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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Guns and Ammo Deter Tyranny


You may have noticed the many articles detailing the big run-up in the sale of guns and ammunition since the November elections. Apparently gun owners are concerned that President-elect Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress will enact bans on semi-automatic weapons and ammo.

Of course, that begs the question: What do they need all these weapons and ammunition for?

Well, one reason for the increase in demand might be simply the forbidden-fruit concept. Once government makes something illegal, it becomes more attractive to some people to have it.

Another possible reason is the fear of civil unrest. If such were to happen, people with guns would have the ability to deter marauding criminal gangs or to defend themselves from them.

Of course, some gun owners might want more guns for hunting, although it would seem that that would be the least likely reason for the big run-up in gun and ammunition sales.

Regardless of the particular motives of the gun and ammo buyers, we should never lose sight of the core reason that our American ancestors enshrined the right to keep and bear arms within the Second Amendment. That core reason is this: so that the American people could protect themselves through violent action from the tyranny of their very own federal government.

Now, that notion is shocking to some modern-day Americans. In their view, the federal government is their provider, their friend, and their benefactor. It’s the entity that bails them out of financial crises. It gives them their food stamps. It protects them from the terrorists, the drug dealers, the Muslims, and the illegal aliens. It helps their children get an education. It provides their retirement and healthcare.

Why in the world would Americans need to have weapons to protect themselves from their chief provider, protector, and benefactor?

The answer is simple: The federal government is the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people. That’s correct — it’s not the terrorists, the communists, the Muslims, the drug dealers, the illegal aliens, or any foreign dictator that constitutes the biggest threat to the American people. The biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people is the federal government itself.

In fact, the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights is an explicit acknowledgement of that fact. That’s why those documents place express constraints on the powers of federal officials.

Could things ever get so bad that Americans would have to take up arms against their own government? Of course they could. That’s the whole idea behind the Second Amendment — to provide people with the means of violent resistance should such ever become necessary. Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals referred to this concept as a “doomsday” provision — one that is unlikely ever to have be used but which is critically important to have. Here’s what he wrote in the case of Silveira v. Lockyer:

“The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”

Ironically, the current increase in gun and ammunition sales makes the prospect of tyranny less likely. The reason is obvious: When would-be tyrants know that people have the means to resist tyranny with violence, the would-be tyrants are more cautious about implementing their tyrannical plans.

What is the first thing U.S. officials do when they invade some Third World country? They ensure that the citizenry remain disarmed. Why do they do that? To ensure that people readily obey whatever orders are issued to them. U.S. officials know what foreign dictators know: that a disarmed citizenry is an obedient citizenry.

Now, let’s assume an enormous crisis in which federal officials are threatening tyrannical measures against the American populace. At their staff meetings, at least one of the would-be tyrannical bureaucrats is certain to say, “Hey, this isn’t some Third-World country where everyone is disarmed and therefore obedient. This is the United States of America, where people have stockpiled enormous amounts of weaponry and ammunition in their homes. If we adopt these harsh tyrannical measures, things could get pretty nasty. I say we back off.”

Thus, the right to keep and bear arms not only serves as a sort of doomsday insurance policy in the event the worst were to happen, it also, at the same time, serves as an enormous deterrent to tyranny. The Second Amendment keeps Americans safe not only from burglars, thieves, and robbers but also from would-be tyrants.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.