Honest talk about guns

Russ Fugal
5 min readAug 10, 2019

Let’s be honest. I own a WWII-era bolt action rifle which I bought years ago. It’s stored in the house about a hundred feet and a flight of stairs away from the ammo. I didn’t buy it for, and it won’t help me in the case of home invasion; that’s what I have a dog and a home security system for.

Let’s be honest. As a young man, I bought the rifle in case I’m ever called on to fight for freedom. This doesn’t make me an extremist, a secessionist, conspiracy theorist, or a revolutionary. I just means that I agreed with Alexander Hamilton, who wrote that “[a Militia] appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.” [Federalist 29] The founders agreed that, while ostensibly necessary for national security, a professional army posed a threat to freedom. The Second Amendment was the insurance policy — a Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State; a Militia, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms; a well regulated Militia shall not be infringed. A Militia was conceived to be the first defense (part-time citizen soldiers in case of a foreign invasion) and the final defense (in case of tyranny).

Let’s be honest. Any restrictions on owning a gun is a boot in the door for a tyrannical government. Registering a gun gives intel to the enemy, a canvassing list for gun-repossessing thugs. Background checks, mandatory waiting periods, certifications of mental health can all be abused by tyrants to create blacklists of “deplorables” who have the courage to fight for freedom. This is the rhetoric used by the gun lobby. “In the face of gun-hating political elites … our only choice is to fight,” wrote the NRA Speaks for Me campaign. “NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre believes the greatest damage the terrorists could ever inflict upon us is disarmament at the hands of the political elites.” The movement’s strongest rally cry isn’t about sport, hunting, self-defense, home invasions, or even rights, it’s the threat of political elites — tyrants.

A militia with guns is more frightening than individual hobbyists

Let me be honest, I used to believe in a Militia; and it’s a concept who’s power I think most gun control activists don’t appreciate, largely because we don’t speak openly about this. Militia-ists (I honestly don’t know what we call ourselves) don’t argue this openly because we know that a militia with guns is more frightening (to some) than individual hobbyists, just like Democrats know that “Medicare for all who want it” is less frightening (to some) than Medicare for All. I’ve never joined a militia (and I tell you this to appear less frightening), I never felt that I needed to, but I knew that if I ever should I could.

I’ve never joined a militia, I never felt that I needed to, but I knew that if I ever should I could.

This lack of honesty is why arguments about weapons that “only belong on the battlefield” can be made, and why they don’t change opinions. With my bolt action rifle, I wouldn’t be the action hero on the front-line, but I would be content as a second-string sniper. Others would prefer the AR-15.

I think it is a productive exercise to consider the morality of joining a militia. Would you have fought alongside Alexander Hamilton in 1776? Would you have joined the French Resistance in 1942? What would a future conflict need to look like for you to feel like you should join? How about an invasion on the southern border that the Federal Government was unable or powerless to stop?

While I was a militia-ist, I was also an anti-war activist. After reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope I supported Bill Richardson (D-NM) for president in 2007 until he dropped out of the primary, and would have supported Barack Obama if I believed he would end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Though I was a militia-ist, the gun lobby wasn’t tied up in my identity.

I ended up campaigning for Ron Paul in 2008. What I came to realize is that every revolution gets co-opted, if it wasn’t duplicitous from the start. The Revolutionary War was a re-litigation of the French and Indian War for insatiable control of more Indigenous lands (in Ohio country) at least as much as it was a fight against increased taxes (for French and Indian War reparations). This point was driven home for me when I saw the Ron Paul Revolution (which I was told and believed wasn’t racist) morph into the Tea Party driven by anxieties about demographic shifts…

I then watched 辛亥革命 (1911, staring Jackie Chan) in 2011. I swore off any idea that I’d ever join a militia.

The Militia experiment launched by the Second Amendment has failed. Standing armies of professional soldiers are now jingoistically revered by the “Right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution” crowd. What the Second Amendment has bred is a reverence, almost worship, for guns as an idol to freedom.

The gun lobby is correct that the prolific ownership of guns isn’t the cause of an epidemic of mass shootings. They’re also correct that gun control will do little to abate it. But the cause isn’t mental illness, it isn’t video games, it isn’t violent cinema; those also are merely symptoms. The cause is militant gun culture; the idolization of guns as the god of freedom. This is the difference between the United States and other countries, an unintended consequence of the Second Amendment.

We need better gun control laws, but we need to talk about it in ways that don’t entrench the gun culture. Addressing the gun culture is more urgent, especially when it’s tied up with White supremacy. We need to understand why guns are valued; when I dropped the militia-ist identity I didn’t suddenly break from Alexander Hamilton and believe that tyranny isn’t possible. Tyranny is still a threat, and we need to build cultural solutions that don’t involve violence as a last resort. The best answer, to me, is solidarity.