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Modern Utility

Some gun control advocates argue that the Second Amendment's goal of an armed citizenry to resist foreign invasion and domestic tyranny is no longer valid in light of advances in military technology. Former attorney general Ramsey Clark contended that "it is no longer realistic to think of an armed citizenry as a meaningful protection."[120]


But during World War II, which was fought with essentially the same types of ground combat weapons that exist today, armed citizens were considered quite important. After Pearl Harbor the unorganized militia was called into action. Nazi submarines were constantly in action off the East Coast. On the West Coast, the Japanese seized several Alaskan islands, and strategists wondered if the Japanese might follow up on their dramatic victories in the Pacific with an invasion of the Alaskan mainland, Hawaii, or California. Hawaii's governor summoned armed citizens to man checkpoints and patrol remote beach areas.[121] Maryland's governor called on "the Maryland Minute Men," consisting mainly of "members of Rod and Gun Clubs, of Trap Shooting Clubs and similar organizations," for "repelling invasion forays, parachute raids, and sabotage uprisings," as well as for patrolling beaches, water supplies, and railroads. Over 15,000 volunteers brought their own weapons to duty.[122] Gun owners in Virginia were also summoned into home service.[123] Americans everywhere armed themselves in case of invasion.[124] After the National Guard was federalized for overseas duty, "the unorganized militia proved a successful substitute for the National Guard," according to a Defense Department study. Militiamen, providing their own guns, were trained in patrolling, roadblock techniques, and guerilla warfare.[125] The War Department distributed a manual recommending that citizens keep "weapons which a guerilla in civilian clothes can carry without attracting attention. They must be easily portable and easily concealed. First among these is the pistol."[126] In Europe, lightly armed civilian guerrillas were even more important; the U.S. government supplied anti-Nazi partisans with a $1.75 analogue to the zip gun (a very low quality handgun).[127]
Of course, ordinary citizens are not going to grab their Saturday night specials and charge into oncoming columns of tanks. Resistance to tyranny or invasion would be a guerrilla war. In the early years of such a war, before guerrillas would be strong enough to attack the occupying army head on, heavy weapons would be a detriment, impeding the guerrillas' mobility. As a war progresses, Mao Zedong explained, the guerrillas would use ordinary firearms to capture better small arms and eventually heavy equipment.[128]
The Afghan mujahedeen have been greatly helped by the new Stinger antiaircraft missiles, but they had already fought the Soviets to a draw using a locally made version of the outdated Lee-Enfield rifle.[129] One clear lesson of this century is that a determined guerrilla army can wear down an occupying force until the occupiers lose spirit and depart--just what happened in Ireland in 1920 and Palestine in 1948. As one author put it: "Anyone who claims that popular struggles are inevitably doomed to defeat by the military technologies of our century must find it literally incredible that France and the United States suffered defeat in Vietnam . . . that Portugal was expelled from Angola; and France from Algeria."[130]
If guns are truly useless in a revolution, it is hard to explain why dictators as diverse as Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, and the Bulgarian communists have ordered firearms confiscations upon taking power.[131]
Certainly the militia could not defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles, but it could keep order at home after a limited attack. In case of conventional war, the militia could guard against foreign invasion after the army and the National Guard were sent into overseas combat. Especially given the absence of widespread military service, individual Americans familiar with using their private weapons provide an important defense resource. Canada already has an Eskimo militia to protect its northern territories.[132]
The United States is virtually immune from foreign invasion, but as the late vice president Hubert Humphrey explained, domestic dictatorship will always be a threat: "The right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible."[133]
The most advanced technology in the world could not keep track of guerrilla bands in the Rockies, the Appalachians, the great swamps of the South, or Alaska. The difficulty of fighting a protracted war against a determined popular guerrilla force is enough to make even the most determined potential dictator think twice.[134]
The Second Amendment debate goes to the very heart of the role of citizens and their government. By retaining arms, citizens retain the power claimed in the Declaration of Independence to "alter or abolish" a despotic government. And citizens retain the power to protect themselves from private assault. Ramsey Clark asked the question, "What kind of society depends on private action to defend life and property?"[135] The answer is a society that trusts its citizenry more than the police and the army and knows that ultimate authority must remain in the hands of the people.



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