I’ve seen analyses of the long odds the U.S. government would face if it ever attempted to confiscate civilian firearms before. The Mathematics of Countering Tyranny seems like a particularly well done example.
The authors compute that under very generous assumptions there are about 83000 door-knockers available to perform confiscation raids. Dividing that into the estimated number of semiautomatic rifles in the U.S. and assuming that each raid would net three rifles confiscated (which I think is optimistic in the raiders’ favor) each doorknocker would have to execute and survive 864 raids in order for the entire stock of rifles to be seized.
Notice that we’re not even addressing the far larger stock of handguns and other weapons yet. But I’m willing to tilt the conditions of the argument in the confiscators’ favor, because that makes the conclusion more difficult for them to rebut.
There’s a different way to slice these numbers. Applying the 3:1 force ratio military planners like to assume, this means the number of violently resistant gun owners – people willing to shoot a doorknocker rather than watch their country sink into tyranny – needs to be about 249000.
Is this a plausible number?
The NRA has about 5.2 million members. That’s about 1 in 20 NRA members.
According to the General Social Survey in 2013, about 1 in 4 Americans owned guns. That’s 79 million gun owners, and probably an undercount because gun owners are chronically suspicious of the intention behind such questions. But we’ll go with it as an assumption that’s best-case for the doorknockers.
That means that in order to stop attempted gun confiscations dead on a purely force-on-force level, only one in 317 American gun owners needs to remember that our first American Revolution began as spontaneous popular resistance to a gun-confiscation order. Only one in 317 American gun owners need to remember their duty under the U.S. Constitution as members of the unorganized militia – “the body of the people in arms”. Only one in 317 American gun owners need to shoot back.
Is that a plausible fraction? Yes. Yes, I think it is. Count me as one of them.
Why am I publishing these numbers? To persuade the would-be confiscators that their enterprise is doomed to fail in fire and blood, so freedom-loving people never actually have to take on the moral burden of killing them. The fact that we’re ready to do so if we have to does not mean we want that terrible day to arrive.
But eternal vigilance is not the only price of liberty. Eternal deterrence against would-be tyrants – including the threat and in extremis the use of revolutionary violence – is part of that price too. The Founding Fathers understood this. The question is whether a critical fraction of American gun owners today know our duty and would do it.
Here is why I am optimistic on that score: every estimate in this back-of-the envelope calculation has been pushed to the end of the plausible range that favors the confiscators. In fact, the stock of weapons that would need to be confiscated is much larger. The number of gun owners is pretty certainly underestimated. Even getting full compliance with confiscation orders from the agents and local police is unlikely, reducing the effective number of doorknockers.
Correspondingly, the critical fraction of American gun owners that would have to be hard-core enough to resist confiscation with lethal violence in order to stop the attempt is lower than 1 in 317. Probably much lower.
Especially if we responded by killing not merely the doorknockers but the bureaucrats and politicians who gave them their orders. Which would be more efficient, more just, and certain to follow.