Piers Morgan of CNN has recently raised the hackles of the pro-gun folks in the U.S. by inviting a number of those folks to his show, and essentially setting them up for what seems like a blatant gun control pitch. As many commenters have pointed out, Morgan and CNN have been losing viewers and this has been a good way to stir up some interest in the show.
One of those recent guests was Ben Shapiro, editor of Breitbart.com. The full interview is here: Ben Shapiro CUTS Piers Morgan DOWN.
Hearing what we want to hear
As testament to the fact that we tend to hear what we want to hear, many right wing commenters think Morgan was drubbed in this debate. But I must admit, I don’t see it that way at all. I respect the fact that Shapiro is more clear-headed about the issues than most, and is able to put his case in such stark terms.
In the conversation Morgan manages to isolate the most important point made by his opponent, and to at least suggest how it lacks common sense. As Shapiro clearly says, “…fundamentally the right believes the basis for the 2nd Amendment is not about self defence and it is not about hunting. It’s about resistance to government tyranny.”
Resistance to Tyranny
The claim that gun ownership is somehow an important protection against the possible (inevitable?) tyranny of governments needs closer examination. It seems to me that people who make this claim have 1776 redcoats in mind, advancing over the field with loaded muskets. In that case a militia of armed townspeople might be effective, although even that is questionable.
Many others have made the obvious point: an armed citizenry with even something as deadly as automatic assault rifles is not going to be much of a deterrent against a modern army using tanks, artillery, long-range missles and fighter jets. Can you think of an instance in the last hundred years where an armed citizenry defeated a determined government force?
Recent rebellions in the Middle East may come to mind. Libya, Egypt, Syria. But in all of these cases the resistance was not just townspeople with guns. Ultimately what wins in these instances is an organized and well armed opposition with all the powerful weapons of a modern army – provided, of course by some well-heeled ally (usually the U.S., Russia, or China).
Government by right wing zealots with guns
Furthermore, even if the simplistic vision of an armed citizenry marching against a tyrannical government made sense, this force is just as likely to become tyrannical as the established government. Take Egypt for example, or Iraq, or imagine what might replace the Syrian government once the civil war is ended. Do I really think a victorious force of well-armed right wing zealots is going to guarantee my freedom?
This is not to say that tyranny is inevitable, or that it cannot be resisted. It is just to say that giving everybody (or a select approved few) an automatic rifle is not the answer. Things like an educated and engaged citizenry, and honest, respect-worthy institutions – laws, parliaments, police forces, schools – and a free, transparent, professional media are much more likely to keep the tyrants out of the offices of power.
I realize this sounds much less inspiring, much less melodramatic, but I think that is a good thing.