In the past, I have written a few articles detailing how the argument that Americans need their guns in order to “protect themselves from the tyranny of their own government” is no longer valid in the modern world, a world with increasingly devastating weaponry. I have been criticised by Americans who argue that citizens should be given a chance to fight their oppressors, who think of an armed citizenry as a check on government. However, the “crisis” in Syria, I believe, unfortunately proves my point all too well.
The gun debate in America largely revolves around a certain interpretation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and the will of the American Founding Fathers. The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” And a quote often utilised by supporters of gun rights comes from none other than Thomas Jefferson himself, who stated in a letter to William Stephens Smith: “What country before ever existed a century and half without rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms… The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” The argument is largely that guns are necessary in order to ensure liberty. America has once fought off an oppressive regime because of a well-armed citizenry, the belief is that it should be prepared to do so again.
But, if we look to the current crisis in Syria, we are able to see what it is like when the citizens of a country wage war against a modern state. Granted, the Syrian people are not as well equipped as their American counterparts, but apart from chemical weapons the same can be said of the Syrian government. The crisis in Syria then, provides a glimpse at what might happen should the American people attempt to take on the American government.
The Syrian crisis has been waging for close to a year and a half now, and recent (unconfirmed) reports claim that as many as 17,000 people have been killed. The death toll is enormous despite a brief (and seemingly unnoticed) UN brokered ceasefire, reports that Sunni pilots and tank operators are deliberately missing the Free Syrian Army and their allies, and that the opposition groups reportedly receive outside assistance including nonlethal assistance from the United States (including communications equipment and training) and weapons and funding from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. So, one thing we can already notice; the death toll is large despite heavy outside influence.
But, especially troubling is a Time Magazine report out this week. From an interview with a North Lebanese arms dealer, Time reports that the Free Syrian Army, having started with buying “anything they could get” such as handguns and grenades, have progressed onto buying things “that could take out an airplane or a tank” such as heat seeking missiles and surface to air missiles. Time also reports that representatives of the opposition appeared at a recent Weapons Bazaar in Russia (at the same time as a delegation from the Bashar regime), and that the Muslim Brotherhood are “trying to get anything that is more effective in this struggle against Bashar”. The rebels and their supporters are attempting to get their hands on greater weaponry to stem the tide of slaughter. Having started out with weaponry similar to that available to the average American (bar the hand grenades), the Syrian opposition have found these weapons insufficient and are actively seeking upgrades. Despite outside communications and surveillance help, despite tacit help from surrounding nations and friends within the army, despite the regime suffering from crippling embargoes and defections, the limited weaponry available to the Syrian opposition is simply not enough to compete with that of the Bashar regime. Without technological parity or direct outside intervention (perhaps both) the Syrian opposition have no hope. Can we reasonably assume the American people would fare any better against their much, much better armed government?
The idea of an armed citizenry keeping check on the tyranny of the government was all well and good in the time of Thomas Jefferson, when both the government and the people were largely on a technological parity, both being armed with little more than muskets and canons. At that time, the people held the fighting edge, due to sheer numbers if nothing else. But, alas, the military edge no longer rests with those that have numerical advantage, but overwhelmingly in the hands of those with the technological superiority. With the invention of explosives, machine guns, planes and missiles, and continuing with nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, “smart” weapons, and, now with drones, less and less people are required in order to kill more and more. Whereas once the American people were able to face down the mighty British empire (with some help from the French), the President of the United States now has the capacity to take on all comers, from the American populace to terrorist cells and other advanced countries, armed with little more than a drone, a gaming console and a few nerds. No matter how much tacit support the populace has from outsiders, they cannot fight against the technological superiority of the modern state with the modern day equivalent of sticks and stones. Handguns and rifles, the sorts of weapons that American Second Amendment advocates are fighting to protect, are utterly useless in a war against a state as militarised and technologically advanced as Syria or the United States. The only hope the citizenry have is if they first achieve technological parity. Does any sane person advocate this?
Originally posted @ Sakalabujan Magazine