Note on the term “Assault Rifle”:
If you don’t take issue with using the term “assault rifle” to refer to semi-automatic variants of military assault rifles, then you can ignore this note.
Throughout this article I will often be using “assault rifle” as a general term for both semi-automatic and automatic versions of weapons like the AR-15. Using this term for semi-automatics drives some people up a wall, but it is the simplest and most precise term for the specific type of weapon I am referring to.
While the standard definition of “assault rifle” includes fully automatic fire, the fact is that semi-automatic variants of these rifles are identical in every way and have no other specific term for them. Thus it is reasonable to refer to them as a subcategory of assault rifle or as assault rifles with the “semi-automatic” qualifier. Just like a “cordless phone” is still a “phone” and an “electric car” is still a “car”, a “semi-automatic assault rifle” is still an assault rifle.
So throughout this article, just understand that the exact accuracy of the term is not terribly important. What matters is that people understand what I am discussing, and “Assault rifle” seems the simplest and most clear in my opinion.
Many people who are opposed to highly restrictive gun control, such as myself, believe that citizen ownership of assault rifles would enable the population to resist an oppressive, tyrannical regime if one rose to power.
Those opposed to this idea consider it at face value and think it sounds absurd. Their common argument is this:
The purpose of this article is to refute this claim, and explain how keeping assault rifles within the hands of citizens can actually work as a resistance against tyranny by answering objections against the idea.
First understand that I am not registered with any political party and I generally identify with the liberal, although often libertarian, corners of political issues. And also please know that I am not a member of the NRA due to their organization having become a tool for the least rational elements of the Republican Party, and I do not view President Obama as a Stalinist tyrant (if we were consider him one, then certainly most of our other presidents must be classified this way along with him). Furthermore, I am not writing this article to declare an absolute unwavering stance on the issue of gun control in all forms.
Rather, I am writing this simply to clarify why the arguments in favor of civilians owning semi-auto assault rifles have a rational basis so that its opponents and undecided readers can better understand this issue that is often raised in political debate.
Before addressing objections to the position in question, we of course need to begin by providing an explanation of the position in sufficient detail so that we all understand what the view entails. And to be clear, technically this section describes my personal position and I do not speak for all people who generally believe that guns can serve a role against resisting tyrannical government. But I think that the view I present is one that many agree with.
The ability to resist a professional army cannot be retained if citizens are armed with vastly inferior personal weapons to their opponent. Such a situation which would cut off their ability to wage a sufficient guerrilla resistance (Note that when I describe weapons as “inferior” I am referring to weapons such as handguns which lack power and accuracy, or “hunting rifles” which are unwieldy, slow to shoot, and have small ammunition capacity).
I believe this means that civilians should be allowed to purchase and own the fundamental personal weapon of the age – which currently would be a semi-automatic assault rifle, as this is the basic weapon of soldiers and rebels around the world. These would be rifles like the basic service rifle carried by soldiers in modern militaries (with or without the ability to fire in fully automatic, which I don’t see as important since it is seldom useful). For reference, these are weapons like AR-15 variants (shown in featured image), AK variants, and the IWI Tavor, whose characteristics include semi-automatic fire, modernized ergonomics, and detachable magazines.
Lastly, when I speak about the idea of an armed resistance I am not talking about a few small gangs of deluded extremists listening to conspiracy news all day and being utterly paranoid about anything and everything the government does. What I am talking about is the theoretical situation of a government that was actually, seriously oppressive. One to the point where a single group, person, or ideology fully controlled the government and had ended free elections, jailed dissidents, and taken other similar measures to form a true dictatorship. And where, as a result, a massive portion of the people needed to take up arms as the only means to effect a change of governance.
The nature of modern real-world conflict
The argument that claims that an armed citizenry would be steamrolled easily by a government military expresses a simplistic view of warfare. The fact is that armed conflict in the real world is not comparable to a video game battle where two sides face off directly and the one with the greater “power level” easily wins. Consider that if more advanced machines and more powerful bombs were all that decided the victor in every violent conflict, then the world’s strongest militaries would never have boots on the ground: no Army, no Marines, no SEALS, or any other man carrying a rifle. They would be pointless. Reality is more complex, and outcomes are decided by more factors than technology and explosive power.
A resistance with modern weapons would be closer to a guerrilla war, where the resisting group is able to fight an entire professional army by striking when and where they choose, and by not having significant bases or distinct territory or uniforms to mark themselves, no major elements to attack like tanks or aircraft. They simply offer few obvious targets to attack, live among the regular population or in wilderness, and strike when and where they choose.
Historically this method of resistance has been used by fighters, armed mostly with assault rifles, to repel the greatest armies on earth. This was the case with the Viet Cong against the United States, as well as resistance fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless of which groups we believe are morally in the right, we must acknowledge that the method works. This is because they are not conventional armies. They are tough to fight, and even when you think you have defeated them they can come right back. And in the long run, such wars are often more difficult and costly for Goliath than they are for David.
There is no need to match all the technological power of an established government. It won’t ever match it, but it does not need to match it. The difference between a population with “no rifles” compared to one “with rifles” in this type of situation is like night and day. This would be especially true in the case of an armed population because weapons are owned by millions.
I am not claiming that an armed citizenry will be able to be successful in every instance of oppressive regimes, nor that violence is the most effective or necessary solution in every such scenario. I only believe that it has sometimes been necessary, or would likely have worked in some cases where people were not armed and suffered the unfortunate result, such as the Jews in Nazi-occupied territory or the Bosnians at Srebrenica.
Divided government forces
Not everyone serving in the military today would remain loyal to the regime. If the regime were truly oppressive and brutal then many people would oppose it. Many members of the military would defect and join the resistance fighters, thus depriving the military of its full strength and knowledgable, experienced personnel. And others would remain within the military and leak information to resistance fighters, sabotage equipment and military operations, and enable resistance fighters to more easily attack and enter government bases.
Citizens don’t all need military training
Some people believe that for an armed resistance to work, most or all the citizens must have previously had extensive combat training or experience. But that is an odd view, which again, oversimplifies the reality.
First, having a rifle to protect yourself is a powerful tool regardless, especially when organized with others. Unfortunately, but truthfully, even child soldiers in third-world nations learn to use assault weapons effectively. They don’t need to be the best shots or soldiers in the world to be sufficiently capable of aiding the resistance. Often, simply being able to take up a gun when needed, and shoot in the right general direction is enough.
Second, resistance movements tend to learn quickly. The United States experienced this with the jihadists in Iraq, for example.
Third, as mentioned in the previous section, a large portion of the population would resist the government. And among them would be former military and police, as well as current members who joined the resistance and who organize and train others such as occurred in the French Resistance, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
These veterans would not only be able to train others to be more effective foot soldiers, but some would also have had experience with the technologies and equipment used by the military. They would therefore have the knowledge necessary to help evade or trick sensors on drones and guided missiles, or commandeer or sabotage vehicles, and so on.
Fighting on home soil
Remember that this sort of resistance would be fought within the same country as the regime itself, including the government’s military bases and other infrastructure. This makes the regime far more vulnerable to attack than if it were merely bombarding enemies from the air on another continent. Resistance fighters would be able to directly attack government airfields, police stations, factories, energy production facilities, communications, transport, and even capture important political figures.
Also the government would be in the difficult situation of having to either use powerful missiles and bombs on its own cities, thus heavily damaging its own economy and infrastructure, as well as causing greater unrest and turning more of the population against the government.
More advanced weapons can be acquired
Resistance fighters would be able to acquire more advanced weapons by assaulting military bases, factories, police stations, etc. These places can be assaulted with firearms, but the reward of attacking these facilities would be to gain weapons such as portable anti-air missile launchers that can combat advanced, armored weapon systems like tanks and helicopters. Gear such as night vision and body armor could be acquired this way as well, although a lot of this can already be purchased by civilians (and would thus provide more strength to the resistance forces from the start).
Rebels often receive aid from foreign nations
If a sizable part of a country’s population rose up against the government, were it ever to become truly oppressive and unjustifiably deadly to its own people, then the governments of some foreign nations – especially ones already opposed to that country’s government – would likely support the rebels by giving them crucial equipment.
A foreign government may not be able to quickly supply enough people in a foreign country with basic weapons like rifles in order to save them in the opening stages of a conflict, but if the people can form a genuine resistance, a foreign government would provide advanced equipment such as missile launchers that can shoot down helicopters, thus bolstering the smaller arsenal that the fighters could acquire themselves.
The historical example of this which is most well known to Americans would probably be the choice of the U.S. government to supply Stinger missile launchers to the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. These devices turned the tide of the conflict in favor of the rebel fighters.
From my perspective these points explain why there is a reasonable argument for civilian ownership of assault rifles. As I stated before I am not standing on an immovable position on this issue, but I hope this article presents some ideas to consider when debating gun rights.