Arranging American Gun Confiscation
(Originally published in October 2015)
America’s progressive chatter on guns has been shifting noticeably from the abstract language of “control” to the concrete language of “confiscation.” Hillary Clinton is just the latest leading voice to serve notice that the forced disarmament of law-abiding Americans is not the dystopian fantasy of paranoids, but a matter of current policy discussion—and action.
During an October 16 Town Hall in New Hampshire, a voter asked Hillary Clinton about Australia’s national gun “buyback” program—more accurately dubbed “confiscation”—in which large numbers of firearms were outlawed, and owners compelled to surrender them (for financial compensation). Here is the question:
Recently, Australia managed to get away, or take away tens of thousands, millions, of handguns. In one year, they were all gone. Can we do that? If we can’t, why can’t we?
And here, after meandering through international gun laws, and citing localized American buyback programs, was the conclusion of Clinton’s response:
I think it would be worth considering doing it on the national level, if that could be arranged.
So when asked, in effect, what would prevent a President Hillary Clinton from initiating a gun confiscation program similar to Australia’s, she expressed sympathy with the idea, barring practical difficulties.
As the NRA’s Chris Cox pointed out in a press release:
This validates what the NRA has said all along. The real goal of gun control supporters is gun confiscation. Hillary Clinton, echoing President Obama’s recent remarks on the same issue, made that very clear.
True, but that is only the obvious half of the issue. Let us focus for a moment not on Clinton’s approval of Australia’s gun confiscation, but on the condition she establishes for adopting similar measures in America: “if that could be arranged.” Hillary has a knack for punctuating her mendacity with words that reveal her audacity. From “a vast right-wing conspiracy” to “[we’ll] make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted” (spoken to the father of a man killed in an attack that she knew had nothing to do with any film) to “What difference, at this point, does it make?” (spoken to escape the web of lies in which she had entangled herself with regard to the Benghazi killings), she repeatedly shows herself to be not merely a remorseless dissembler, but also disturbingly cold-blooded towards the human obstacles in her path.
Now, with a quaintly detached, faintly bureaucratic clause—”if that could be arranged”—Clinton has defined the terms of what might turn out to be modern civilization’s symbolic last stand. For the most pertinent fact about Australia’s gun confiscation is that for all the justifiable protest among Australian gun owners, they finally complied. They turned in the legally-acquired property that their government demanded they relinquish, and accepted the national registration of firearms that were not confiscated outright. Would American gun owners do the same?
Many would likely obey orders, but a substantial number surely would not. American history is more deeply invested in the idea of private gun ownership than are the histories of other nations. America has always identified an armed citizenry as essential to its very founding principle, namely the principle of limited, republican government. Listen to Australian and British victims of their countries’ respective gun bans, and you will consistently find they are mainly lamenting the loss of a vaguely defined “tradition,” the violation of their property, or the denial of their freedom to pursue a preferred kind of sportsman’s life. Only in America is resistance to restrictions on private gun ownership still discussed primarily in terms of political philosophy, i.e., as a question concerning the legitimacy of an established government.
In this sense, America may be the only nation which still has a living political philosophy at all, if by political philosophy we mean a theory of the terms upon which governments may properly be founded, and of the corresponding conditions in which rulers forfeit their moral authority to govern. Most of the modern democratic world has devolved to the pre-philosophical (or, if you like, pre-Western) position that power is legitimated by its own mere existence, the position Socrates confronted in the earliest days of genuine political philosophy, in the form of Thrasymachus’ sophistical definition of justice as “the advantage of the stronger.” Hence, in the rest of the so-called civilized world, the notion of a national government forcibly disarming the population is accepted, however uncomfortably, as entirely within the government’s “rights,” or at best a matter to be decided at the ballot box.
In Socrates’ lifetime, the disarming of the Athenian population by the Thirty Tyrants, in 404 B.C., ended in a violent revolt, and the restoration of democracy in 403 B.C. In our late modernity, by contrast, the heirs to Athens’ civilizational legacy face their emasculation with, “Well, I hate to give up my target-shooting pistols, but after all, the law’s the law.”
But is it? Is a law establishing tyranny “the law”? Is a law forcing the citizenry to surrender their (already-flimsy) power to defend themselves against unjust government expansion—in effect, a law establishing invincible, and hence effectively unlimited, government—”the law”? Would the progenitors of modern political liberty, from Aquinas to Locke to Jefferson, have accepted the legitimacy of a government that coercively disarmed the population, rendering itself impervious to any practical checks on its action? The issue is not whether any nation’s population should take arms against its presiding establishment, but rather whether the pursuit of freedom and political legitimacy does not require that populations be permitted to retain the means of resistance, i.e., the tools to defend their life, liberty, and property if government should become hostile to the task. Without such means, a government’s only limits are those it imposes on itself, which is to say it has no real limits at all. The tacit understanding of the population’s power to rise up against the most extreme forms of political injustice—that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”—was the condition that marked the dividing line between a just ruler and a tyrant for centuries, even before the idea of limited government had been developed in its modern forms.
Thus, limited government in the true sense entails the state’s tolerance of an armed civilian population—or perhaps more than mere tolerance. During the Virginia ratification debates, George Mason made the following argument for maintaining private militias:
When, against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence,—yeomanry, unskilful and unarmed,— what chance is there for preserving freedom?… Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man,- who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia…. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed? The general government ought, at the same time, to have some such power…. But I stand on the general principles of freedom, whereon I dare to meet any one. I wish that, in case the general government should neglect to arm and discipline the militia, there should be an express declaration that the state governments might arm and discipline them. [Elliot’s Debates Vol. 3, 380]
Here, Mason directly contrasts a national government which seeks to disarm the citizenry (for the Founders, “the militia” meant the people) with one which seeks to arm them—that is, to prepare them to defend themselves. The danger against which he warns his compatriots is that of an armed national government ruling a disarmed citizenry. The government of a free nation, he suggests, should take active steps to prevent such an imbalance.
Even in America, this principled view of the meaning and scope of legitimate government has dwindled to a minority position, though one which has retained some of its bite, due to the lingering influence of the progressives’ great pet peeve, the U.S. Constitution. There are still tens of thousands (millions?) of Americans who, believing in the Constitution and the system of government it delineates, understand not only in their minds but in their guts what the Second Amendment means, both to their dreams of restoring a limited republic, and to the progressive globalists’ dreams of breaking the spirit of modern liberty once and for all.
With this we return to Hillary Clinton’s carefully understated hopes for a national gun registry and mass confiscations, which she would consider implementing “if that could be arranged.” That a wide-scale confiscation program could be arranged from a purely logistical point of view is obvious, as such programs have already been successfully carried out in other nations, and far more complicated programs are administered by the U.S. federal government every day. Her reserved phraseology, then, is a bureaucratizing euphemism to mask the real problem that would make such a program difficult to “arrange” in America: resisters.
Clinton knows what every American gun control advocate knows, namely that a substantial number of Americans see their weapons as political tools of last resort. They will not relinquish their firearms at their government’s “request.” Any national confiscation program would involve many episodes of government agents—police or military—visiting citizens’ homes to search for and seize guns, against some level of resistance from gun owners. Some of these episodes would become violent, involving gunfire and bloodshed, probably on both sides, resulting in the use of increased levels of government force, and in heightened public tension in the face of these armed confrontations between private citizens and the government.
This is merely a projection of likelihoods based on the levels of patriotism apparent among those gun owners who view this issue as a matter of constitutional life and death. It is therefore the same projection that American politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators who support gun confiscation—immediate or gradual—must be presumed to have made for themselves. They all know civilian disarmament, if truly enforced, would lead to violence, possibly even civil unrest, with repeated instances of government agents firing on American civilians in order to seize legally acquired property that has suddenly been banned. Hence it is reasonable to assume that a major part of the discussion on this issue, among progressives of all stripes, is the question of how, whether, or when this resistance might be reduced to “acceptable levels,” and quelled without stirring broader social upheaval. This is the question buried within the bureaucratic coldness of Hillary’s conditional clause, “if that could be arranged.”
Let us consider aloud a matter that progressives might prefer to reserve for private cocktail party conversations, namely what sort of “arrangements” would be required to make a national gun confiscation viable in the United States.
First of all, since the practical obstacle to such a program is the existence of patriotic gun owners, such people must be marginalized with propaganda, and targeted for mockery and suspicion. The process begins in childhood. Mass compulsory schooling is first and foremost a tool for promoting government-friendly attitudes of various sorts; increased nationalization of school curricula, goals, and methods makes the classroom an increasingly effective arena for the undermining of constitutionalist feelings in general, and the promotion of anti-gun sentiments in particular—two aims which go hand in hand, as young people dissuaded from respecting their nation’s history and heroes will find little merit, as adults, in attempts to invoke the Second Amendment (a point which the Supreme Court could render obsolete soon enough). After all, the Constitution was written in the pre-technological era by slave owners, racists, sexists, and capitalist exploiters; how could such a document be useful, let alone decisive, in a modern political debate?
Secondly, as younger generations are increasingly detached from the constitutional and philosophical heritage that spawned America’s arms-bearing tradition, the problem demographic may be presumed to be aging, i.e., dying. Therefore, the shrinkage of the principled resistance may be pursued through a combination of attrition and gradual desensitization to “gun control” talk. This fits neatly within the general progressive effort to isolate (and intimidate) “conservatives” as a cranky cadre of old rural white men, and progressives as an educated, multicultural, multi-sexual kaleidoscope of global urban youth.
To reinforce the cultural marginalization of constitutionalist gun owners, the two realms of mainstream society in which they have hitherto maintained a dominant presence—the military and law enforcement—must be actively transformed from the “regressive” institutions they have been, into instruments of the progressive elite. The aggressive nationalization of local police operations will inevitably weaken officers’ allegiances to their local communities in favor of a depersonalized, textbook allegiance to federal overseers and priorities. The active promotion of an alternative-lifestyles or diversity agenda within the military will gradually render the hyper-testosteroned, “real man” aspect of military life passé and distasteful to a new breed of sensitive, progressive soldiers increasingly trained to fight for social justice rather than for the U.S. Constitution. Thus, when the experts release their government-funded reports identifying gun-and-Bible-clingers as potential terrorists, and labeling their non-compliance with a gun ban as a criminal affront to American society and a root cause of mass shootings, the soldiers and police will be expected to do their duty and promote public safety against this domestic threat. When the worst and dimmest (most successfully indoctrinated) within these two organizations are finally called upon to perform search and seizure missions—how else would the civilly disobedient be forced to give up their weapons?—they may well do so.
At that moment, despite media attempts to portray the victims as the perpetrators, Americans will have a chance to see what their government is made of, and to decide whether they can live with such a government. And it is certain that Americans who side with the resisters will be virtually alone on this Earth. The rest of the world will see the images of gun-toting civilians standing in defiance of their government as evidence of the reactionary element of America that they find so distasteful. They will cheer on the U.S. government’s violent subduing of these dangerous crackpots.
Such are the considerations entailed by Hillary’s blandly stated condition for moving forward on gun confiscation, “if that could be arranged.” These are in essence the same considerations the late Larry Grathwohl presented to the Weather Underground’s leaders more than forty years ago: “What is going to happen to those people that we can’t re-educate?”
The Weathermen’s infamous answer (which Bill Ayers waited forty years to disavow) was only common sense. Force has always been, and remains, the ultimate solution for progressives devoted to their aims, when facing an incorrigible minority of non-compliant citizens. The only questions concern how much force may be applied without stirring excessive resistance. Shall we classify this solution and those questions under the heading “Arrangements”?