One of the great fantasies of the pro-gun lobby is the notion that Americans with guns can do anything. They're clinging to a vital part of the American myth, in which a small group of freedom fighters is able to turn back a superior force. If we give them our guns, goes the argument, we won't be able to keep them from enslaving us!

This line of thought is patent nonsense. The United States government, and just about any other government, can easily muster the resources to wipe out any popular rebellion that might be raised. The tools that will prevent a dictatorship are not guns, but voices.

Take the recent examples of the Branch Davidians and the Montana Freemen. The Branch Davidians were extremely well-armed...but they got wiped out. The Freemen, on the other hand, were treated very gingerly and were removed only when they agreed to go. Why were they treated differently? Because public opinion about the events at Waco left the Justice Department skittish about killing off another group of dissidents. Public opinion, not weaponry, kept the Freemen from getting gunned down in a firefight with the FBI.

The same argument applies on a larger scale. Democratic countries become dictatorships only when there's public support for the change (look at Pakistan, Peru, and perhaps Russia for examples from 1999 and 2000). If a dictator tries to collect a small group of people together and take over, he's not going to get anywhere--even if the populace is bereft of guns. If he has substantial public support, his supporters are going to be at least as well-armed as the general population.

This argument for unlimited gun ownership has a lot more to do with a romanticized idea of frontier life than anything found in reality.

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