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James Madison, Gun Nut:

I was just reading James Madison's notes towards his autobiography, published by Douglass Adair in The William & Mary Quarterly, vol. 2, pp. 191-209 (1945), and on p. 208 appears the following statement:

A Government resting on a minority, is an aristocracy not a Republic, and could not be safe with a numerical & physical force against it, without a standing Army, and enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.

Madison was writing in the early 1830s, but I have no reason to think that this was some then-recent epiphany of his — it seems to be a mirror of what appeared to be received wisdom at the time, from Blackstone to St. George Tucker to Story: A disarmed populace, the theory went, was an invitation to tyranny (or at least to aristocracy or monarchy); an armed populace would be an important bulwark against such tyranny. Federalist No. 46, also written by Madison, expressed a similar view; but Madison's statement in his autobiography makes the point more unambiguously, and in a context that seems a sincere and mature statement of one's views and not just a political tract aimed at an imminent political goal.

Nor was Madison writing about the importance of maintaining armed state-run and state-limited groups as a counterweight to the federal government. His statement seemed to refer to general political principles, applicable to unitary governments (such as each state, or such as England as described by Blackstone, who also described the English right to have arms as a bulwark against oppression) as well as to federal ones.

Now I'm not sure that private arms — or at least private arms at the level that we're likely to tolerate, which is to say some privately owned infantry weapons but without privately owned warplanes, heavy armor, anti-aircraft weapons, and the like — are likely to do much to deter or fight government tyranny in America today. It's possible that they would have this effect, especially against relatively mild-mannered opppressors; but I certainly can't muster the confidence for this that Madison or others expressed. (UPDATE: See also my colleague Stephen Bainbridge's post; he's even more skeptical than I am on this.)

But it does seem pretty clear that the "private gun ownership as check on government tyranny" view was quite prevalent in the Framing era, and was closely tied to the right to keep and bear arms. If holding such a view today makes the holders "gun nuts," then James Madison was a gun nut, too.

Goober (mail):
Well, there's one rather significant difference: In Madison's time, national armies had few weapons that weren't also available to the general public, so a large number of private gun owners could actually provide a check on government abuse. Today governments have access to, say, M1A1 tanks and ICBMs, and the monopoly on that level of force makes private gun ownership rather pointless as a check on the government. Unless one thinks the 2nd Amendment extends to weaponized plutonium, it seems this rationale doesn't really do any work for an expansive reading of the right to bear arms.
12.18.2006 1:19pm
geekWithA.45 (mail) (www):
>>or at least private arms at the level that we're likely to tolerate, which is to say some privately owned infantry weapons but without privately owned warplanes, heavy armor, anti-aircraft weapons, and the like

Say, doesn't the current infantry load out include select fire weapons (Restricted to registry by NFA '34, registry closed by '86 FOPA), belt fed crew served machine guns, and various sorts of grenade like things that explode?

Considering the current level of demonization of neutered, semi-auto civilian versions of these weapons, or any auto loader for that matter, describing them as both "infantry weapons" and "tolerated" is...generous.
12.18.2006 1:22pm
BGates (mail) (www):
Goober, while I think the weaponry available to governments is the strongest argument against the rationale behind the second amendment right, nonetheless Madison's statement indicates that an expansive view of the right was held at the time the amendment was written.

Besides, gun ownership isn't 'pointless' - ICBMs don't kill people, people do - and only if they're not shot first by other people with guns.
12.18.2006 1:25pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The Iraqi insurgents are giving us trouble without private warplanes etc., and they're foreigners whom the US soldiers and marines don't have much trouble shooting. Unless you've got the armed forces ready to fire into crowds of civilians (instead of going home, and taking their guns with them) or bomb neighborhoods, a domestic insurgency here could make a lot of trouble for a despot or tyrant, especially if we caught him on the way up.
12.18.2006 1:32pm
Goober (mail):
Whoops---my comment, offered under billable hour constraints, was completely redundant in light of Prof. V's penultimate paragraph. My regrets.
12.18.2006 1:33pm
Gino:
The government has access to weapons the general public does not have access to + the general public is no impediment to government force = there is no individual right to bears arms

WTF?
12.18.2006 1:35pm
DJR:
I agree completely, standing armies are a threat to liberty.
12.18.2006 1:39pm
Gordo:
The "check on tyranny" argument would seem to be a good one against gun registration, as well as actual bans on private gun ownership. If the government knows you have a gun, it's of less value against tyranny.

So, Professor Volokh, do you believe that laws requiring gun registration are therefore unconstitutional?
12.18.2006 1:41pm
frankcross (mail):
"without a standing army"

This is actually an interesting originalist point of contention. Jefferson and his junto were very much opposed to a standing army and nearly got such a prohibition written into the Constitution. Fortunately, they failed, but they imagined a world far different from today's.
12.18.2006 1:41pm
American patriot:
David Chesler is right. Small arms are all that is neccesary to destabilize the government. Who is the government firing ICBM's at? Its own cities? Citizens will not be taking on the army or police in military advances but by snipers ans IEDs.
12.18.2006 1:43pm
r78:
Goober - you wrote:

the monopoly on that level of force makes private gun ownership rather pointless as a check on the government.


Actually, small arms can be quite effective against US forces. See Iraq where the US has astoundingly overwhelming firepower, but has been fighting insurgents for years.

The situation would not be dissimilar in the US because, presumably, any civil unrest would take the form of an insurgency.

Even a few well armed men could probably infiltrate congress when it is in session.
12.18.2006 1:48pm
DJR:
So for those who value guns as a check on tyranny, how close are we to an armed insurgency in this country vis a vis, say, any other time in the last 100 years? It appears to me that our liberty is presently being threatened by our own government in an unprecedented way, while many of the gun owners cheer along (excepting restrictions on the purported right to bear arms).
12.18.2006 1:53pm
SeaLawyer:

It appears to me that our liberty is presently being threatened by our own government in an unprecedented way, while many of the gun owners cheer along (excepting restrictions on the purported right to bear arms).


Exactly how are your liberties being threatened?
12.18.2006 1:58pm
Adrian (mail):
Unless you buy into a neocolonialist theory of why the US is in Iraq, the "Iraq shows resistance is useful" line is absurd. Iraqi small arms have given the US trouble, but they haven't driven it out. And (except on said colonialist theory) if there's no insurgency, the US leaves sooner, because the war's over. All an armed Iraqi populace has achieved is a *longer* occupation plus a civil war.
12.18.2006 2:01pm
Mark Field (mail):
I think Prof. Volokh's reading of the sentence is very unlikely. Before I begin, my view does NOT mean that Madison didn't believe in an individual right to bear arms; it just means I don't think one can prove that belief by this sentence.

First, the sentence refers to "a disarmed populace." That's consistent both with an individual right and with a collective right.

Second, Madison was pointing out what an aristocracy needed to survive. It does not follow that a republic must have all three protections in order to avoid aristocracy. Historical experience indicates it does not, since we have had a standing army for many years now and the Republic still exists.
12.18.2006 2:02pm
Gordo:
blockquote>
Exactly how are your liberties being threatened?<


After what has happened to Jose Padilla, A UNITED STATES CITIZEN, who has been tortured by our government for the past three years and held incommunicado, I would say that the liberties of any U.S. citizen are not what they were a few years ago.

And I too find it amusing (assuming that empirical data would bear it out) that those with private arms in this country would be more likely to help the government round up "undesirables" than to resist such an attempt.
12.18.2006 2:05pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Given that those 'unprecedented' invasions of our 'rights' either involve rights that didn't exist fifty years ago, or methods of invasion that were used by Socialist Democrat wet dream FDR... not particularly close.

Other than the McCain crap, but it's not well-enough or violently-enough enforced to get the attention yet. Ten, twenty years, maybe.

As to those who think guns in the hands of the populace won't deter tyrants, I strongly suggest you reconsider. Lone nuts are considered the top weakness for the Secret Service, and creating enough of them really shortens the length of one's term in office. And term above ground, for that matter.
12.18.2006 2:08pm
Waldensian (mail):

And I too find it amusing (assuming that empirical data would bear it out) that those with private arms in this country would be more likely to help the government round up "undesirables" than to resist such an attempt.

Big assumption, and I doubt very much that it's correct.

It certainly doesn't describe my beliefs or the attitudes of ANY of the many other gun-owners I know. Certainly it doesn't describe most of the proponents of RKBA who post here.

What beliefs or data lead you to conclude that gun owners are more likely to support "government round-ups of undesirables?"
12.18.2006 2:37pm
The Ace (mail):
So for those who value guns as a check on tyranny, how close are we to an armed insurgency in this country vis a vis, say, any other time in the last 100 years?

Organized armed conflict will happen on US soil within 20 years. I firmly believe this.
12.18.2006 2:51pm
The Ace (mail):

After what has happened to Jose Padilla, A UNITED STATES CITIZEN, who has been tortured by our government


Hilarious.
12.18.2006 2:53pm
FantasiaWHT:
Something else I think has been missed is the mobilization of armed forces... in Madison's time, a militia of locals could get mobilized and organized long before any government army could arrive on-scene.
12.18.2006 2:56pm
shecky (mail):

What beliefs or data lead you to conclude that gun owners are more likely to support "government round-ups of undesirables?"


I stopped frequenting a high traffic gun forum because of the large number of folks willing to volunteer for border sniper duty at request of the government. Presumably because illegal immigrants are guilty of that widely recognized crime against humanity, looking for work.

Seems a high ratio of gun nuts are conservatives of the authoritarian stripe, willing to follow government down any dead end, as long as it's a) authoritarian in nature, and b) they are still allowed to caress their guns.
12.18.2006 2:56pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
1. I think Madison's comment was occasioned by some change in the VA cosntitution which he regarded as tending toward aristocratic forms of government. I now forget exactly what it was.

2. No standing army (except for frontier garrisons and the like) would have handled American needs rather well, up to about the beginning of the 20th century (and obviously apart from the civil war). In fact, no standing armies in time of peace would have handled things up to 1946. Hard to fault people for failing to foresee things a century into the future -- to foresee that what was in their time a small and isolated country would wind up as a "superpower" involved in a "cold war".

3. As far as the Iraq comparison... if we were beamed back to before the invasion, and allowed to make the decision with our present knowledge, would we have made it differently -- and would we make the same decision if we could be assured that no Iraqi had a weapon, nor a way to get one?
Maybe we're still in there, but it's a question of the decision getting awfully complicated and close, when if there were no arms involved it'd be quite simple.
12.18.2006 2:59pm
r78:

What beliefs or data lead you to conclude that gun owners are more likely to support "government round-ups of undesirables?"

I count scores of Bush Cheney stickers at my local gun clubs.

And I stopped talking politics with anyone in the clubhouse because every single person I talked to thought the governments's pissing on civil rights was just fine an dandy because 1) we are at war and 2) it's okay to imprison terrorists without trial or charges. (Never mind, of course, that only a few people have been convicted as terrorists, let alone even charged.)

Also, by gun club sent two volunteers and over $3,000 worth of donations and supplies to the "Minuteman Project". And we are several hundred miles from the border. While $3K isn't alot of money, that is almost as much as we raised for Katrina donations. (Mind you, I am all for immigration reform, but that ain't really what the Minutemen are about.

I do not have a doubt that if our fearless leader in Washington were to declare tomorrow that we should start rounding up Muslims and Arabs to send them to detention facilities, that there would be many people from my club who would volunteer to drive the trucks or provide "security" for the operation.
12.18.2006 3:12pm
dan in michigan (mail):
Nonsense. Does anyone think a standing Army could take on 50 million people?
12.18.2006 3:18pm
The Ace (mail):
Presumably because illegal immigrants are guilty of that widely recognized crime against humanity, looking for work.

Ah yes, the requisite strawman.

So we shouldn't have borders then? Or, better yet, laws you don't like shouldn't count, right?
12.18.2006 3:48pm
ASportsman (mail):
OK the legal analysis is all quite frankly over my head, and I suspect that for many people who are reading it, references to a "neocolonialist" policy in Iraq or Jose Padilla are beside the point.

I'd just like to ask a couple of simple questions, because here where I live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts I walked out of my residence today and greeted a couple of friendly hunters in Blaze Orange walking across my property, engaged them in a brief discussion and gave them my best wishes for bringing down some game. A couple of nice guys, one of them is a Selectman in the town I live in.

So here's the question:

Why is it that people are wondering whether U.S. citizens can responsibly own firearms, including rifles, shotguns, and handguns, semi-automatic weapons (which Volokh describes as "infantry weapons" erroneously -- they's not how my friends are using them) as long as they are licensed? What is it that requires us to rethink this seemingly obvious reality every few years?

I actually appreciate Volokh's title, because if James Madison was a "gun nut" then I guess I'm a "gun nut" too -- but isn't it about time that people started questioning the premises of the anti-gun cohort of the population? More than 70 million private firearms have been purchased in America since 1991, and the "assault weapons" ban lapsed in 2004, and at least as far as I can tell, there hasn't been any increase in violent crime that would comport with the views of anti-gun legislators.

Sometimes I think that the people most vehemently opposed to a private right to bear arms are the ones who should go on a field trip to a sporting goods store, acquire a gun license, go through the training with the NRA instructor, and learn how to safely handle a weapon.
12.18.2006 3:49pm
The Ace (mail):
talked to thought the governments's pissing on civil rights was just fine an dandy because 1) we are at war and 2) it's okay to imprison terrorists without trial or charges. (Never mind, of course, that only a few people have been convicted as terrorists, let alone even charged.)

Care to name a specific "civil right" that has been "pissed" on?

Further, can you name a "terrorist" that hasn't had a trial?

Just one, please.
12.18.2006 3:50pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Shecky wrote:

Seems a high ratio of gun nuts are conservatives of the authoritarian stripe, willing to follow government down any dead end, as long as it's a) authoritarian in nature, and b) they are still allowed to caress their guns.


Funny thing is, there's nothing the least bit authoritarian about responding with lethal force to armed incursions by a foreign power, in fact, that's exactly what the militia was envisaged to do--and the very topic of the threads I viewed dealing with "Mexican Immigrants" and "sniper duty" involved--incursions by drug smugglers in Mexican gov't uniforms.

Carressing their guns is the least most any of them would want to do, they want to trade, sell, make, shoot, carry, gift, and otherwise go about their lives with them. Your rejection of 2nd amendment forums on the grounds you mentioned tells me you don't take any rights very seriously unlees they have been blessed by the leftist establishment.

James Madison was no gun nut. His was a still the most reasonable evaluation, that an armed populace will in it's own estimation be tolerably free.

"The limits of tyranny are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." Frederick Douglass

And being well armed, we'll find we can endure less. That's a good thing.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
12.18.2006 3:51pm
John (mail):
I wouldn't want to be the general in charge of conquering 150 million armed Americans. Hell, Rambo alone took care of one police force; what true American couldn't do the same?
12.18.2006 3:54pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> It appears to me that our liberty is presently being threatened by our own government in an unprecedented way, while many of the gun owners cheer along

In other words, gun owners protect rights and liberties that they value. This doesn't distinguish them from non-owners.

What does distinguish them is that they maintain a means of resistance somewhat more effective than holding their breath if govt goes rogue. Gun ownership is not guaranteed effective, but gun owners have an option that a non-owners don't have.

The unarmed "Bush-Hitler" crowd is most amusing. If Bush is that evil, surely they should have a more effective response than giant puppets.
12.18.2006 3:55pm
shecky (mail):


Funny thing is, there's nothing the least bit authoritarian about responding with lethal force to armed incursions by a foreign power, in fact, that's exactly what the militia was envisaged to do--and the very topic of the threads I viewed dealing with "Mexican Immigrants" and "sniper duty" involved--incursions by drug smugglers in Mexican gov't uniforms.


Immigration and the drug war are among the most authoritarian manifestations of big government in existence today.
12.18.2006 4:00pm
r78:

Care to name a specific "civil right" that has been "pissed" on?

Further, can you name a "terrorist" that hasn't had a trial?

Just one, please.

Civil rights: 1) illegal eavesdropping on US citizens, 2) detention of Jose Padilla (American citizen for years without charges and in solitary confinement). THere are two.

Of course then there is the attorney in Oregon that we charged and arrested (and recently paid $2Million to to settle his civil suit.) And I understand that there may not be a specific legal violation, but I think that what we did to Maher Arar and Al Masri are violations of civil rights - even though they are not US Citizens. Imagine that, believing that we shouldn't torture and imprison people wrongly just because they are human beings, not just because they are US Citizens.
12.18.2006 4:02pm
shecky (mail):


What does distinguish them is that they maintain a means of resistance somewhat more effective than holding their breath if govt goes rogue. Gun ownership is not guaranteed effective, but gun owners have an option that a non-owners don't have.


But isn't this a flaccid option in the end if gun owners largely like government? It seems gun ownership is a better opiate than religion.
12.18.2006 4:06pm
r78:
ASportsman -

I think it just comes down to demographics. I think there are something like 15 million licensed hunters in the US and that number has actually been declining slightly for decades, despite a huge increase in population.

So only about 5% of the population in the US is a licensed hunter.

Most of the gun control nonsense arises from ignorance and, unfortunately, more and more people are ignorant about guns.

Unfortunately, if the present trend continues 50 years from now only 1 or 2 % of our population will actually be hunters.
12.18.2006 4:07pm
ASportsman (mail):
Oh, c'mon R78, while you were hanging out at your local gun club(s) (which ones?), did you bother to do anything else except count bumperstickers, talk about Hurricane Katrina and the Minutemen, rant about the "fearless leader" and make wild speculations about rounding up Arabs and Muslims in a modern-day analogue of Korematsu? Which gun club do you belong to, dude? The faculty club at DePaul University College of Law? What do you shoot?

I mean, I know there are a lot of wild turkeys around the campus, but do you use a slug shotgun or a .22 varminter or what?
12.18.2006 4:13pm
Dan Hamilton:

but without privately owned warplanes, heavy armor, anti-aircraft weapons, and the like


You folk really do need to get out more. Tanks(Pattons and others), Cannon (FLAK88, 6in Naval guns, 20MM anti-tank, etc), Armed Aircraft(both Prop and Jet), Mortars, Crew Served Machine guns, 30cal, 50cal, 8mm, etc, Full automatic machine guns(Thompsons, MP45, Stens, MP5, just about anything you can think of), LAWs and other Anti-tank weapons, The List goes on and on. And these are just the LEGAL Class 3 weapons out there that I have seen.

Illegal and improvised weapons you don't really want to think about. (just to give you an idea. Think about the people that build rockets for FUN, or think what could be done with radio controled model planes. They don't have to be small)

Go on the Web and look up Full auto shoots heald around the country. Look at some of the Dillon Videos. For all you anti-gunners out there be prepared to sh!t bricks.

Yes, the second is required. Because the politicians and elites don't have the brains to release what could be built in a short time by a pissed off machinist. No Army has EVER fought a Hi-Tech people. You can bet the Army doesn't want to.

And last but never least. Why do people believe that the Military is going to side with Government after it Hits the Fan. A good Sized part may not. Then where is the Government?

You anti-gunners sleep sound but remember that the FRENCH built full auto Sten guns on their kitchen tables with HAND tools in WWII. Just think what AMERICANS could build with Laths, Mills, and other power tools. Lots and Lots of us have these tools and Full-autos are the easiest to make.

Sleep tight, ya'll.
12.18.2006 4:25pm
TDPerkins (mail):

But isn't this a flaccid option in the end if gun owners largely like government?


They don't.

It seems gun ownership is a better opiate than religion.


No, the fact they have their lives materially much better off than their ancestors is the opiate, as well as the fact most of their rights are respected by the government. I assure you the private ownership of arms is no opiate...although it seems ironic that you seem to view the unfettered ownership of actual opiates as the palladium of the liberties, and not the ownership of arms.

Legalization of recreational drugs is a better solution to armed foreigners escorting drugs into the country, but in the meantime shooting them is not a horrible one--it's what they should expect.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
12.18.2006 4:31pm
r78:
Sportsman - I probably put more rounds through my Sig 226 and 228 than anything else shooting practical pistol.

Back when I had the time, I shot about 1,000 rounds a month at the trap range, usually through one of my citoris. I hunt upland with a Beretta Silver Eagle III in 12 and 20 gauge and use a Benelle SBE for Ducks. For Deer I grew up shooting a model 94 winchester and a Remington 742 but now I usually use an New Ultralight Arms for deer and pigs. My pre 64 model 70s are too pretty to carry around in the woods, unfortunately.

And you?
12.18.2006 4:32pm
r78:
Sportsman

And if you actually think that you would use a slug shotgun for shooting turkeys, you probably don't know which end of the gun points where.
12.18.2006 4:34pm
ASportsman (mail):
I don't currently own a firearm although for three years I shot competition rifles (Anschutz and Winchester) as a member (and later captain) of my high-school rifle team. I was the New Jersey State Champion in 3-position shooting in my senior year, but I've never bought or owned a firearm.

Currently I own an RWS/Diana Model 52 which I'm using to rehabilitate my marksmanship skills so that I can join the local Rod and Gun club in the Spring without making a fool of myself unnecessarily.

I'm not necessarily calling you a liar, r78, but frankly it's pretty simple to reel of a list of guns that you've shot "anonymously." I could do the same, except I wouldn't expect anyone to take me seriously, especially after your previous posts.
12.18.2006 4:43pm
r78:
Sportsman

Just as a tip to you, before you call somebody out on what they shoot, you might want to get a clue. Anybody who thinks you shoot slugs at turkeys doesn't know squat. So excuse me if I am not too concerned about getting you to believe my bona fides.

Good luck shooting those air rifles.
12.18.2006 4:55pm
markm (mail):

Today governments have access to, say, M1A1 tanks and ICBMs, and the monopoly on that level of force makes private gun ownership rather pointless as a check on the government.

Please tell me how one would use an ICBM against a mob pounding on the gate, except for suicide?

As for tanks, they need huge amounts of fuel, ammunition, and many spare parts, all of which are hard to make or collect if snipers keep popping up in the areas producing them. I cannot recall a single case of a country torn apart by internal conflict managing to produce enough of these things to keep a significant armored force running for more than a few weeks. Armored forces need resupply from another country or a peaceful area of the same country.

Warplanes are even harder to use against an insurgency. They have much greater supply needs, and are singularly vulnerable when parked on the ground.

And all that assumes that American military personnel would follow orders to fire on American citizens. They might fire on a rioting mob of leftists, but if the right wing finds a reason for revolution, a lot of troops might join them.
12.18.2006 5:00pm
ASportsman (mail):
r78, I thank you extravagantly for your advice and counsel. Really, I do, and I'll try to live up to your example whenever the subject of which gun and projectile to use at which target comes up for discussion again here at The Volokh Conspiracy. Personally I'm very glad that we have such a wide selection and a broad base of expertise from which to draw when we have to choose.
12.18.2006 5:02pm
r78:
Sportsman - feel free to ask anytime.
12.18.2006 5:41pm
DJR:
>if govt goes rogue

Ha ha! Please enlighten me as to what exactly would cause you to conclude the government had gone rogue and what, specifically, you would do about it. Please be creative.
12.18.2006 5:56pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Then there is the example of Iraq. The insurgents may not be winning, but they are certainly causing a lot of trouble.

The last thing business want is trouble.
12.18.2006 6:14pm
Waldensian (mail):
I've read about various beliefs, and conclusions drawn from bumper stickers in parking lots, but I'm still waiting for somebody to show us anything other than gum-flapping anecdotal evidence that gun owners are more likely to favor "rounding up undesirables" or other tactics of totalitarian states.

So long as we're flinging anecdotes, most gun owners I know actually regard the RKBA as an essential defense against the creation of a totalitarian state. I guess in that respect, they're quite a bit like the framers of the Constitution.
12.18.2006 6:43pm
Ted McClure (mail):
I am a retired Title 10 Active Guard/Reserve officer who served as the speechwriter in the Army Directorate of National Guard Bureau (NGB). Here are some points I uncovered in my Second Amendment research:

Until the 1820s, there appears to have been little semantic distinction between "militia" and "the people". I suspect that usage began to diverge with the rise in the distinction between drilling 'enrolled' militia units, with issued weapons and uniforms, and the 'common' militia - the other able-bodied (white) men.

Ante-bellum, there were frequent disputes in Congress as to who should pay for weapons for the militia - the Federal government or the states. This was particularly a problem with cannon, the M-1/B-1 of the era. There was no dispute as to whether the militia should have cannon, because the militia was the primary armed force of the United States. However, Federal administrations could not even convince Congress to fund enough field artillery for the small Regular Army (witness the number of Artillery Regiments that fought as infantry in the Mexican War; most money for cannon went to the Coast Artillery). Resistance to heavy weapons for the militia was, until the second half of the 20th Century, a funding issue. When we began to field a large peacetime standing army in the 1950s, it became a question of priorities. We paid for new weapons for the Regulars, and the Guard got hand-me-downs. However, beginning in the late 1970s the Army and the Air Force began to integrate Guard and Reserve combat formations into early-deployment war plans, which required many Guard and Reserve units to have weapons compatible with the Regular units with which they would fight (in theory but not in reality, witness the failure to use Army Guard combat formations in the First Gulf War). To get National Guard support for weapons modernization, the Services gave in to the Guard's insistence that it receive first-line combat weapons. In the Air Force, this has worked out quite well.

We are taught that the Army and the Air Force cannot go to war without their respective Reserve and National Guard components. With Guard and Reserve units scattered among just about every county in the United States, it would be difficult to get control of a citizen force truly pissed off at the Federal government. It certainly was in 1861 in a large part of the country. This is not to say that it can't be done, as in Little Rock fewer than a hundred years later. It's just hard.

When I was in National Guard Bureau, the Chief of NGB with whom I first served was asked often, why does the Guard need B-1 bombers, M-1 tanks, or self-propelled artillery? His answer: "So the Federal government doesn't have them all."

I suggest that, until this century, we have not had a major peacetime threat to civil liberties since the Alien and Sedition Acts in John Adams' administration.

Sorry this is so disjoint.
12.18.2006 6:53pm
Rusty (mail):
Here's an idea for all you pseudo turkey hunters and other authorities on our dinosaur-derived buddies. Yeah, you who have hunted turkey once with your brother-in-law, or just think you have throught that haze of smoke (I can see why you get confused).
There are as many ways and weapon/munitions combinations for hunting turkey as there are faux hunting opinions in this thread. However, it actually depends on where you are hunting turkey and what the cover conditions are. Hunting turkey in the hardwood forests of Wisconsin is fundamentally different from nailing one of 'em in a flock in flat, open fields in west Texas, or in the piney underbrush amoung pines in the Black Hills, S.D., or the piney woods, for that matter. Also, are you calling them in, or camo'd up in a furrow in the middle of wheat fields? Trying to take it on the ground, or on the wing (Wild turkeys can cruise at 3000 feet, but can be flushed up and shot with #4 if you're close enough....On the other hand, I've see a 0.22 round as well as shot ricochet off a turkey hit obliquely on the ground...the tough feathers interlock). On the ground, you use what can reach out and deliver knock-out power. A 0.17 is a nice long range hiter, rather than wasting your time trying to close on open ground (it ain't gonna work, and smoked turkey is the best, so make the kill). The the good old boys like to rush the grounded flocks coming through down there in TX, using a Jeep or pickup truck with 12's using #2 and #4 while tied down to the truck. W@orks well except for the roll-over part.
I carry a old 20 ga select-a-choke in the field (about twice as light as my Bennelli 12 ga, which iws important in rough range like S.D., but perfectly adequate for close-in turkey using #2 buck, but a slug would be fine at that range. A 12 slug might be a little to comprehensive, but buck of all sizes to 0 would be o.k. I'ver pugged 'em with a .50 minnie ball using my black powder rifle (none of that pyrodex substitute crap for me...nitrated sugar, f'chrissakes). Basically cleans the turkey on the spot.

As for the other comments that because the state has bigger weapons that a well armed populace, sure, that is true, but the ability to reach out and touch someone is all it takes to bottle up a standing army, albeit at some loss to insurgents. Consider that it would also be depressing to be afraid to take a walk in your own town...spoil your whole day. If you think the marines are bummed about having to stay in the green zone, having a 30mm chain gun on you chopper doesn't cure the blues, and that's the insurgent's most powerful weapon. The state can win the battles, kill the isurgents, but it can't win the eharts and minds even if you have'em by the balls. Now consider the poor civilans, that have to live in those hell holes, trying to get along with two masters. And don't try to draw parallels with Iraq, ans others others here have tried to point out. Iraq has no real industrial base and skilled personnel, but has to depend on outside sources of even small arms. A highly technologically vulnerable society cannot tolerate an armed insurrection, since its infrastructure IS the state. Its powerbrokers have a vested interest in maintaining it, and don't want the place broke. They must at least appear to serve the people, or at least their shills must appear to (Hello, Bill). The argument that big weapons make small arms irrelevant is also stupid on facts, as is the argument that 1770 armies had the same weapons as the people (anyone who has seen a weaponed cavalry demonstration, or a circa 1770 15 inch howitzer fire, knows what BS this is :-) . But this facile nonsense is supposed to support the idea that the astonishing disparity between state heavy weapons and light arms makes an armed populace irrelevant. Not so: (1) Lightly weaponed insurgents are not particularly incovenienced when a broidge is blown, but a tank column sure is. In fact, isurgents destroy the same targets heavy weapons are designed to destroy (2)heavy weapons are vulnerable (ever wonder why tanks are accompanied by flanking footsoldiers?) (3) insurgents meld into the country and the city; try that with an F-15 (4) the expense of shooting a general at dinner is about 16 cents, the expense of field operations involving 100,000 troops, is, well, maybe 100 billion per year, and since income taxes have gone to hell because nobody will go to work or on a bus or to the airport, the printing pressees must roll....opsie assets uncontrolled by the state rise in value, and the cost of those bombing runs on empty forests likewise skyrockets(pardon the pun) (5) It bums soldiers out when their neighbors kill their relatives, so they quit being enthusiastic. Then their officers start acting peeved, and then the troopers start tosing grenades into the officers mess.
Finally, small arms are the path to whatever supplies and outcomes are needed. This is the typical path, and acquiring supplies exernally is only an issue in states wherein the initial condition is that light weapons and ammunition are essentially controlled. Insurrectionists don't fight tank battles. They don't have to.

US Citizens are not normally in such duress that they need to insurrect, but equally, our politicians are not very tough people (I mean, look at those wiennies!), certainly not tough enough to fight knock-out confrontations with a significant part of the population. When the new head of Intelligence doesn't know who Hezbollah is, or if it is inclined to Sunni or Shia, I think we're safe. But we need to keep the light weapons, just in case somebody nasty but competent comes along.
12.18.2006 7:20pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
It appears to me that our liberty is presently being threatened by our own government in an unprecedented way, while many of the gun owners cheer along (excepting restrictions on the purported right to bear arms).

I'm afraid that word ("unprecedented") doesn't mean what you think it means.
12.18.2006 8:29pm
Some Anonymous Coward:
Exactly how are your liberties being threatened?

This.
12.18.2006 8:39pm
r78:
Rusty - sure thing pal. And sometimes have another drink.
12.18.2006 11:50pm
TheProudDuck (www):
I used to think that the concept of an armed populace serving as a bulwark against tyranny was outmoded, unless we were to accept civilian ownership of howitzers, tanks, etc. But the experience in Iraq suggests that a few light arms can go a long way.
12.19.2006 12:07am
JustAGuest (mail):
Well, there's one rather significant difference: In Madison's time, the US government printing office had few tools that weren't also available to the general public, so a large number of private newspapers and soap box orators could actually provide a check on government abuse. Today governments own the entire electromagnetic spectrum (the gov't owns the radio and TV frequencies, they just lease parts of it to "the people", leases the gov't could pull if it wanted to). And that monopoly on the most effective modern means of communication makes private newspaper ownership rather pointless as a check on the government. Unless one thinks the 1st Amendment extends to a private individual taking over the entire radio spectrum, it seems this rationale doesn't really do any work for an expansive reading of the right to free speech and press.
12.19.2006 12:13am
JustAGuest (mail):
Why does the government still issue rifles, pistols and shotguns to its soldiers? (Yes, a 12 gauge pump or semi-automatic shotgun is a currently military issued weapon.) Shouldn't they all just be issued their own tank, ICBM and/or "weaponized plutonium"? Seems like such a waste (even by government standards) to issue soldiers these archaic, underpowered and ineffective weapons, especially when they might be going up against soldiers from other countries that have tanks, ICBMs and "weaponized plutonium".
12.19.2006 1:27am
Andy Freeman (mail):
I'm still waiting for the "guns aren't {whatever}" folks to tell us what they plan to use? They're certain that Bush is close to, if not over, the line and yet they don't seem to have any way to deal with the eventuality that they predict.

Is there something more to the giant puppets? Or, is Bush's good will enough?
12.19.2006 1:32am
Rusty (mail):
r78,
I apologize for the poor spelling, since I have to feather in (heh) my comments quickly during the trading day, but (a) I don't drink alcohol(what was that about in the first place?), and (b) you're still a fraud, Airhead.... but you might do better if you actually did have a drink. The only thing that you and turkey hunting have in common is that you both apparently ended up out on the end of the same evolutionary branch ...small braincase, concentrated urine. So piss off, Birdbrain...its in your genes.

Proud Duck above, on the other hand, has it about right.

Anyway, thanks for "dropping" by.
12.19.2006 6:25am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> It appears to me that our liberty is presently being threatened by our own government in an unprecedented way

Fair enough.

What are you able to do about it? Do giant puppets come with guarantees?
12.19.2006 9:12am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
JustAGuest
Well, there's one rather significant difference: In Madison's time, the US government printing office had few tools that weren't also available to the general public, so a large number of private newspapers and soap box orators could actually provide a check on government abuse. Today governments own the entire electromagnetic spectrum (the gov't owns the radio and TV frequencies, they just lease parts of it to "the people", leases the gov't could pull if it wanted to). And that monopoly on the most effective modern means of communication makes private newspaper ownership rather pointless as a check on the government...
I find that comment interesting in view of where it is being made. Indeed, I would suggest just the opposite, that the government has less, not more, control over speech than it has had, at least for much of the 20th Century. In the last decade in particular, free expression seems to have gained a lot of power.

Yes, the American govt. has some power over the Internet, even today. But I would suggest that it has far less than it once did or that those worrying about loss of 1st Amdt. rights would seem to believe. You just have to look at how effective much more totalitarian countries such as China and Iran have been in eliminating dissent across the Internet. Yes, the govt. could shut down the Internet, but the fact that China and Iran don't is significant, esp. as our economy is much more integrated with it than theirs are.

Personally, I would far rather have the Internet than a printing press if I were formenting revolt here. With a printing press, you can energize anyone you can physically get your printings to, which invariably is very few. With the Internet, you can influence millions.

Long way of saying, our govt. today is much more likely to try to take your gun than you Internet access.
12.19.2006 9:35am
jncc (mail):
Rusty

Your belief that shotgun slugs are the round of choice for turkey harvesting demonstrates that you do not have a clue.

Even out of a rifled slug barrel, you can probably only shoot 2 inch groups at 40 or 50 yards with a slug. (If you can call in toms closer than 40 yards, you're better on the call box than most). So, given that, and given the fact that a turkey's head is only about 2 inches across you could not realistically expect to shoot it in the head. So you would have to aim for the body. A slug is usually about an ounce of lead and it does tremendous tissue damage when it hits the body. So, if you aim for the turkey's body and hit it, you will destroy a huge amount of meat - which (presumably) is why you are out there shooting turkeys in the first place. That is why most people hunt turkeys using large birdshot so you can throw a patter of shot aimed at the head and have a decent chance of getting a head shot (and not destroying meat) or (if you do hit the body) minimizing tissue damage.

If you are good shot and it is legal you can use a small caliber rifle (even an airgun) to try for a headshot since those are much more accurate than slugs.

Despite your posturing you admit this when you say

"A 12 slug might be a little to comprehensive, but buck of all sizes to 0 would be o.k. I'ver pugged 'em with a .50 minnie ball using my black powder rifle (none of that pyrodex substitute crap for me...nitrated sugar, f'chrissakes). Basically cleans the turkey on the spot.

I take it "cleaning it on the spot" is your phrase for blowing a huge hole right through the turkey. Saying a "12 slug is a little too comprehensive" is like saying that a sledgehammer is a bit too comprehensive to kill a cockroach - setting aside the fact that you presumably want to eat the turkey unlike the cockroach.


I post this only in case anyone else here gives a hoot about the truth. I don't write it to try to convince you since anyone who thinks that turkeys "cruise at 3,000 feet" lives in a different world than I do.
12.19.2006 3:05pm
TDPerkins (mail):
<blockquote>
I don't write it to try to convince you since anyone who thinks that turkeys "cruise at 3,000 feet" lives in a different world than I do.
</blockquote>

I have, filling my brain, the better than SNL image of the family not having the heart to tell him they're eating a turkey buzzard.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
12.19.2006 8:33pm
JustAGuest (mail):
Bruce Hayden, my post was meant to be facetious, and was based on Goober's original post. My apologies for not pointing that out. Goober claims that since small arms are no match for tanks, ICBMs, etc. that small arms are therefore worthless as a check on government. My point, trying to apply Goober's logic to the First Amendment, was that even though "the people" (which includes you and me working together or individually) may only have access to some archaic tools (a newspaper / a rifle, etc.) those archaic instruments could still have some influence on government, even when the government controls much more powerful tools. It does not mean that your tools are worthless just because you don't have the most powerful tool available.
12.19.2006 10:36pm
Gene Hoffman (mail) (www):
Dr. Volokh and all,

I would like to offer some second hand experience that colors my actual belief that private possession of small arms does check potential misdeeds by government, especially through the standing army.

A one time employee and otherwise close friend was at the time of the LA Riots a Major in the Reserves. He was in transit for some training when his unit was called into LA.

His stories of how actual orders to disarm, eg. Korean shopkeepers got implemented at the platoon level made it quite clear that line troops under his command in the US Army would on balance prefer to effectively shirk the order than face the risk of being the guy in the platoon to take the first round from a citizen.

-Gene
12.20.2006 4:49am
Dave Duringer (mail) (www):
The argument that a nation of riflemen cannot resist heavy artillery, etc., has never made sense to me. The armed citizens far outnumber the oppressors, and as someone above pointed out, even a lone nut has on occasion been successful in implementing a change of administration.

Consider also that citizens who arm themselves for defense, quite apart from any armed resistance, are simply more confident in asserting their rights of free speech and association (in opposition to criminals, other citizens, the government or whatever they oppose). For example, when I participated as a California MM at the border, I did so only because I was able to arm myself and once I was even stationed defensively by fellow MM (with knowledge of USBP) behind a rock with a .308 in response to a phoned-in threat.
12.20.2006 10:11am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Recall also Aesop's Fable of the Dog and the Hare. The Dog asks the Hare "Why are you running away from me so hard?" and the Hare answers "You are chasing me for your supper, I am running away for my life."
The Resistance may not have the option of giving up and going home.
12.20.2006 1:06pm
jncc (mail):
Duringer

How is it that you were able to walk around with concealed handguns in California? I didn't see any reference to your being LE.

(Not being critical here - just hoping there may be some legal avenue for doing so that I have overlooked.)
12.20.2006 1:20pm
Dave Duringer (mail) (www):
jncc,

Please check my site(s) for info/links re CCW in CA. Yes, it is possible for non-LEO's to carry in CA. Provided you have a CCW, permissible carry is even broader in CA -- for example, teachers with CCW can even carry in schools.
12.20.2006 6:07pm
JustAGuest (mail):
Goober, you say, "Today governments have access to, say, M1A1 tanks and ICBMs, and the monopoly on that level of force makes private gun ownership rather pointless as a check on the government." In your opinion what constitutes "a check on the government"? Is the capability to remove a person from political office (such as by voting them out of office, by impeachment, term limits, etc.) a "check" on government? If your answer is yes, then why wouldn't small arms also be considered as a "check" on government?

Small arms such as a single-shot deringer, a semi-automatic pistol, .22 revolver, a bolt action rifle, a modern military type rifle, heck, couldn't even a simple knife be considered a potential check on government, or at least on those who govern? Looking at history it would appear to me that small arms are quite capable of being a "check" on those who govern. I'm guessing this is at least partly why you can't legally bring them into most government buildings, even though they aren't real effective weapons like tanks, ICBMs and "weaponized plutonium".
12.20.2006 11:58pm
Rusty:
No, Jncc, I don't believe that shotgun slugs are the best for hunting turkey. And I tire of apologizing for my spelling errors in my first message....that was supposed to be 300 feet, not 3000, and if your IQ approached your shotgun GA (and we are not talking 410 here) then you would have gotten it from context.

Turkey can however, fy up to pretty near a mile or more at one go. I chased one out of cover in the Black Hills that must've appraoched that, although it was downhill. They have also been rated at 80 mph in the air and 45 on the ground, running broken field. Amazing. The youngsters, as is also true of gorillas ( you should know that) are far more mobile that the adults. In any event, you use what you have when you are out for a ramble, wherein I used my 0.50 Apex...which, incidentally, shots a one-inch group at 100 yds, A-hole, oh, Great Poo-bah of the Weekend Hunters. When you are at home in the woods you learn to use what you got.
Those who make a religious ritual of hunting, reading the manual, doing things just so, stopping by REI for the latest titanium tent-pegs and chrome handwarmers, are welcome to their ritual. On the other hand, those of us who would prefer busting cover for a swift kill are really not that interested in your hyperbolic BS. For my money, shooting into heavy bush on a grounded bird is about as crappy a thing as you can do. I prefer brutal, total, instant kills, whether by a varminter bore over range, or #2 buck up close. I don't call, either, just lurk in the cricks in TX, or shake them out in a truck, and then run them to ground in SD.
In that, you REI heros, I have good company. Teddy Roosevelt thought that shotgunning was a wusse's game, and took his turkey with rifles,in the draws, the same ones I hunt. He used things like his .405 winnie. Having shot a real .405 '94, I can tell you that ain't the gun for you. In case it hasn't occured to you,also, FMJ at high FPS does not "destroy" light game at all. I started plugging 'em with my 30-06 as a kid because I was appalled by the effects of #2 on a 25 yard shot that went just a little awry.
So you just sit there in your blind, sucking up Old Milwaulkee or whatever that shit is that you drink, blowing, trying to trick the game so you don't have to move your fat ass, and I'll do my thing. See, I don't need to get all misty over the pictures of safari shirts (ohhhh, look at those zippers!) in the Cabela's catalogue. So while you do that, I'll head down to TX in a couple of weeks and get busy.
12.21.2006 3:33pm