Guns and Lone Nuts: a Poor Way to Resist Oppression

If someone is prying something from your cold dead hands, then you’re doing it wrong

Do we need assault rifles to protect us from a potentially tyrannical federal government? Will they help? A fair number of Second Amendment enthusiasts certainly think so.

As with everything else, I try to look at this assertion through a practical lens rather than an ideological one. I also happen to have quite a bit of experience working in places where a “tyrannical” national government (Afghanistan and Iraq) had lost the support of most of the population and where citizens were both largely militant and hostile to the US military.

I’ll tell you right now, we Army Rangers could have cared less about those individuals’ personal ownership of assault rifles. We even allowed each home to possess one. What threatened our success in defeating an insurgency was, on a strategic level, infiltration of the local political apparatus and effective propaganda. On an operational level, it was community cohesion and local familiarity with the terrain. On a tactical level, it was improvised explosive devices, mortars, or other indirect firearms and weapons that could precisely engage us, like sniper rifles. More importantly, the people who were most dangerous to us were those who could expertly spread that propaganda, destabilize those politics from within, build that community cohesion, and construct or employ those weapons. We were leery of those in the population who were charismatic, persuasive, and skilled in small-unit tactics, counter-surveillance, encrypted communications, and operational planning. In addition, those who were the most physically fit were also a danger. I’m not talking bodybuilder or marathon runner fit. I’m referring to the physical capacity to endure strenuous conditions, such as extreme heat, long periods of time in tunnels, or under fire with little food, water, or sleep.

I hate to tell my fellow Americans this, but our population, as a whole, is sorely lacking in all the things we soldiers feared from Iraqi and Afghan populations when we were on the side of a centralized government trying to impose its will on the countryside. What threatened our ability to control and infiltrate an area and undermine resistance had nothing to do with weaponry or militarization of the population.

First and foremost, any community actively involved in local and regional politics was a threat. Even in the absence of a democracy, people with ties to a region could obtain important and influential roles in the state apparatus or gain positions in government in close proximity to those in power. This provided crucial inside information about operational and even strategic planning of the state. The typical American has alienated himself or herself from local politics and has become detached from important decisions being made until those decisions have already been implemented.

A close-knit community was also essential for resistance in my experience overseas. Neighbors who knew and trusted one another could coordinate efforts, offer each other sanctuary and material assistance, and were much harder to reliably turn. It was virtually impossible to move undetected through neighborhoods that were close-knit en route to an objective. Once we landed, any observation of our location and direction of travel would be swiftly reported and the early warning would often effectively protect the insurgent groups. We have plenty of assault rifles in the United States, but our community cohesion is sorely lacking. If a person in an average American neighborhood spotted an enemy unit moving down their street at night to kill or capture a neighbor, not only would we not bother to call and warn that person who we may barely know, we likely wouldn’t even have their number if we were so inclined.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the populous not only knew each other, they knew the terrain. They lived most of their lives outside, so they knew the easiest ways in and out of their areas. They knew where we would likely come from or where we would land and what routes they could likely take to escape undetected. Do we? Of course not. We spend our days locked away in our cocoons. If someone told the average American to get out of their subdivision without using any of the roads, they’d likely get lost in a culvert somewhere.

Before we could combat a tyrannical government, our population would have to first learn the basics of an insurgency. An insurgent rarely, if ever, keeps their most formidable weapon on them or in their home. They never directly resist or oppose the tyrants. That’s why it’s referred to as asymmetrical warfare. In other words, if someone is prying something from your cold dead hands, then you’re doing it wrong. Effective insurgents are like water—they give where they are pressed and flow where there’s a void. So-called “patriots” here in the US of A also focus the vast majority of their training in isolated wooded areas, away from civilian populations. They focus on survival skills rather than the skills I listed above. This is an enormous mistake, because in asymmetrical warfare, the materially and numerically superior force would like nothing better than to separate you from the population, both literally and figuratively. That’s often one of their stated goals. When we received intel about an isolated enemy stronghold in a secluded area, we knew we were playing by the rules of our game, not theirs.

Successful insurgents stay in their homes and amongst the population, not out in the woods playing Rambo. They prioritize propaganda and passive resistance, which is far more effective than assault rifles. When the community is sufficiently disillusioned and willing to protect native insurgents, then it may be time to escalate to harassment and targeted military operations. And when it’s finally time to use assault rifles they can be obtained from disgruntled units that are either fleeing, blending back into the community, or changing allegiance. Once that has succeeded, citizens can escalate to denying territory and establishing local governments to supplant the centralized one. Only then will traditional military training be appropriate.

We fiercely defend a Second Amendment under the erroneous belief in both its inspiration and effectiveness. It served very well to suppress the slave revolts for which it was penned, but it won’t do a thing to protect you from tyranny. Only becoming a fit, friendly neighbor, actively involved in local politics, can do that.