There have been a lot more people showing up in more places with firearms than in years past. While I’ve been upfront that I don’t believe armed protests are particularly wise in some instances–things like protesting lockdowns in Michigan, for example–I do believe there are times when armed protests make sense.
For example, there are Second Amendment rallies. There are also times when there’s reason to believe the other side might show up and try to be violent, so going armed just makes sense.
However, some don’t like any armed protest, regardless of the issue or situation, and they’re comparing it to armed insurrection.
Josh Horwitz has been an American gun control activist for nearly 30 years. In 2009, he co-wrote a book warning that the idea of armed revolt against the government was at the center of the US gun rights movement.
Now, after a year that has seen heavily armed men show up at state capitols in Virginia, Michigan, Idaho and elsewhere to confront Democratic lawmakers over gun control and coronavirus restrictions, more Americans are taking gun owners’ rhetoric about “tyrants” seriously. Some of the same armed protesters who showed up at Michigan’s state house and at a pro-gun rally this summer were charged last week with conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s governor and put her on trial for tyranny.
Horowitz spoke to the Guardian about how mainstream the idea of insurrection has become in American politics, and why lawmakers have failed to challenge it for decades.
Of course, people like Horwitz would expect me to argue that he’s wrong, that “insurrection” is the last thing on anyone’s mind, but I won’t.
Instead, I’m going to point out in a way he’s actually right. There are obviously some Americans (on both the Left and the Right) who are ready to wage an offensive war against local, state, and federal governments, and under federal law, “insurrection” is a crime. At the heart of the Second Amendment, however, is the idea of resistance to tyranny, not “insurrection” as Horwitz claims. To understand just why he’s wrong there, we have to go back to the ideas of the Founding Fathers.
The British government, back in 1775, decided it was time to seize munitions from the potentially rebellious colonists. They marched to Lexington and Concord with the intention of doing just that. Instead, the War of Independence began with the first shots fired on Lexington Green as militia members stood in defense of their rights and property.
Sixteen years later, when the Bill of Rights was passed, Americans sought to make sure that could never happen again. The Founding Fathers believed that government was the kind of thing that we had to have, but we needed to keep it in check as much as possible. They feared standing armies because they knew that such an army could be turned against the people. They wanted the people to have the means to violently resist the federal government if that government began acting tyrannically.
Resistance against a tyrannical regime was seen as the last step available to the American people, but we’re not talking about self-proclaimed militia members or individual gun owners trying to start a Civil War. The Founders weren’t anarchists, after all. James Madison made it clear in Federalist 46 that any successful defense of tyranny would have to involve local and state governments working hand-in-hand with an armed populace to defend the rights of the people. Just as the Founders believed in “ordered liberty,” they believed that resistance to tyranny should be ordered as well.
Today, gun rights advocates hold onto that ideal that an armed citizenry serves as a check on tyranny. After all, nowhere in the text does the Second Amendment mention hunting. Hell, an argument can be made that the Second Amendment isn’t really about individual self-defense, though I don’t agree with that interpretation. No, the Second Amendment is about preserving our freedom, even from the federal government if necessary. Josh Horwitz may call it insurrection, much like any would-be tyrant would, but the Founding Fathers called it resistance to oppression.
At the end of the day, that’s a feature, not a bug.