Wednesday, February 14, 2007


"The Second Amendment isn’t about hunting, it’s about keeping our government in line when all else has failed to do so."

Second Amendment Lessons From Iraq

by William R. Tonso

Like all informed Second Amendment supporters, I don’t trust any politician who claims support for that amendment and then goes on to relate how much he/she stands up for the rights of hunters as if the rights of hunters were what that amendment is all about. We know why the Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights. The Founders left us a clear paper trail including the following succinct statement from Tench Coxe: "As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed in the next article in their right to keep and bear their private arms" (emphasis added).

The Second Amendment isn’t about hunting, it’s about keeping our government in line when all else has failed to do so. It’s the teeth of the Bill of Rights. And that there are still Americans who take seriously the right to defend themselves against a government gone bad worries advocates of dictatorial social engineering through judicial activism and of the ever-increasing centralization and intrusiveness of our government. But are those of us who take this right and its related concerns seriously being realistic? If our government gets to the point where it’s widely considered to be oppressive, could our heavily armed populace do much against the even more heavily armed and highly trained military and police forces that would be the instruments of our government’s oppression? After all, wouldn’t the situation existing in Iraq before Saddam Hussein was ousted seem to undermine our assumptions concerning the protection against oppression afforded by a heavily armed civilian populace?

The official justification for going to war with Iraq, of course, was to get rid of that nation’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Since no Iraqi WMDs have been found, the Bush administration’s justification for going into Iraq has shifted to liberating that nation’s people from the horrors inflicted on them by their brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. That Saddam was a brutal dictator, there’s no doubt, but if his people were so terribly treated by him, why didn’t they rise up against him? I can just hear the scoffing response to this question from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and other Bush-administration shills: "Idiot, how can an oppressed people rise up against a brutal dictator and his military and police forces?" But the answer to this question should be obvious to those who believe that a heavily armed populace serves as a safeguard against oppression. Gun ownership was apparently widespread in Saddam’s Iraq.

"The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence/Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence" claims, "According to media reports, Iraq is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world. It is believed that there are enough guns in Iraq for at last [sic] every person in Iraq to possess one, a level similar to gun ownership in clans in Yemen and Somalia, as well as in the United States. With a population of approximately 24 million, that means there could be millions of small arms in the hands of civilians. The gun culture is pervasive in Iraq. There is even an Iraqi saying, ‘Give everything to your friend, except your car, your wife, and your gun.’"

This anti-gun organization goes on to report that "in February, 2003, Saddam’s governments [sic] held a parade of thousands of small arms-bearing civilians to march down the streets of Mosul to demonstrate the capacity of ordinary Iraqis to wage war." What kinds of guns? All kinds, many old but also many new, the latter including AK-47 true assault rifles capable of full-automatic fire, and "Israeli Uzis and German MP5 submachine guns." Civilians even had rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). A retired Army Special Operations officer with whom I swap e-mails now and again confirms that that part of the world, with which he is very familiar, is awash in guns. And a soldier returned from Iraq once told Limbaugh about the widespread civilian possession of guns in that country. Rush was surprised, but I’ve never heard him mention it again. So, if Iraqi civilians were actually heavily armed even before they were "liberated" (Ha!), why didn’t the Iraqi people rise up against their brutal dictator and save the United States the trouble of "liberating" them?

Does the failure of heavily armed Iraqis to liberate themselves undermine the arguments of Second Amendment supporters in the United States, few of whom seem to be aware that Iraqi civilians were heavily armed even in Saddam’s day? I’m surprised that the gun prohibitionists haven’t used the Iraq situation to jump on this pro-Second Amendment argument with both feet. "Look! The heavily armed Iraqis couldn’t do anything against Saddam’s police state. Any attempt to overthrow his oppressive regime would have brought about the swift and brutal eradication of rebel forces by his military and police forces. Why, his oppressed masses couldn’t even assassinate him, because he had so many doubles standing in for him and he had spies everywhere. You Second Amendment yahoos are caught up in a bunch of romantic nonsense if you think that you can stand up against the military and police forces of a modern nation state gone bad." Somewhere, I believe on the Internet, I’ve seen at least one Second Amendment-supporter’s response to the Iraq situation. He argued that since the Iraqis didn’t liberate themselves, reports that they were heavily armed must be false. But both the argument that Iraqis couldn’t overthrow Saddam even though they were heavily armed, and the argument that the fact that they didn’t overthrow him proves that they weren’t heavily armed are questionable.

Had the Iraqis been as willing to take on Saddam’s military and police forces as they obviously have been to take on American and British forces far more powerful than any that could have been mustered by Saddam, they could have got rid of him themselves and been less worse off than they are now. As Saddam apparently hoped they would, Iraqis have proven that they can fight and that they’re willing to take casualties, and in doing so they’ve also shown that even if they had the means they didn’t have the will to get rid of him. They’re currently demonstrating that they have both the means and the will to take on rival factions and those whom they consider to be occupiers of their country and despoilers of everything they value. As the retired Army Special Operations officer I mentioned previously e-mailed me: "Every country I have ever spent time in, to include Iraq, the people living there are as free as they are willing to be. This is not just opinion, it is true by definition. Otherwise they would be dead or in jail trying to overthrow people like Saddam. What Americans mistakenly do is transfer their beliefs regarding distrust of government onto others. The vast majority of people around this world believe government to be a good, not evil, force in their lives." Well put. Even a well-armed populace can be oppressed if it doesn’t have the will to rebel. I might add that even in the United States, detractors of the Second Amendment, and even many of its supporters, tend to trust government too much and see it as a force for good as long as their side is in power.

December 13, 2006

William R. Tonso [send him mail] a retired sociology professor (University of Evansville) who has written a lot on the gun issue, both sociological and pro-Second Amendment. His recent book, Gun Control=People Control, is a collection of eleven of his essays previously published in Liberty, Reason, Chronicles, and Gun Week.

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