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Defending Gun Rights With Civil Disobedience

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The gun owners of New Jersey have had enough! They’ve tried asking for their rights, they’ve tried protesting in the streets. It’s not working. The tyrants in Trenton are going to take their gun rights away regardless. Seeing that “There *IS* no redress of our LEGITIMATE grievances within the three branches of NJ government.” The New Jersey Second Amendment Society has announced the start of a campaign of civil disobedience. “In a SINCERE effort to avoid an unhappy outcome, we must attempt to reach the public through acts of non-violent civil disobedience. This is not easy and it will take time, but the alternative at this point is much less attractive.” They are right and deserve our support. At first glance the idea of civil disobedience and guns may seem like an unlikely mixture, but the opposite is the truth. Choosing non-violent resistance when one could resist violently is the essence of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy:

Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. Translation from swordsmanship to non-violence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Non-violence, therefore, presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance.

Gun owners choosing not to use their guns aggressively or preemptively is the bravest (and smartest) way they can resist the government’s tyranny. This is fully consistent with the non-aggression principle, which, unlike Gandhi’s Satyagraha, allows for defensive force. It is often wiser to refrain from fighting even when defensive force is morally justified. The Deacons for Defense and Justice exemplify this approach. During the civil rights movement they carried weapons for defense while working non-violently for change. Rarely did they fire a weapon yet they prevented many an attack on civil rights activists.

There is also the passive side, don’t help the oppressor. Make him carry your weight instead of the other way around. In 1849 Henry David Thoreau called for peaceful resistance to oppose the injustices of slavery and the Mexican War. After being jailed for not paying taxes he wrote “Civil Disobedience”. In it he stated:

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, …the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person ... A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight …If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, "But what shall I do?" my answer is, "If you really wish to do anything, resign your office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished.

Lastly, the hardest part, suffering injustice to hold the moral high ground and destroy the legitimacy of the tyrants. Show the world the evil that they really are. In 1819 Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the poem “The Mask of Anarchy” * about the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, England. His words were an inspiration to Gandhi and the Indians during their non-violent struggle for independence. The mask is the false, benevolent face the government puts on. Their own violence removes the mask. During the massacre the British government used cavalry to attack a peaceful assembly. Some excerpts:

'Tis to see the Tyrant's crew
Ride over your wives and you -
Blood is on the grass like dew.

'Then it is to feel revenge
Fiercely thirsting to exchange
Blood for blood - and wrong for wrong -
Do not thus when ye are strong.

[Snip]

'Let a great Assembly be
Of the fearless and the free
On some spot of English ground
Where the plains stretch wide around.

[Snip]

'Be your strong and simple words
Keen to wound as sharpened swords,
And wide as targes let them be,
With their shade to cover ye.

'Let the tyrants pour around
With a quick and startling sound,
Like the loosening of a sea,
Troops of armed emblazonry.

Let the charged artillery drive
Till the dead air seems alive
With the clash of clanging wheels,
And the tramp of horses' heels.

'Let the fixèd bayonet
Gleam with sharp desire to wet
Its bright point in English blood
Looking keen as one for food.


'Let the horsemen's scimitars
Wheel and flash, like sphereless stars
Thirsting to eclipse their burning
In a sea of death and mourning.

'Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war,

'And let Panic, who outspeeds
The career of armèd steeds
Pass, a disregarded shade
Through your phalanx undismayed.

[Snip]

'And if then the tyrants dare
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim, and hew, -
What they like, that let them do.

'With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay
Till their rage has died away.

'Then they will return with shame
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek.

[Snip]

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'

Stand firm, New Jersey gun owners, actively and peacefully resisting liberty’s enemies. If you do this fearlessly and with unbreakable wills you will prevail.

*As a libertarian anarchist I don’t like the way Shelley uses the word anarchy. I would have preferred the word chaos instead. Regardless, the poem is powerful, moving, and inspiring. I highly recommend reading and studying the whole thing

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