In a recent interview on gun control in the wake of the slaughter of a classroom of innocent children and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ben Shapiro said that one of the purposes of an armed citizenry is to prevent government tyranny. Piers Morgan harrumphed condescendingly in response, as if the very thought that Americans might need protection at this time from a potentially tyrannical government was wacky in an extremist, even paranoid way.
In the face of a relatively peaceful society with a government not waging literal war on its citizens, Morgan’s emotions seem understandable. Why do you need weapons against tyranny when the government isn’t attacking you? That’s absurd! Paranoid! But by the time an unexpected situation is desperate, even catastrophic, if citizens are unarmed, it is too late and virtually impossible to acquire weapons.
In the face of real tyranny, an unarmed civilian population is completely defenseless. History has shown us over and over again that events that trigger the collapse of a society, including all legal boundaries and ordinary decency, happen in the blink of an eye. Jews living completely normal lives in Europe in the 1930s could never have imagined that, just a few years later, their own governments (because several occupied countries were complicit with the Nazis) would herd them en masse into buildings filled with poisoned air in order to slaughter each and every one of them. The collapse was total and dizzyingly brisk. In areas of Eastern Europe it was overnight.
So here’s a question for Mr. Morgan: Once your own government, or a successful invading with which your government conspires, isolates you in ghettos, deprives you of food and possessions, and denies you any civil rights, including the right to possess a weapon, what do you do? At that moment, do you walk into a gun shop to buy protection for yourself? For citizens to have a chance at defending themselves against this overnight societal collapse, they need the gun before, not after, their government turns on them. Israel learned this lesson well, which is why the citizenry is armed.
As was everyone with a functioning soul and conscience, I too was horrified by the Sandy Hook massacre. It was another reminder (as if we needed one) that evil and insanity exist – and that, when mixed together, these two are a horrifying combination. Much needs to be done to help the mentally ill and to keep them away from weapons, and to help identify when their behavior is escalating dangerously so that we can react and get help sooner.
The question in terms of responses, though, is whether disarming our civilian population would make us more, or less, vulnerable and whether doing so would make our children more, or less, at risk. Reasonable people can logically accept the necessity of strict background checks for gun owners and laws about gun storage so that children, mentally ill people, and thieves cannot access them. But will eliminating guns entirely protect children? I took a look at the biggest mass slaughters of the past 100 years. This is what I learned.
Between 1915 and 1923 about 1,000,000 Armenians were slaughtered by the Turkish military by order of the Ottoman government.
Primary methods of slaughter: mass burnings, drowning, starvation, exposure, death marches.
Child victims? In the hundreds of thousands.
In 1933, Josef Stalin, leader of the USSR, engineered a famine in Ukraine enforced by the armed military. Between 7,000,000 and 11,000,000 peasants starved to death. At its height, 25,000 people died of starvation per day.
Primary method of slaughter: starvation.
Child victims? In the millions.
Between 1939- 1945 the German government organized the systematic slaughter of all humans they deemed undesirable. Their primary target was Jews, but victims included gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people, and the mentally ill. Those who enforced this slaughter were armed police and soldiers. After concluding that bullets were too expensive, the Nazis and their allies applied less expensive slaughtering techniques.
Primary methods of slaughter: mass gassings, mass burnings, beating, exposure, starvation, worked to death, buried alive, medical experimentation, torture.
Child victims? Between 2-3,000,000 children were murdered.
Mao Tze Tung, leader of Communist China, and the greatest mass murderer of all time, slaughtered between 49-70,000,000 people during the so-called “Great Leap Forward.” Forty-five million people died in 4 years alone in work camps and gulags.
Primary methods of slaughter: worked to death, starvation, exposure, torture, beatings.
Child victims? In the millions.
Between 1975-1979, 2,000,000 Cambodian civilians were systematically slaughtered by their government, the Khmer Rouge.
Primary method of slaughter: starvation, exposure, and, because bullets were too expensive per Khmer Rouge officials (“Bullets are not to be wasted”), death was delivered by hammer, axe, spade, sharpened bamboo sticks, and burial alive.
Child victims: In the hundreds of thousands.
Between 1984 and 1988, between 240,000 and 3,500,000 citizens of North Korea were starved to death by their government engineering and incompetence. Armed police and the military enforced this policy.
Primary method of slaughter: starvation, work camps, and gulags.
Child victims? In the tens of thousands.
In 1994, a government sponsored massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda led to the death of 800,000 people in one year. Guns were expensive, so the Hutus used other methods.
Primary method of slaughter: machetes, clubs, knives, bombs.
Child victims? In the tens of thousands.
The common thread to these mass killings was that tyrannical governments using armed agents (military and police) carried them out against ordinary citizens who were either entirely unarmed, or under-armed. Were guns involved in the slaughter? Certainly. As these pictures show, guns were used against unarmed people to herd them, terrify them, and control them. Guns were used like cattle prods to move large numbers of people and to frighten them into cooperation. Repeatedly, governments bent on large scale mass slaughter found shooting to be too slow and costly. The Nazis abandoned their Baba Yar-type ravines for industrialized death factories. Resistance only occurred when civilians were able to gather together weapons to fight back. Without weapons, civilians were entirely defenseless against armed tormentors.
Planning to deal with tyranny after tyranny occurs is too late. An armed citizenry is the best system of checks and balances against a government getting too big, demonizing particular groups of citizens too much, and lacking any meaningful opposition within the country. Tyrants always look for easy victims and seek to disarm them. A population that can and will protect itself in advance of a tyrant’s encroachments effectively prevents any tyranny from occurring.
[Bookworm here: I am willing to bet that, in everyone of the countries Lulu describes above, if you had asked people months or a few years in advance whether they would be subject to tyranny and genocide, they all would have answered, "No way! It can't happen here.]