Earlier this week, during a Facebook discussion about assault rifles on my friend Bill Strasburg's wall, one of his pro-gun-but-civil friends replied to something I'd written with this nifty artifact of today's bizarre conservative political culture:
"Dan, When the gov't attempts to oppress you, what are you going to use to fight back? We've seen in history, multiple times, where gov'ts have murdered millions of people after they took their guns away."
The reason I like this statement so much is that it represents a core element of the post-rational fantasy world that is currently collapsing around the heads of so many (overwhelmingly white) Americans these days. Despite the fact that our Second Amendment grants us gun rights predicated on the value of a well-regulated militia, the final fallback position for today's pro-gun partisans is the argument that untrained civilians need assault rifles so that when our own government's black helicopters come for us, we'll be able to fight back. Which our Founding Fathers could have specified as their constitutional intention, yet mysteriously didn't.
It makes me wonder. How many white American men my age have based their adult gun politics on the experience of watching the original Red Dawn as teenagers in 1984 and thinking "That looks awesome! WOLVERINES!"
But here's the thing so many of these would-be insurgent guerillas simply fail to grasp, no matter how you explain it. In a world where governments possess spy satelites, drones, wiretaps, sniffers, intelligence databases equipped with Non-Obvious Relationship Analysis agents, plus all manner of convert, overt and law-enforcement firepower, your little Bushmaster looks... cute.
Remember Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Guard? They had some of the best tanks money could buy from the old Warsaw Pact. They spent the early stages of the first Gulf War hiding those tanks, because tanks just made better targets for our aircraft, and when they finally brought them out to fight, those tanks just made better targets for the guys in my old unit.
Sure, the Iraqis were far more effective as guerrila fighters in the Second Gulf War, but not effective in the sense of "winning." Once our armed forces adopted a more evolved counter-insurgency playbook, those Iraqi "freedom fighters" (or "Islamic terrorists," depending on your politics) were eventually reduced to something approaching irrelevence.
Which brings us to today's collapsing conservative fantasy world.
My reply to Bill's friend referenced the changing landscape of war and resistance, but concluded with this: "We do have power as citizens, and we need to use it to fight against oppression. But it's not gun power."
If the time ever comes when American citizens must choose between surrendering their liberties and resisting their government, the last thing we'll want to do is pick up assault rifles and take to the streets. Picking up an assault rifle and taking to the streets just makes you a high-resolution target. Holing up in your home with an assault rifle just isolates you for easy removal. Trying to form a group of people with assault rifles just makes you visible to communications monitoring, and then here comes the drone strike.
Our power as citizens today is primarily based on our ability to communicate in the open and to organize -- loosely -- in full public view. It's the power of information and networked transmission that can bypass mass-media propaganda channels. It's the power of distributed networks, without identifiable nodes of control. Our own Department of Defense created the original Internet as an adaptable communications system that could survive a nuclear attack because it could find a way around whatever portions of the system the enemy destroyed. It works that way for regular people, too.
Corporate interests in the "online market" have pretty much paved over the Web idealism of 2005-07. But it's important that we remember that people power, regardless of whether one lives in a democracy or a dictatorship, is based on information, communication and clarity of purpose.
In other words, assault rifles don't deter government oppression. People do.