The population needs guns as a defence against a tyrannical government. This is why the Second Amendment was implemented. This is why it remains in place. Right?
Proponents of the Second Amendment salivate at the opportunity to educate us on the historical tragedies that could have inevitably been avoided by the existence of a well-armed population. The Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, Stalin’s purges, all these are produced as plausible examples of a fate that befalls the unarmed society (a view not shared by any mainstream academic thought mind you).
It is a fruitless and altogether redundant exercise to attempt to learn from history’s hypothetical examples, instead we must look at what has actually occurred. So to legitimise the notion that an armed civilian population could safeguard against a tyrannical government we must look for instances in which this has actually borne out in modern history. An endeavour which yields conspicuously few examples.
For the sake of relevance to today’s modern state armies we will limit our scope to the last 50 years. Within these parameters we are offered countless examples of revolutions, uprisings, and armed insurrections. The Colombian FARC guerrillas, the IRA, and even more recently in the Syrian Conflict. All saw themselves as righteous freedom fighters against oppressive subjugation and tyranny. All utilised military means to achieve their objectives. All failed in achieving their goals.
The undeniable truth is throughout the last 50 years, an armed militia has at no point independently defeated a National Army. Never. They have often successfully brought a nation to near collapse, reaped death and destruction upon the population they sought to liberate, and inflicted irreparable damage upon the nation, but they have never attained a concise military victory to achieve their aims.
Over the last century the institutions of the modern state have progressed so rapidly that its capacities are immeasurably superior to any non-state actor. The technology, capabilities, and assets available to a modern state army are simply inconceivable to imagine in the hands of a civilian population. Whilst in centuries gone by a large enough collection of angry peasants could bring a king to his knees, an army of angry farmers is simply no chance in the theatre of modern war.
Even on the few examples in which armed uprisings have toppled a regime in the last 50 years they have invariably only done so with the invaluable support of a foreign power. No one is under any doubt, for example, that the Libyan regime would not have fallen were it not for the onslaught of aerial bombing campaigns inflicted by other advanced states.
This is not to say that regimes have not been toppled, it happens surprisingly regularly. However all successful revolutions in recent history exemplify a conspicuous absence of an organised armed militia. The Egyptian Arab Spring, the turn to democracy in Burma, the victory over Apartheid in South Africa, all achieved impossible goals through the adoption of Gandhi's philosophy of civil disobedience.
At risk of dabbling in the realm of hypotheticals I had promised to abstain from, one could suggest that had the Syrian uprising remained a peaceful unarmed protest, being visibly brutally repressed by the regime in front of the world’s cameras just as had occurred in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, it could have applied significantly greater pressure on Assad than when the revolution subsequently became the domain of armed militia; a militia who have drawn the country into a brutal civil war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and yet seem ultimately doomed to lose.
So when the NRA and Second Amendment proponents plead the need for their weapons to use against the greatest military machine the world has ever seen, how exactly do they see this playing out? Whilst the AR15 is a terrifyingly deadly weapon when inflicted upon unarmed children in a school room, it would be rendered unquestionably impotent against the weaponry of the US Air Force. On what grounds can they possibly conceive they will stand a better chance against the US state than the Free Syrian Army has against the Syrian regime (and that was with US arms and air support!).
History has afforded us no examples of an armed militia defeating a tyrannical government in the modern era, it has only provided countless examples of inducing the unimaginable horror of civil war. Instead history teaches us the power of collective peaceful protest, of faith in the immutable institutions of democracy, of the power of the pen and the voice of a peaceful leader.
There are many reasons why gun owners may wish to keep their guns, but the notion that that it is necessary for the defence against a tyrannical US Government is baseless, illogical, and a lie.