The Elephant in the Gunroom

Although it is difficult to enter a conflict as contentious and publicly debated as gun control without repeating well worn arguments of the pundits, talk-show callers, Fox News talking heads and anti-gun activists, there is still an elephant in the gunroom. Neither the National Rifle Association nor the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence explicitly discusses the rationale for permitting private citizens to own semi-automatic military-style rifles with 30-round magazines – armed insurrection.

A middle-aged woman in a private conversation stated that the purpose of owning an AK-47 or Bushmaster AR-15 is for defense against the government! This was a stunning assertion from someone who does not own any firearms. It also betrayed a profound lack of insight into the issue.

Second Amendment fanatics prattle about comprising a “militia,” and preach protection against “government excess,” but this is never explained in plain terms. Certainly the ramifications are not explored. Anyone who critically examines the NRA’s reasons for permitting the ownership of assault weapons must realize that they are absurd.

As a veteran of the ‘60s, I have given much thought to the possibility of armed revolution in the United States. Seeing tanks on the streets of Detroit and police officers and sheriff’s deputies lining streets in Ann Arbor nearly shoulder to shoulder, it would be difficult not to imagine that a revolution might be starting. Friends who were politically aligned with the Students for a Democratic Society and the Weathermen sometimes told me that when the revolution started they would put in a good word for me. They were only half joking.
Wounded Knee 1973

This country has seen many armed confrontations between citizens and the government, from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Civil War, to Wounded Knee, 1890 and 1973, to MOVE, and to Waco. They have always ended badly for the insurrectionists due to the overwhelming force that the U.S. government is able to bear on the situation. Federal agents may be reluctant to use force due to public-relations concerns – concerns that are not shared by governments in Syria, North Korea, Algeria, and other countries – but the end point is always the same. The insurrectionists are subdued or dead.

Back in the day, surrounded by angry Aquarians, it was possible to imagine that real change was on the horizon. We would topple the regime and destroy the “military-industrial complex.” However, that was a dope dream. Not only would we be confronting the massive police and military might of the government, a huge majority of our fellow citizens would actively oppose our insurrection. This country is too diverse for a revolution and most of the population has too great an investment in the status quo to support radical change. Groups who would support a change in one direction are counter-balanced by opposing groups.

As a member of the Viet Nam-era anti-war movement, it was easy to lose perspective. We were able to muster five-figure crowds for protest marches, but we were still a minority, as were the ardent pro-war activists. We would never have succeeded by bombing recruitment offices or shooting at police. Violence is counter-productive, as the real leaders of the civil-rights movement demonstrated. The most important violent act for the anti-war movement was when the Ohio National Guard killed four Kent State students on May 4, 1970. This incident inspired previously-uncommitted citizens to oppose the war much more effectively than marches and draft card burning.


What would have been the result if the Branch Davidians or the MOVE activists had been better armed? Only greater bloodshed. The government would not throw in the towel. The Black Panthers were very well armed, but Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed in an early morning assault on their home, without the opportunity to defend themselves. The Michigan Militia is allowed to play war games in the woods, but if it became apparent that they were trying to create an independent republic or that they were defying the legally constituted government in a significant way, they would be rounded up like Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.


Unfortunately, fanatics get caught up in a spiral of more and more outlandish rhetoric. As their claims get more bizarre, they and their followers stretch their own credulity and come to believe their own exaggerations. The result is that they drink the Kool-Aid or barricade themselves in a booby-trapped compound. The NRA is no exception.

Second Amendmentaries have a strange idea that at some point it might be necessary for Real Americans to throw off the yoke of oppression by armed rebellion. Timothy McVeigh or Anders Breivik might believe that a few thousand well-armed and determined patriots might overthrow the government, but no one who is at least as sane as Nicki Minaj would harbor such a delusion.

As a legitimate rationale for opposing a ban on military-style weapons with high-capacity magazines, defending our liberties fails the scratch-and-sniff test. If you scratch the surface of the argument, you immediately smell bovine manure. The firearms industry and Second Amendment fanatics are trying to convince the gullible and paranoid that it is patriotic to maintain an arsenal to defend against the government. If there is logic to this position, it escapes me. However, it sells Bushmasters.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2013 John B. Payne, Attorney

No Comment on "The Elephant in the Gunroom"

  • Michelle Baumeister

    Before Obama, I predicted there would be a revolution within my grandchildrens’ lifetimes. Now I have hope. But even though I was serious in my concern for our country, I never once wanted an arsenal in my home, in my neighbor’s home, or with any of the wacko survivalists. I have no doubt that if a revolution becomes necessary, finding war weapons will not be a problem.


    One important question that never seem’s to never get properly answered is why “The People” need to own such military type weapons. I sure the many answers you get went way back to the olden days of “Muskets and Red Coats”, but a closer more representative answer lays with a post WWII incident in 1946,

    I do not post these links to bore you, merely to to show you that this was not some “blown out of proportions” event that is now more folk lore than truth, but was a real event in which citizens took up arms to fight tyranny.

    Whether it be local or national, TYRANNY must, and will never be tolerated by those Americans who respect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We understand that FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.

    Obama to Top Brass: Will you fire on American Citizens?

  • The logical conclusion of the “armed insurrection” argument is that private citizens should be allowed to own howitzers, tanks, and long-range missiles. Secretly, of course, since a repressive government could otherwise confiscate them when any revolution began. I think our laws got past that hurdle a long time ago.

    In fact, the success of any revolution depends on large parts of the regular armed forces either joining the revolution or standing aside. That pretty well makes the arms held by civilians insignificant.

  • This sentence is incorrect: ” Secretly, of course, since a repressive government could otherwise confiscate them when any revolution “began”. The verb tense must be consistent.

    Kitchenmudge erroneously switches tenses from present, “confiscate them” to past “began”. The correct form would be: Secretly, of course, since a repressive government could otherwise confiscate them when any revolution begins.

    Or: Secretly, of course, since a repressive government could have otherwise confiscated them when any revolution began.

    The verb tenses should be consistent, they cannot be switched in the sentence.

    I critique this only because “kitchenmudge” is a troll. she does quite a bit of writing, therefore; she should be familiar with this grammatical rule.

    Regardless, I hope this edification is taken constructively.

    • Your close attention to grammar is greatly appreciated. If you read my post about nitpickers, you will find that I think perfectionists perform an extremely important service. However, I have to disagree with your analysis. The predicate in the sentence you find fault with is not present-tense, indicative “confiscate them,” but present subjunctive “could . . . confiscate them.” Therefore, “began” is not in the past indicative, it is present subjunctive.


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