Civilian-Owned Weapons Led to the Rise of Democracy

general peter van uhm

Courtesy TEDx Talks

When one reads gun blogs voraciously, one runs across two main types of arguments for our right to keep and bear arms (RKBA). The constitutional argument (the English comprehension model) and the self-defense argument. I have a broader theory, though. The idea hit me when I was watching a TEDx talk by General Peter van Uhm, former Chief of Defense for the Netherlands’ armed forces.

 

I began to think of a more salient correlation between weapons, personal freedom and democracy. The working theory: firearms are related to the rise of democracy, representing a basic subversion of the dominant political theory of government.

To examine the relationship between firearms and the subversion of tyranny, one must go back to the beginning. For democracy that means Athens.

At the time when the political system arose, Athens was a gun-free zone. Socrates wasn’t leaning on his long rifle on the Promenade as he taught. But when nascent democracy granted its citizens (a rather select group) voting rights, it required military service. Conscripts had to provide their own arms.

The average Athenian citizen owned his own sword, spear and armor. He was trained in their use during weekly drills in phalanx fighting (as well as participation in the “manly” sports of wrestling and boxing). Given the geopolitical conditions on the Greek peninsula of the day, it’s highly likely citizens had plenty of actual combat experience as well.

Athens had a democratic political system. They also had democracy of violence, in that all citizens (once more, not the same thing as a modern citizen) had ready access to weapons and training. It becomes a chicken and egg question – which came first? I’d hazard the guess that the blades came before the ballot.

The fall of democracy, the rise of empires and the greatest inequality in political power ever seen followed with the Roman Empire, and on into the Dark and Middle Ages. Technology outpaced income. The average citizen of Rome, and what’s now Germany and France could no more afford state-of-the-art weaponry than an average American can now afford a tank. Even for nobles, the cost of weapons and armor prepresented years of income. They were totally beyond the reach of the common man.

Notice what emerges at roughly the same time as the rumblings of the Renaissance. Two weapons, both cheap, which allowed a commoner equal footing with a knight: the crossbow and the longbow. The papacy and many kings tried to ban the crossbow, horrified that a peasant with a cheap weapon could kill a highly trained soldier. Richard the Lionheart, that famous conqueror, met his end at the point of a crossbow bolt from some low-level grunt.

Roman crossbow

Wikimedia Commons

The only nations to embrace the new technology fully were the city-states of Italy. The Florentines, for example, made crossbow practice a national sport and fielded mercenary armies of crossbowmen who fought in wars across Europe. England was the other early adopter. The Brits mainstreamed the longbow, and met with great success against the French in the Hundred Years War.

The political process in both countries, the latter of which created the Magna Carta, reflects this democratization of violence. In short, an armed and trained populace demands more political freedoms.

The advent of the firearm hastened this process. The over-extension of colonial empires encouraged rebellion. The distances provided the space to learn self government, but the harshness of the new world and the necessity of personal defense weapons brought a new sort of populace.

—–

Even counting the risk, even with the most apocalyptic predictions our opponents can dream up, the democratization of violence is an almost unqualified human good.

—–

The average American of the eighteenth century may not have been much more educated, healthy or wealthy than his British counterpart, but he knew his way around a musket. He’d drilled on the village green with his neighbors. They were nothing like a trained military force, but they did have basic infantry skills and at least on a personal basis, their weapons were a match for any in the world.

Correlation is not causation. I don’t want to overstate the case here. Dozens of important factors led to the rise of modern democracy, including the advent of the printing press. But I do think that the availability of relatively cheap weapons — which are at least comparable to proper military arms — are part of the primordial stew that breeds a free political system. And, I like to think, maintains it.

Ask a political science professor what constitutes a government and he’ll likely describe it along the lines of an organized monopoly on the legitimate use of force. There are some permutations, but this is the basic thrust of the idea of what a government is. Except it’s not true.

Open carry revolver holster

Dan Z for TTAG

Governments are most free when they don’t have that monopoly. I mentioned Athens, Britain, Florence and America, all states which achieved great political freedom with a well-armed populace.

Now, we could get into a hair-splitting contest over the word “legitimate,” but I doubt there’s a legion of PS profs to take me to task here. When a government encourages/allows an armed citizenry, it legitimizes their access to the tools of violence.

Firearms represent the ultimate democratization of violence. They’re the great leveler. What is the old saying? “God created man, but Sam Colt made them equal.” A gun is of the greatest benefit to the weakest in society.

A sword is deadly, but requires a fair amount of strength, skill and training to use one. A bow requires upper body strength and a lot of practice. A gun…well, one needs training to use one properly, but the basics are easily attainable with a quick lesson.

I’ve seen this process a hundred times and I can tell you this; I can take a person who has never touched a firearm and get them handling it properly and hitting their targets in one short session. Sure, a shooter needs a minimal amount of hand strength, but even a heavy trigger is usually under ten pounds. Virtually any human being who can drive a car or ride a bike can use a firearm. Even those with severe disabilities can usually manage one.

A Woman Holds A Gun In Her Hand And Points It At The Camera . Fo

Bigstock

Of course, with any tool there are risks, small though they may be. Democracy isn’t always pretty, and it doesn’t always follow the course we’d like. Still, the evidence is undeniable that gun owners – as a group – are a remarkably peaceful and law abiding lot. There will always be the small minority who can’t manage their freedoms responsibly. But much of our position today is due to the emphasis put on training and safety in the gun rights community.

I put it to you thus: Even counting the risk, even with the most apocalyptic predictions our opponents can dream up, the democratization of violence is an almost unqualified human good. It’s a basic question of equality. All men and women may be equal before the law, but how are people to be equal in the face of violence?

It’s men who would have the advantage, and younger men in particular. I say this as one whose position would be least improved by the addition of a firearm. Were all society to be disarmed, my relative position in this continuum would be improved. I am relatively young, fit and have the advantage of military training.

I don’t hold this position out of fear of other people. I’ve seen the elephant in the room. I believe that the broad public ownership of firearms is a positive societal good, for my sisters, the service men who came back short an arm or leg, the minorities threatened with violence by the intolerant and the urbanites dealing with the meltdown of inner city society (I live in Michigan, I know of  which I speak).

A firearm is literally the power of life and death, and while some may fear having that power distributed to the furthest reaches of society, I do not. I fear the concentration of that power.

 

This post was originally published in 2012.

comments

  1. avatar Ralph says:

    Post originally published in 2012 and it took eight years to read it.

    1. avatar Hans says:

      “Post originally published in 2012 and it took eight years to read it.”

      LOL, Raph

      1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

        Why did you read it, Hans?

        A few short days back, you got all snotty and informed us you would no longer be reading TTAG…

  2. avatar Dennis says:

    Yeah, and that’s precisely why the “libs” wanna take em away! Think that horse has left the barn, but if it’s civil war you want……

  3. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    Auto Ordnance was sustained for 20 years by civilian sales of its thompson submachine gun. There were no military sales. The military didn’t want them.
    It was advertised to large land owners. Who might need one or two to defend themselves against a large group of cattle rustlers. Or any large organized criminal group.

    But you won’t read that anywhere on most “pro 2A” websites. Because the “gun Community” only supports machine gun ownership for rich people.

    A few blasts of a machine gun will put a stop to any street riot. There is no misunderstanding what that sound is like. A machine gun is an outstanding psychological weapon.

    1. avatar Kyle in Upstate NY says:

      The Thompson was originally designed to gun down enemy soldiers in trench warfare, but WW1 was over by the time the gun became available.

      1. avatar James W Crawford says:

        Twelve gauge shotguns were already dominating the trenches. We called them “trench brooms.”. Shotguns were so devastating that the Germans threatened to execute any American troops that had a shotgun on them when captured. Of course General George Washington was an advocate of loading “buck and ball” in colonial muskets to multiply firing power.

        1. avatar Binder says:

          The ONLY reason that shotguns were effective was the fact that they had a much higher rate of fire than a bolt action rifle and we’re much more effective that a pistol. There is a reason they went away after the deployment of effective sub machine guns.

  4. avatar Frank says:

    Locked and loaded Oorah!

    1. avatar BigMikeU says:

      AMEN and i am for sure! All i need is a Rally Point? I am 100% fed up and tired of the left!To start with they are a small Minority and even though they have plenty of useful idiots they have brain washed over the last couple of decades.They dont have enough people willing(stupid enough) to put their lives on the line for chaos!That is the one thing we have on our side.There just isnt enough Communists in our country yet,which makes the left ,have to bus them in from out of each state.Its time these bus loads of people are stopped on their way into these cities and lined up along the side of the road and put down as in any war! They are now killing people!!! They are murdering people whether it be a regular citizen or a police officer! Its time the Right steps up and takes the fight back to them!If the cops and military cant handle the communists in our country then their boss’ (US….WE THE PEOPLE) will fix it!!!% Get it Done or WE “must”!!! There are plenty of trees out in front of the White House and im sure they can hold “all” of the TRAITORS in our Government! Start with those like Shifty,Pelosi,Schumer,Swalwell,Lynch,Comey,Stroke/Page,and many more!!! When are we going to see the JUSTICE we “all” were PROMISED in 2016?If the President cant/wont serve the JUSTICE that NEEDS to be served then WE THE PEOPLE must serve that JUSTICE! Sorry im fed up and ranting now! But its time! Start arresting these Traitors or our country is doomed to more violence!!!

  5. avatar BigMikeU says:

    AMEN brother! I have found an unarmed society is a controlled,ruled society! I am not a subject of any single person and i believe that all people are created equally and as you said the younger adults in our society would have an advantage if there were no firearms.Colt in fact made us all equal and i pray that Americans realize what the left is up too?I know there are a large group(yet still a very small minority) of people that want chaos and disorder as well as rule over the rest of us.They want their lives handed to them on a silver platter and expect their politicians (illegally elected in most cases) to do their bidding!What we as a free society and due to the fact that the evil people in this country,thank GOD are the minority must be crushed or we all lose!!! Granted Trump is “not” perfect but he is the best we’ve got and i pray the left dose “not” succeed in their corrupt practices of fixing election as the TRAITOR Wasserman-Schultz did for Hillary Clinton in 2016! Not only did she fix the primary for Hillary she also helped spies of our Nation in our Capital to steal our countries secrets and even helped them by holding onto her laptop that had materials in it she wasnt cleared to have or even see!!! Everyone knows about that Laptop she so vigorously fought to get back from WH police and did…..?!!! We all were made a PROMISE that i feel is the most important one of them all,that is JUSTICE for the American people! Pelosi,Schumer,Swalwell,Nadler,Shifty of course and others like Wasserman-Scultz,Lynch,stroke/Page,Comey and many more all need ot be served JUSTICE as WE THE PEOPLE were PROMISED or there is truly no reason for any of us to follow any laws in this country!? IF the laws are only for us to be expected too follow then they sure had better take the guns away or they are in risk of losing their own lives.That “is” the reason the Demonrats want to take away our Guns as they blame the right of doing exactly what they them selves are guilty of! They murder us,they rape us,they steal billions from us,and yet they sit in the same seats of power that gave them that opportunity? How is this right or righteous in any way?The very people trying to take away our freedoms,rights,and liberties are those breaking almost “all” of our Constitutional Laws!How to they keep getting away with it?A lazy and ignorant populace!!! We all must prepare to defend our selves and loved ones since our Government is only interested in keeping it self safe and living on!!!Trump is only buying us all time to prepare to fight for our lives against a crooked/tyrannical Fed Government in 2025!!! I pray for us all!!!

    1. avatar Country Boy says:

      Just rememberZ: it wasn’t raining when God told Noah to build his Ark.

      A word to the wise should be suffient.

  6. avatar Country Boy says:

    “Civilian-Owned Weapons Led to the Rise of Democracy” = WRONG.

    Civilian-Owned Weapons Led to the Rise of Constitutional Republic = CORRECT

    1. avatar narmvyguy says:

      Found someone that thinks like me: we do not have a democracy. We have a republic (fascist dems don’t like that). And our republican form of government was formed by a constitution (the greatest ever written), therefore we have a CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC.

      1. avatar Michael Sterling says:

        A-men.

  7. avatar Darkman says:

    Off Topic: But of significant importance to all Canadian firearms owners. Government let’s subjects of the Crown die with knowledge of mass shooters illegal activity. Prior to mass casualty event.
    2011 tip that warned N.S. gunman wanted ‘to kill a cop’ was purged from RCMP records | CBC News
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/ns-gunman-2011-warning-1.5589277

  8. avatar Seentoomuch says:

    Freedom is dangerous. It is even more dangerous to those who are trying to end it. That is why those who want to take away our freedom know that they must disarm us first. How many citizens in China own firearms? How many citizens in North Korea own firearms? How many citizens in Argentina own firearms? How many citizens in Cuba own firearms? Do you see a pattern here? The anti-gun people in this country have more in common with the Chinese Communist Party than they do with the framers of our Constitution.

    1. avatar Rusty Chains says:

      “The anti-gun people in this country have more in common with the Chinese Communist Party than they do with the framers of our Constitution.” You hit the target dead center, they keep trying to say Trump caused over 100k deaths in this country claiming he somehow mismanaged the government response to the China Virus. It was in fact the Chinese Communist Party who was responsible, because they covered up the problem for at least 6 weeks before the news got out. China is even more an enemy of the people of the US than CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, etal…

  9. avatar Garrison Hall says:

    Gun ownership is about empowerment. Progressive-fascists are fearful of it because the simply act of owning a gun challenges their ideological commitment to the idea that a monopoly-of-power belonging
    to the state is essential to their form of authoritarian government. If you want to see just where “monopoly-of-power” leads just do a Youtube search for “Congo murders”.

  10. avatar Kyle in Upstate NY says:

    The idea of civilians possessing weaponry both for self-protection and to check the power of the State has been a core facet of democratic government since the idea came about. Aristotle speaks multiple times in his book “Politics,” in which he describes his ideal polis (city-state) about the importance of the people possessing arms because the government being the only ones to possess arms is a formula for tyranny.

    Aristotle broke with his teacher Plato on this, who believed the ideal city-state was one in which the arms were centrally controlled and the people government by wise “philosopher-kings.” Aristotle was a major influence on the Founding Fathers.

    Roughly-speaking, you could say that the United States and the Soviet Union represented the ultimate embodiments of Aristotle and Plato’s ideas for the ideal state.

  11. avatar chedolf says:

    This is from The Classical World, by Robin Lane Fox:

    “Why, though, did the aristocrats’ monopoly ever break up? It has to be relevant that in the early seventh century, certainly by c. 670 BC, we have evidence of a famous change in Greek military tactics, to the long-lasting ‘hoplite ’style. ‘Hoplite’ infantrymen adopted a large shield, about three feet across, which was held by a double grip inside its rim and could protect the warrior’s left side from his chin down to his knees. In a massed line, the overlapping shield of each warrior’s neighbour helped to protect his right side and thus freed his right hand to use a thrusting-spear or a short sword at close range. Metal helmets and a metal or padded linen breastplate gave body-protection, as did metal greaves on the legs, at first an optional extra; they allowed a close-packed line to stand firm against enemy arrows and missiles. New styles of warfare developed against the previous style of warfare and, crucially, the prevailing Greek style of cavalry could not charge down this heavy-armoured line of infantry so long as the ranks stood firm. Noble horsemen became peripheral and henceforward were most useful in giving pursuit when the heavy infantry broke before their hoplite opponents. So too, noble champions and their individual duels diminished: they were no longer the main focus of most of the battles fought on foot.”

  12. avatar Steve Eisenberg says:

    Nature is a tough neighborhood. Each organism is responsible for its own survival and safety.

  13. avatar Biff says:

    I read something similar a while ago. The author predicted that democracy and the middle class would die when the elite could replace the citizen soldier with an autonomous kill bot.

  14. avatar Sam I Am says:

    Wasn’t a member(?) of TTAG in 2012, so would not have read this article prior. Glad to see it re-published. Good history on development of government and firearms possession.

  15. avatar spork says:

    1. Socrates did serve as a soldier in at least 3 wars and was distinguished. although that wasn’t a career for him.

    2. the English common rights came about because while there were kings, they had very little control over the noblemen who each ruled their own feifdoms. the kings could not coerce them for anything. when the kings needed their services (to fight wars usually) they were paid. the Founding Fathers modeled our “rights” on English common rights. so they did not originate from an armed populace demanding democracy, it originated from a lack of oppressive power on the part of English kings, specifically when they forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.

    otherwise there would have been no such charter, the noblemen would have been subserviant vassals, there would have been no such rights, and the Founding Fathers would have had no such example to build from, indeed they might have thought subservience under an oppressive thumb or bootheel should be the status quo like a bunch of stupid lemming which happens all too often, and we would have only more of the same European style government or Chinese style ‘democracy’ “in the name of the people, right?”

    in summary it was because of the dynamics of certain powers larger than individuals themselves (even any one English nobleman) and despite how our current government is supposedly all about the rights of the individual how often does that work out in the real world, from poor people unable to defend themselves from large powerful interests such as rapacious corporations with expensive lawyers, or our own government with eminent domain, or the plight of the black man who is, in fact, somewhat oppressed by predjudiced white police along with everybody else of any color they can victimize for different reasons such as the young and stupid, or the destitute and homeless, or the victims of natural disasters when they take away their guns, or the unsuspecting populace when they spend millions on surveillance aircraft when it was illegal to do so, ad nauseum, but it becomes obvious that not one common individual ever has gained rights that we know of in our so-called enlightened modern society and never will- it was always, and always will be, higher powers out of the reach of the individual.

    1. avatar Kyle in Upstate NY says:

      The Founders were influenced by far more than just England.

  16. avatar Canon says:

    This idea was well said. I grew up ambivalent to firearms, my dad had been a cop in my youth and I went to school in a community where many hunted and had their guns proudly displayed in the rear windows of their trucks yet I didn’t have an interest in partaking. It was only when I felt my unexercised right was threatened by the Obama administration did I vigorously take up arms and join the 2A organizations in voice, financial support, advocacy and evangelizing. I’m proud to say, after waking, I’ve added many to our well regulated militia of 2A members. I just hope I’m not too late to prevent tyranny in America.

    1. avatar Darkman says:

      In case you missed it. Obviously. Tyranny is alive and well in the United States. Keep’n My Powder Dry. Yours is up to You.

  17. avatar Montana Actual says:

    And in 2020, the “smart” era is jeopardizing the continued fight for freedom at an astonishing rate. At least back in the days (snowing uphill both ways) people were a little more self reliant. Now days people think they can download an app to save their lives.

  18. avatar Red says:

    No country in the world is a democracy. They are republics. Learn the difference.

    Democracy is two wolves and one lamb voting what’s for dinner. Democracy is majority rule without any representatives.

  19. avatar Geoff says:

    People continue to confuse a “Democracy” with a “Republic”.
    The U.S. is a Constitutional Republic.
    A Democracy is a Dictatorship like China, the DPRK, Iran and other Countries.

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