The 2nd amendment, militas vs. armies, and a war vs. a crime.

The contention has come up several times that the 2nd amendment is useless in rebelling against the federal government. It is of course intuitive that in a straight-up conflict an army force will beat a militia force given equal arms due to superior training and teamwork, and also that the army almost always has better arms, artillery, close air support, etc.

But, so what? Assume that there was an insurrection in the U.S. tomorrow, and a cabal of people (we will posit American citizens past 21 years of age with no criminal record) decided to overthrow the government with force of arms. Would it be necessary to engage the army at any point? Why not just become assassins, saboteurs, etc.? I mean, if an insurrectionist with a gun made a point of killing any police officers he saw, it would quickly become both difficult to maintain law and order in the area and to get anyone to investigate the shootings. Get enough people doing this and you get widespread fear and panic, which can turn to widespread anarchy with a few well-placed political assassinations.

Needless to say, I’m not proposing this idea. It just seems to me that people with guns can be a threat to the government no matter how much bigger the other guy’s guns are. What am I missing?

You are missing very little. It is quite possible for a “civillian” (for lack of a better word) force to successfully fight against a governmental force. The idea of a rebel army fighting a conventional war against a superior military force is quite laughable, but this is not the manner in which such a fight would take place.

Mao fought his revolution as a guerrilla force. He won the struggle and instituted his brand of communism in China. The Vietnamese fought with similar tactics against the French and American armies and won their war. The Afghans did the same to the Russians. Precursors to these guerrilla tactics were used by many militia units in the American war for Independence. The idea of a militia or civilian force fighting succesfully against a superior militray force is a historical reality and should not be rejected out of hand today.

But this is only one reason for a militia. The founders (rather, those for whom the BoR were a neccessity) certainly feared a standing army and the power that would confer to the central government. Opponents of this centralized power prefered to rely on the use of militias for defense of the state and for keeping order. The men aboard flight 93 on September 11, 2001, whether they realized it or not, were effectively performing the function envisioned for the militia. Their country was under attack, and they responded, saving the lives of untold numbers of people.

It is also instructional to look to the assertion, often made, that this ammendment only refers to government formed and sponsored groups. This is just not backed up by the historical record. Ben Franklin, amongst others, created a volunteer militia in Philadelphia becuase the government at the time was not protecting, to his satisfaction, the city and the people. The men in his militia (as in others) were expected to provide their own arms, and Franklin himself negotiated to purchase a battery of canons. This is certainly far from the idea of a limited right to bear only those arms related to hunting that some promulgate today.

What, like the Unibomber or the D.C. Sniper?

The problem with “militias” is that who decides their legitimacy? What kind of country would this be if anyone with a cause and enough weapons could extort the government to support their cause? Don’t forget that sane, regular folk defending their homes wouldn’t be the only ones with guns. Anti-abortionists, pro-abortionists, white supremacists, black militants would all be able to take part in the fun.

In the end, history decides their legitimacy.

What do you think our schoolbooks would say about Washington if Cornwallis had won?

It seems to me that if a group of citizens wants to overthrow the government, whether or not that government allows for private ownership of guns would be quite immaterial.

I have a minor quibble with the flight 93 analogy. I don’t dispute that those passengers were brave and noble and they deserve all the respect in the world. However, the Air Force was prepared to shoot the plane down, so the action or inaction of the passenges in the big picture really wouldn’t have made a difference.

I don’t think that the actions that the Air Force was prepared to take really matter. We’ve become used to the fact that the government will provide protection, especially from outside invaders. However, the passengers on flight 93 did not know that there was a plan to take out the plane. From the phone calls they made it was reported that they had some knowledge of the events in New York, and put 2 and 2 together. It was the fact that they were willing to act, without any sort of governmental coercion, to defend the country. I understand your point that if the Air Force had shot them down rather than it happening as it did would make no real difference in the protection of lives, but that was not the crux of my analogy.

As to the OP, there is, perhaps, something rather large that you are missing after all. One of the keys to waging a successful guerrilla war is the support of the populous. You (the guerrillas) need to hide within the civilian population depending on them to hide you and provide for your needs that you cannot take care of while engaged with the enemy. Also, when the crackdown comes, this population will bear the brunt of the force applied by the government. Without the support of these people, you will quickly be swept up by the government force and taken care of. A program of assassination of police officers and politicians might not have the effect of drawing in the support of populous.

Secondly, the support of the populous comes, in large part, from the mutual identification between the civillians and the guerrillas. However, in the US it is quite possible that the first force that opposes your actions will be a state national guard unit. These soldiers will come from the areas you are operating in and will not be viewed in the same light as a regular army unit drawn from the country as a whole. This will be a major problem in determining an optimal stratey for success.

Perhaps it would be more effective to begin with a civil disobedience/ non-violence campaign while repeatedly petitioning for a change in whatever policies offend you. Moving from there into a program of sabotage (avoiding casualties at all costs) and finally into guerrilla warfare tactics.

I think the contention you mention in the OP can be addressed in a simpler fashion.

Imagine for a moment that your cabal succeeded in removing the pres and most of the other leadership. They install themselves as the “Provisional Government of the People of North America”.
Now decide that you, me and a few other hardy individuals around here decide that we have to get them out and replace the constitutional government.

Now, which is more useless? Our little band with or without guns.

They would probably have to engage the army to some extent because the army would be involved in hunting them down. If all that they are doing is conducting assassinations and such, they aren’t going to overthrow the government, they’ll just be a (possibly) larger equivalent of the Weather Underground or the Symbionese Liberation Army. In order to successfully overthrow the government, they would need to switch over to guerilla tactics to wear down the army by attacking it directly with the ultimate long term goal of wearing down the military sufficiently and getting enough support with from the populace to ultimately defeat the army.

Conducting bombings and assassinations with the aim of simply spreading anarchy can quickly backfire, reducing any chance of much public support. The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and the Shining Path having been trying this in Peru since the 60s. While they are still around, they are very weak and haven’t garnered much public support, even with governmental brutality as a reaction to them which might otherwise have sent people into their ranks.

Of course there is always the question - when are you “oppressed” enough to legitimize shooting at cops and blowing up post offices? What makes a “freedom fighter” diferent from some jerk who’s pissed off about getting fired and shoots up his office?

Well, real-world analogues seem to contradict my thesis, so that should be that. But I don’t get why engaging the military is necessary at all. The army isn’t a detective agency, and they aren’t a police force. I don’t see how even a major military presence can stop a guy with a rifle at taking potshots at critical-but-unguarded people, especially if he can drop his guns and bombs and become indistinguishable from Joe NonInsurrectionist again.
Also, I am curious as to how one would maintain a brutal hold over the populace in the grips of people shooting your goon squad, especially as we are positing that this is taking place in the U.S. and the ability to shoot goons is kind of a given.

msmith:I’m not asking if this is right, I’m asking if this is possible.

I’m not so sure they do. Let’s expand the SLA until it is as large as the Viet Cong. Or the Mujahadin<sp?>. I think that recent history has definately shown that a sufficiently motivated irregular force can be a very big pain in the attic for any occupying force.

How much of the regular Army of the United States would remian loyal if it began recieving orders on a regular basis to shoot civilians, or disperse otherwise orderly crowds. I realize that we could use the army (or at least the national guard) for this sort of thing once in a while, but what if it became necessary to call them out every week? Wouldn’t some of them begin to question the governments legitimacy? And if some of the army deserted, what equipment might they take with them?

I remember seeing a parody newscast, done from the point of view of a present-day America which lost the Revolution. Fairly predictable, with references to the city of “Cornwallis, D. C.”, etc.

The one funny part was the announcement of that years’ honors list:

“Sir Walter Cronkite, Sir William Cosby, Sir Louis Armstrong, and DameAlice Cooper…”

robertliguori: I’m assuming that the cabal of folks conducting an assassination campaign become a sufficient threat – I should have said “They would probably have to engage the army to some extent because the army would be involved in hunting them down if they are dangerous enough.” If it’s a handful of people conducting a few shootings or bombings, law enforcement could probably handle on its own. Even the DC sniper was caught in the end. If it’s a movement that starts threatening to cause actual anarchy, martial law would likely be declared, putting the army on the streets. If it gets really bad, the US government could turn into something more closely resembling the Peruvian or Columbian government than the US government as it now stands, complete with curfews, ID cards, random intrusive searches, and the end of civil rights as it is now known.

Regarding the ability of people to shoot at goon squads, this is where the cabal getting public support comes into play. If the general feeling is one of violent opposition to the government and its goon squads, it would likely turn into a full scale guerilla war. If this violent opposition to the government and its goons is only held by a few extremists, they might be able to carry out a campaign of bombings and assassinations for decades if they are dedicated enough, but they aren’t going to overthrow the government by these means alone. They will in fact likely cause public sentiment favoring having the goon squads on the streets in order to combat them.

Dissonance: The DC sniper wasn’t targeting policemen. Anyway, a nation can’t remain on full alert everywhere forever. Positing that it is possible for a non-crazy person to assassinate non-protected people (police officers, firemen, etc.) without being caught or leaving incriminating evidence, I don’t see how having an area being occupied by an army would help.

The problem is “without being caught.” If it’s one person, law enforcement will likely eventually catch them in the end, much as the DC sniper was. If it’s a cabal operating against the government, the army on the street would be useful to dissuade attacks through intimidation. It won’t completely prevent them, but it would make them harder. Even assuming that the cabal is operating in cells of 3, capturing one person could expose the other two in the cell, who each could then potentially expose another two. A nation can remain on fairly high alert for a very long time, Israel and the Palestinians is a good example of this. It also demonstrates the problems of actually winning through these means, even if it can be maintained over a long time. Palestinian militants have ample support from the population, but Israel isn’t in any danger of losing to the bombing. They may some day decide that the cost isn’t worth it and leave, but they aren’t going to be defeated in a military sense.

Dissonance, I understand your analogy of the Israel/Palestine situation, however there are some very strong differences between this and other guerrilla wars.

The Palestinians target, specifically and intentionally, civilian targets to spread fear among the civilian population of the ocuntry. They are able to hide amongst the their Palestinian bretheren, but this severely limits their mobility. The Israelis are able to contain the Palestinians (in large part) to certain areas. While this does not stop the efforts of the Palestinians, it does certainly curtail their effectiveness. The Palestinians will never find a significant voice of support from Israeli citizens while they continue these tactics. Israel will not be able to get rid of these terrorists (I use that term without moral judgement, just in recognition of what their tactics are), but the Palestinians will not win a war this way.

Contrast this with classic guerrilla warfare tactics, such as those used in China, Vietnam, Afghanistan (against the Soviets), Angola, Mozambique, and countless other places. The guerrilla army targets government emplacements and troops, avoids conflicts where they do not have superiority of numbers, uses hit and run tactics to avoid casualties, and disappears into the civilian population.

The key is to gain a large measure of civilian support on as broad a base as you can. The Palestinians are damning themselves by denying this broad base with their tactitcs. Additionally, they lose a large amount of potential international support. I’m sure that their cause would be taken up by a larger number of people around the world if they did not target civilian populations.

Any similarity to Iraq is in fact ironic no ? Just change the labels on the freedom fighters/guerillas/rebels/confederates