Why is it that the left is so enamored with gun control? Why do they obsess about it in spite of the fact that if anything they have a stronger case for an armed populace than does the right?
Their most common anti-gun argument draws upon history, but a selective reading of it. In 1776, liberals contend, the British military was armed with wooden ships, horse-drawn cannons, and single-shot muskets. The colonists had access to similar weapons, just fewer of them.
Today, the playing field is not quite so level. Military arsenals now include tanks, self-propelled artillery pieces, and combat aircraft that could have effortlessly slaughtered the embattled farmers of Lexington, Concord, and Saratoga. Three years ago, the Huffington Post seized upon that imbalance to quash the revolutionary fantasies of NRA rhetoric, publishing an op-ed headlined “You’ll Never Overthrow The Government and It Isn’t Scared of You.”
The article, written by H. A. Goodman, contains some truly puzzling arguments about how the failure of the Whisky Rebellion proves the impossibility of a successful uprising: “armed Americans have never been able to overthrow their government, even in the early years of the country.” Since he never mentions it, I can only assume Mr. Goodman hasn’t heard of the successful American Revolution, which just a few years earlier had succeeded in throwing off British rule and establishing the very nation against which the Whisky rebels revolted.
Goodman’s proof-texting of American history is ignorant at best. But setting aside his queer implication that the bare-bones federal government of the 1790s was invincible, he ignores a variety of historical examples of successful popular uprisings in nations far less heavily armed than present-day America.
Between 1792 and 1848, French rebels forced three monarchs from power after bloody street fights. The Russian Bolsheviks overthrew the tsar and crushed the White Armies to establish the Soviet Union. In the years after World War II, Algeria fought for and won its independence from France.
Or, if you need an example that’s a little closer to home, look at Vietnam. Despite the American military’s vast superiority of arms, the ragtag militias and guerrilla tactics of the VC and NVA managed to harass and bloody U.S. forces until America’s political will finally failed.
Surely armed guerillas could engage American forces in the streets of Baltimore just as effectively as Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad.
These historical examples are drawn from across the globe and span over two centuries. But with the exception of the last example, they have one thing in common: leftist politics. From the anti-monarchist French revolutionaries to the Marxist-Leninist forces of Ho Chi Minh, all fought to overthrow the conservative status quo in order to implement a radical program of social change. Most American leftists today would sympathize with some of those struggles, even if they didn’t outright support them.
Why, then, is there not a liberal wing of the NRA, threatening armed revolt if Trump oversteps his power?
The closest thing I’ve been able to find is the LGBT-plus-gun-rights advocacy group Pink Pistols. Although the single-issue organization focuses its rhetoric more on individual self-defense against hate crimes than collective defense against government persecution, they do use as their logo a badge that homosexuals were forced to wear during the Holocaust, suggesting that resistance to homophobic state violence is at least a secondary concern. Following the election of President Donald Trump, Pink Pistols’ membership spiked.
Throughout the history of the United States, from the disarmament of blacks under Jim Crow to California’s 1967 prohibition of open carry after armed Black Panthers began conducting “copwatching” patrols in their neighborhoods, gun control has been used to impose state authority on the same vulnerable communities liberals say they want to protect and empower.
Vice News recently published a “Leftist Argument Against Gun Control,” presenting the case that for “a black leftist male” in a nation “founded on, by, and sustained through genocide, slavery, and theft,” giving the government “a total monopoly on violence” by “surrendering effective means of self-defense” is “suicide.” Or, to put it more simply, if cops are racist thugs who can’t be trusted, why should they be the only ones with guns?
I’m a great believer in nonviolent protest and civic discourse, but the left hasn’t always taken that view. When Francisco Franco began his coup, the Spanish left didn’t make handmade signs and chant “¡No Franco! ¡No Falange! No facismo en España!” Instead, as George Orwell describes in Homage to Catalonia, they seized government armories and took to the streets:
[T]he arms were distributed, and in the big towns of eastern Spain the Fascists were defeated by a huge effort, mainly of the working class… It was the kind of effort that could probably only be made by people who were fighting with a revolutionary intention.
So, I say to the American left, if Trump announced tomorrow that he planned to outlaw the Democratic Party and arrest its leadership, how would you respond? Do you, like your predecessors around the world, still believe that some causes might be worth taking up arms against a tyrannical government?
You spent the last administration telling the Cliven Bundys of the world to lay down their arms and trust the government. Now that the tables have turned and the enemy of all you hold dear sits in the Oval Office, history suggests you shouldn’t feel so confident taking your own advice.
Grayson Quay is a freelance writer and M.A. student at Georgetown University.