"Professor Arkes, I don't disagree with the basic principle, but it's not enough just to say, Totalitarian regimes are wrong, so don't let the State enslave you'. That's like saying, 'Don't get sick'. The important question is, when do you know it's going to become enslavement? When is the proper time to resist with force?"
"Please elaborate, Mr. Bowman." Henry took a deep breath.
"The end result, which we want to avoid, is the concentration camp. The gulag. The gas chamber. The Spanish Inquisition. All of those things. If you are in a death camp, no one would fault you for resisting.
But when you're being herded towards the gas chamber, naked and seventy pounds below your healthy weight, it's too late. You have no chance. On the other hand, no one would support you if you started an armed rebellion because the government posts speed limits on open roads and arrests people for speeding.
So when was it not too late, but also not too early?"
"Tell us, Mr. Bowman."
"Professor Arkes, I teach a Personal Protection class off-campus, where most of the students who sign up are women. I'm seeing some strong parallels here, so please indulge me in an analogy."
"A woman's confronted by a big, strong, stranger. She doesn't know what he's planning, and she's cautious.
Getting away from him's not possible. They're in a room and he's standing in front of the only way out, or she's in a wheelchair—whatever. Leaving the area's not an option.
"So now he starts to do things she doesn't like. He asks her for money. She can try to talk him out of it, just like we argue for lower taxes, and maybe it will work. If it doesn't, and she gets outvoted, she'll probably choose to give it to him instead of getting into a fight to the death over ten dollars. You would probably choose to pay your taxes rather than have police arrive to throw you in jail.
"Maybe this big man demands some other things, other minor assaults on this woman's dignity. When should she claw at his eyes or shove her ballpoint pen in his throat? When he tries to force her to kiss him?
Tries to force her to let him touch her? Tries to force her to have sex with him?" Henry took a deep breath and shrugged.
"Those are questions that each woman has to answer for herself. There is one situation, though, where I tell the women to fight to the death. That's when the man pulls out a pair of handcuffs and says, 'Come on, I promise I won't hurt you, this is just so you won't flail around and hurt either of us by accident. Come on, I just want to talk, get in the van and let me handcuff you to this eyebolt here, and I promise I won't touch you. I'm not asking you to put on a gag or anything, and since you can still scream for help, you know you'll be safe. Come on, I got a full bar in here, and color TV, and air conditioning, great stereo, come on, just put on the cuffs.'
"I tell women that if that ever happens, maybe the man is telling the truth, and maybe after talking to her for a while he'll let her go and she will have had a good time drinking champagne and listening to music.
But if she gets in the van and puts her wrists in the handcuffs, she has just given up her future ability to fight, and now it is too late." Henry realized he had been making eye contact with all the other people in the lecture hall, just as he did when he taught a course. Now he looked directly at the professor.
"How do you spot the precise point where a society is standing at the back of the van and the State has the handcuffs out? That's the question I'd like to see addressed by one of these philosophers we've been studying, Professor."
The conclusion that the character in the story is reaching for is one that the gun rights community reached long ago.
And the answer is that there is nothing that the government could promise that would convince gun owners to give up their ability to resist the government when it exceeded its limits.
For us to be convinced to give up our guns we'd need to be convinced not that the current government intended to keep its promise but that every possible future government could be trusted. We'd need a guarantee that there would never be a time where we or our children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren would ever need to resist the government with force.
And, of course, no such guarantee is possible.
Remember, it wasn't Hitler who passed Germany's gun control laws. It was the liberal Weimar Republic. The politicians of which had no intention of doing what Hitler did, and no reason to believe that someone like Hitler would ever come to power.
Beliefs, expectations, and promises have no relevance to this question. What matters are possibilities. And nothing any government can do can eliminate future tyranny as a possibility.
To quote 9th Circuit judge Alex Kozinski:
All too many of the other great tragedies of history — Stalin’s atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few — were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. See Kleinfeld Dissent at 578-579. If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.
My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.
So the answer to this question, as to many others, remains NO!