Is the Right to Bear Arms Totally Moot?

August 26 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Security   Year: General   Rating: 3

A general returning from the Russian battlefront has overthrown the U.S. government and is calling herself dictator for life. Democracy has been crushed beneath the weight of America’s military engine. In every major city the National Guard has assumed control, weeded out dissenters, and executed former public officials. You, having seen Red Dawn over fifty times, grab a gang of friends and escape into the forest with a vast array of munitions you had stashed in case of such an emergency. Your rebel group sets up camp in a cave where you plan to organize your resistance and hopefully assist in overthrowing the martial government. You post lookouts and spend time working on a sweet patch for your team jackets.

Then an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flies overhead, locates your entire group via infrared sensors and blows you all to Kingdom Come.

This is not a totally implausible future scenario. If military advancements in technology continue to get better, which it will, what hope does armed citizenry have against advanced weapons systems and automated robotic armies?

In a famous essay titled What Good Can a Handgun Do Against an Army? written by Mike Vanderboegh of the Alabama Militia, he decries that although military technology is advancing, a simple pistol can make all the difference. His theory, much like the movie Red Dawn, is that with a pistol you can kill your way to better weaponry. Killing one soldier with a pistol will get you a rifle or “perhaps you get very lucky and pickup a light machine gun, two boxes of ammunition and a haversack of hand grenades.” From there you could use the grenades to attack larger targets which yield even more supplies. A pistol will get you a rifle, a rifle will get you a machine gun, and so on until you eventually start capturing tanks, constantly upgrading your way through the enemy.

But if our future includes robotic armies, how realistic is such a scenario? What good is a captured robot in the hands of a hunter disconnected from the web? What good is hiding in the wilderness when the enemy can employ scout robots or conduct carpet-bombing. I realize that insurgents in Iraq and mountain forces in Afghanistan can put up one heck of a fight — an example of simple technology making a stand against advanced technology — but if you consider that by 2020 an estimated 30% of the military will be robotic, how can we battle that? How can we hope to compete with lasers or super soldiers that can grow bullet-proof exoskeletons? The truth is we can’t do so with guns alone.

The idea that the average citizen, military veteran or not, could stand up to an army of the future seems ridiculous. No matter where you stand in regards to gun control, you have to admit that military technology will soon get to the point where any hope of the average citizen taking up their shotgun in resistance is pointless. The fact is, the 2nd Amendment will soon be so outdated that there really is no point in having it. The argument that a militia could stand up to the military is thrown out the window by future technologies, and with it the argument of owning a gun.

Image: Terence T.S. Tam (Flickr,CC-Attribution)

Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. You make a good point, but I don’t know…I still tend to think that many people with decent firearms could cause a lot of damage. If nothing else because there could be a lot of them. The technological balance has long been in favor or armies, but that hasn’t prevented some impressive wins by guerrillas even in recent history. Also, it’s debatable that armed resistance against the military is the only reason we have the second amendment.

    Posted by: Mielle Sullivan   August 27, 2008
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  2. I think that maybe people could put up a fight, but for how long? There may be programmers that AWOL and go to the other side, meaning captured robots could potentially be reprogrammed, but it just seems so thin. I guess the Terminator wins in the end?

    Posted by: martymcfly   August 27, 2008
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  3. Short answer: No.

    Fuller answer: Sorry jheylin, but your premise is badly flawed, I think.

    First and most obvious, I don’t agree that technology enhancement will be especially the provence of the military. Indeed, most of the really innovative tech the DOD uses is by way of contractors, not in-house talent for the most part (DARPA being arguably the most famous example of this, I think). As regards the UAV scenario you suggest, it’s not at all clear what technology might be employed to achieve your suggested result that isn’t equally plausably likely to have an economical and well-understood countermeasure available to even the casually prepared individual you stipulate.

    For another objection, the percentage of the US military presently slated for future replacement by robotic technology is that segment of the logistical support effort that actually enters active combat territory. Somehow, I don’t really consider mechanical REMF’s to be even as much of a tactical threat as I would the unenhanced wetware Mod-zero model currently in service.

    Thirdly, I strongly suspect that a safely annonymous poll of serving US armed forces members would result in an overwhelming response in favor of summarily executing said General and reporting their actions to their commanding officer after the fact (ever read the oath of service for the US military?). I would further suggest that Mielle’s point regarding the 2nd ammendment is unintentionally misleading in that the ammendment is specifically targetted against the excesses of government – of which the US military is a questionable tool at best in the stated scenario.

    Finally, if your intent was to demonstrate that those fools who don’t keep up with the times and seek to fight tomorrow’s battles with yesterday’s tools are going to have a very hard time of things, then you’re absolutely right. But they still don’t have to die alone, which is another flaw in your argument, I suggest (google Afghanistan and Iraq for only two current examples of variously effective insurrgency’s; also: see for a professional military examination of the same topic).

    The “army of the future” doesn’t appear on-scene deus ex-machina, you know, just ask the present US Army who spent the last 30+ years developing the army we most lately went to war with. Like any other complex mechanism, it develops by a process of variously well thought out efforts over a period of time; a process in which your “average citizen, military veteran or not” takes a similarly variously active part. Terminator’s and BOLO’s don’t just appear via magic to make those nasty guns go away because they’re obviously so useless anyway (and if I’m projecting here then you have my apologies). It remains a fact that as militarily oriented technology is developed a civilian adaptation is also created. You will never see an “army of the future” without being an active part of that same future yourself. How active a participant we each choose to be is up to us, I hope …

    Posted by: Will   August 28, 2008
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