconstruction in my high school American history class, but I think it was still spun in context of carpetbaggers and Grant administration corruption.