If all they saw was the title, readers of this entry might be expecting me to make a different point from the one I'm making, so I'll ask the question straight on:
What keeps the government from imposing tyranny upon us?
There is at least a strong undercurrent in the national debate, if not an outright theme, that suggests that the reason why gun ownership needs to remain largely unregulated is because we need an armed citizenry as a bulwark against tyranny.
I find that to be the least logical of all of the pro-gun (anti-regulation) arguments. I can certainly understand and respect the point that private individuals need guns for personal safety, because there are bad people in the world and there aren't enough police to stop them. On an individual level, I think there is a pretty significant paranoid component to this view--people often believe that violent crime is a lot more prevalent than it is, and indeed violent crime is in a 40-year decline--but on the group level, the reality is that some violent crimes are going to happen and it would probably be useful to have a firearm if you were to experience one. It's kind of like the lottery--it's likely that someone will win the jackpot, so you might as well buy a ticket in case it happens to be you even though you're probably just wasting your money.
There are a lot of other justifications, like the hunting argument, that I really don't have a problem with.
But when I hear somebody complain that an unarmed populace is subject to tyranny, I have to laugh out loud.
The U.S. government has the most advanced weaponry that the world has ever seen. Our missiles and bombs are so sophisticated that--if he wanted to--the President could stick one down your chimney and reduce your life, and the lives of your family and your pets and your houseplants to a faint memory. If you don't have a chimney, they'll just make one. And that missile will be fired by a drone that's controlled by some kid in a comfortable, air-conditioned office building wielding an Xbox controller. And it will happen before can you slip on your camo, load your pockets with packages of Jack Link's beef jerky, and attach your 100-round magazine to your AR-15.
So in your fantastical Red Dawn fever dreams, your guns are not what is standing in the way of the government steamrolling over you.
(Or, for that matter, the North Koreans, who might be crazy and inept, but you're no match for them if they should get past the American military by some miracle.)
What is keeping the U.S. from sticking a cruise missile in your stovepipe isn't the guns in your arsenal. It's that we have an understanding that that kind of behavior isn't kosher. We have free and frequent elections, and we have the separation of powers, and we have checks and balances.
And all of that pretty much boils down to one thing: You can vote. If you need a slogan: It's not the bullet, but the ballot.
For that reason, I wish people were a lot less concerned about Barack Obama coming to take away your guns (he isn't) and a lot more concerned about the way that your vote is being systematically taken away by Republican state legislatures. Did you know that Democrats, not Republicans, won a majority of votes for U.S. House races in 2012? But because of gerrymandering--designing Congressional districts to favor one party over another--John Boehner is still the Speaker of the House.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think that a House of Representatives that looks like the opposite of what the people wanted is a usurpation of your vote. We should all be angry about that.
UPDATE: GC reader JM asks me to expand a bit upon that last point, and I'm happy to do it. This has not been widely reported in the corporate media. The truth is that Americans cast nearly 1.1 million more votes for Democratic Congressional candidates in 2012 than Republican candidates. But because of aggressive gerrymandering in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina--all controlled by Republican legislatures--Democratic votes have been packed into as few districts as possible. It's not unprecedented--the Democrats were in a similar position after the 1972 election--but it is unusual, and it's anti-democratic (small d). Obama handily won the first three of those states and narrowly lost North Carolina, but the Congressional delegations in those states (5D/13R in PA, 4D/12R in OH, 5D/9R in MI, and 4D/9R in NC) certainly don't reflect it.
Far from considering this to be illegitimate, the GOP groups responsible for this condition are actually bragging about it. Here's a report posted on the website of the Republican State Leadership Committee, summarizing how the GOP's efforts to control state legislatures after the 2010 election led to reapportionment in closely divided states being controlled by Republican legislators.
The larger point, I think, is that the very people who claim that the federal government is coming to seize their guns to impose tyranny are surviving as a political entity by suppressing and devaluing the votes of their opposition. They couldn't be more wrong about the former, and they couldn't care less about the latter. But we should.