Extremism, Patriotism and the Realistic Expectations of Domestic Disarmament
By Alex Osinski
It was in the spring of 1995 that I gave a presentation to a Sociology class detailing what was at the time the likelihood of a civil war brewing in the United States over issues surrounding domestic disarmament and the rise of the militia movement in the USA in part due to events that transpired in Ruby Ridge Idaho and Waco Texas a few years prior. That presentation came shortly before spring break and it was during that break the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up.
At the time, I had been in contact with some of the principal characters of the militia movement in that day. Mark Koernke of the Michigan Militia, John Trochtman of Montana, and JJ Johnson (then still living outside Cleveland). I was at the time still approaching the movement from the standpoint of a sympathetic researcher and journalist. While none claimed responsibility for the bombing, and some (primarily Trochman) asserted that government agents secretly blew the building up themselves (as he still asserts ten years later), I watched how all but Mr. Koernke were quickly thrust into the national spotlight of congressional hearings. JJ Johnson's statement summed a lot of it up when he told the committee chairman when pressured for an explanation as to the beliefs of why the militias were forming to apparently fight the government "frankly Sir, what is going on here is a lot of people are pissed off".
Regardless of who actually blew up the Murrah Federal Building or why, there are and were some basic facts contributing to the rise of the militia movement in the US and Canada and the potential impact of a conflict with them on American society. Whether it was a "pissed off" former soldier deciding to take justice into his own hands over perceptions of unanswered human rights violations on the part of government agents, or a conspiracy within the government to pre-empt the brewing revolution and destroy evidence of wrongdoing at Waco, we do know that the OKC bombing was brought about as a consequence of the "gun control issue" and the way gun laws had been enforced in a number of high profile cases through the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Proponents of gun prohibition and "Domestic Disarmament" as then popular political philosopher Amatoi Etzioni put it, considered the task of disarming the American public to be a realistic goal to be accomplished by the Clinton administration by the end of Clinton's second term. Their idea was to first pass the early versions of what we now know to be the Patriot Act, but a the time was known as the Omnibus anti crime and terrorism bill. That included basically everything we now know as the Brady gun bans, the Patriot act and some other anti-liberty pieces of legislation put together in one big bad bill that was heavily supported and promoted by numerous government agencies, think tanks, and even foreign diplomatic interests. What survived the culling in the legislature at the time became known as the Clinton Anti-Crime bill.
It was in that spring of 1995 I gave the presentation to the class shortly before showing one of the documentary videos about the events at Waco. This presentation was to illustrate some of the numbers involved in what many in law enforcement promised would be a challenging but successful growth in public safety. Others promised a bloody campaign of civil war and terror.
I asked for a show of raised hands among the class as to how many thought that the NRA membership represented an extremist view on that scale of gun rights. Around 60% of the class (including the Professor) raised their hands. Asked if they felt the NRA represented a majority or significant number of rank and file Americans, nobody raised their hands. Asked if the present military and law enforcement apparatus would be able to handle the resistance of that minority of extremists when they chose not to obey laws that they felt would be in violation of the constitution, there was some discussion among the class, and slowly in agreement with each other, hands began to go up but arguments began to break out. There began to emerge a group within the class that thought any serious enforcement against an armed extremist minority would have to include the formation or expansion of some sort of government agency to coordinate such and effort. Some of us at the time knew of one of the professors who was part of a "focus group" of law enforcement officials and criminal justice experts with extensive counterinsurgency military experience who was on one of those planning committees along with an FBI official who had lectured to another class earlier in the Semester.
What was significant about involving the students and professor in this presentation was that they represented the future of government leadership in this country, many of them majoring in political science, sociology and criminal justice expected employment with government agencies, think tanks and lobbying groups shortly after graduating from college. Their knowledge and expectations being highly relevant to future developments in law and administration of government policy.
At the time, the NRA had boasted 3 million current members. That is roughly equal to the number of people in the US military during the height of the Cold War. Now ten years later, the NRA has reached 4.5 million and I will modify the original presentation to reflect this as a base figure.
As we reach into the "best case scenario" for such a gun prohibition, we look at some facts from other legal prohibitions and past conflicts. First there had been a gun ban in California at the time and the most reliable figures from California DOJ showed that only 10%of the owners of banned guns had registered them with the state. When individuals from the other 90% were interviewed as to why they did not register their guns, most cited a fear of the guns being confiscated if the government managed to register them. Others hinted at using those same guns to fight a guerilla war against the government.
OK, so back to the scenario. If we consider the most optimistic operational expectations of this special anti-gun owner task force, we consider the stereotype "Bubba" gun owner is represented in 90% of the NRA. He will drop his guns and run at the first sight of any force that might be used against him. He is a law and order Republican, and when push comes to shove, he will obey and idolize the law of the land regardless of who or why it was put into place. The remaining 10% are, in the eyes of the gun prohibitionists and law enforcement, "the problem".
The Problem 10%
Lets look at the problem 10% for a minute. These are in the admission of the opposition, the extreme of the extreme. They have guns, they know how to use them, and they are pissed about being outlawed. They have already decided to defy the law. Many have military and law enforcement training and experience along with a significant number who are presently in the military or law enforcement at any given time. It is this 10%, or roughly 450,000 people who the gun prohibitionists will universally agree are at the core of their "problem".
Fast forward to the extremely optimistic assumption that this super "domestic disarmament agency" or DDA could identify these 10% for targeting at the beginning of a major confiscatory sweep. Perhaps armed with blacklists, mass warrants or whatever, some sort of special law enforcement unit would be tasked with serving warrants on these 450,000 angry, armed and recently disenfranchised individuals for the purpose of confiscating their weapons and putting them in prison. This would all supposedly happen with little or no significant negative consequences to the general infrastructure in the US. A well funded, well trained and well chosen task force would in theory be able to out plan, out maneuver and outgun this problem 10% using advanced data management, high tech monitoring techniques, high tech weapons, superior mental attitude, and highly qualified well trained professionals at every level of the enforcement organization.
Assume that 90% of such cordon and seize operations are successful. The problem 10% were identified, there were no significant number of innocents lost or attendant lawsuits or protests from otherwise disinterested elements of society and none of the law enforcement or hired "special Marshalls" are harmed. 90% of the "problem 10%" prove incompetent and unwilling t actually put up an effective fight when push comes to shove, and thus give in or get killed. That leaves us with the "really bad problem 1%"
Just one percent of those angry armed formerly proudly patriotic citizen gun owners is a force of 45,000 people. 45,000 is a larger force of guerillas than have been fielded by only the largest and most effective guerilla organizations in the world. The IRA at the height of its campaigns against the British are said to have only fielded 300 fighters in Britain and 50,000 in Ireland itself. The IRA as a whole, for all its fame as a terrorist organization (or freedom fighters depending on who you ask) in reality currently fields fewer fighters than any one of the major Los Angeles street gangs.
Al-Queda at this point is estimated to have around 15,000 to 20,000 trained fighters spread worldwide, of course this is not fully counting the associated groups in hotspots like Chechnya or Iraq. That Al-Queda number comes from a small percentage of the Billions of Moslems worldwide, but likewise, our number for this illustration comes from just the extreme 1% of the NRA.
In this fantasy scenario, even the most ambitious and optimistic casualty estimates place a one for one ratio when it comes to the 1%. That brings us to a point where we must ask what is the realistic consequence of 45,000 serious casualties (dead or disabled) within any government agency in say, a five year period? What is the replacement cost of each one of those personnel? The life insurance outlay? Lost productivity and lost taxes from their remaining life income? You can start multiplying the big numbers starting in the million and a half dollar per man figure. Make it up on confiscated property? Fat chance, since those 1% would likely have been disenfranchised in the prep leading up to the conflict in the first place. This means there would be little of any liquid value recovered in forfeiture of their assets the way has been done to those targeted in the drug war. The reality of the drug war, in contrast to the war on gun ownership, is that both sides tend to actually play softer than they could because playing harder would upset profits that would no doubt be lost if the war were to escalate. The Columbian cartels have repeatedly demonstrated this in their fights with that country's government.
In consideration of the extreme optimism of the "1%" scenario that gives us an estimated 45,000 hard core fighters. Lets look at some other numbers:
10% of the NRA are currently or recently in the military or law enforcement. There goes operational secrecy or integrity for a lot of the roundup operations. That also whittles away on the operational technique edge that a hostile military or law enforcement might have if it is recruiting from the same pool of qualified personnel as their opposition.
There are well over 100,000 registered machineguns in this country, which represent an estimated 10% of the actual number in circulation. Granted, most people who have a machinegun in their collection have more than one but it is likely that actual dedicated fighters would actually not be lacking for firepower obtained from an existing pool of available weapons not readily accountable en masse to the government.
Nobody has been able to come up with a reliable number of semiautomatic assault weapons distributed in the USA, but for sake of argument, most groups agree there are around 200 million guns in circulation in the USA, and that around 2% would fit the definition as "semiautomatic assault weapon". Doing the math of large numbers, we come up with a distribution of four million assault weapons circulating on the US market. Again, only a small percentage are currently accountable in any registration scheme.
The governments of the world which have proven only marginally competent in halting the distribution of narcotics and can barely expect to prevent third world dictators and terrorists from getting weapons of mass destruction expect to be able to halt illegal arms shipment between willing buyers and sellers.
The Vietnamese have proven that a technologically primitive but clever resistance are capable of consuming vast resources of an advanced adversary. The Iraqi resistance is proving that guerillas can use open source technology to offset a lack of the levels of massive manpower used by the Vietnamese.
Nobody has ever successfully suppressed a single US state since the Civil war, and the various surrender treaties that ended the US Civil war along with demobilization of the Confederate Army were very conditional. All of the major gun prohibitionist campaigns are based in part on the cooperation of all 50 state legislatures and the attendant resources they are in control of.
The distribution of intelligent and qualified leadership is not exclusively on one side or the other. The prohibitionist disarmament side tends to be dominated by well paid and qualified professionals, but they draw from the same pool of military and academics as their opposition with an emphasis on psychological profiles that replace deep personal and religious patriotic commitment with a fragile system of professional ethics which at its core is driven by greed and ego. Character weaknesses that are likely to greatly influence the nature of the organizations which they run.
Most modern weapons combine readily available computer and optics technology with metallurgy technology that dates to the 1930s but can be manufactured to greater precision of better materials more cheaply using modern manufacturing methods. Clandestine manufacture of firearms could quickly mitigate the loss of imports and an above the table firearms market. Unlike clandestine narcotics manufacture, there is not the same need for sustained production in order to supply a local market, only occasional and infrequent production is necessary to equip a resistance force already existing in close proximity to an advanced industrial economy.
The "terrorists" in the 1% scenario are already fluent in the language and social customs of the United States and readily capable of blending into society when not actively resisting the regime.
Nearly universal compliance with the gun laws has caused extreme hardship and undue cost to the Canadian government in spite of even their most pessimistic estimates and frequent budget restructuring within their police forces.
No foreign army has ever been able to suppress the United States as a whole, and it was a wet dream among the Communists who understood that they needed to overrun most of Europe in addition to knocking over most of Latin America before even attempting any invasion of the US mainland. The idea that the UN would or could raise an army capable of suppressing and occupying even a few US states is absurd in light of the fact they have proven inept at even stabilizing any significant number of African countries that contain massive wealth in natural resources which could be harvested and distributed to participating nations as payment for such an occupation.
The reality of a massively enforced gun ban in the United States is impossible, absurd, and unrealistic, but we live in times where truth is often stranger than fiction.