Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it.
James Madison, Federalist 46
In the wake of the Vegas Massacre some Leftists have been calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. Michael Schermer, in the New York Times, argues that an armed populace is no safeguard against tyranny:
If you think stock piling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional. The tragic incidents at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Tex., in the 1990s, in which citizens armed to the teeth collided with government agencies and lost badly, is a case study for what would happen were the citizenry to rise up in violence against the state today.
Go here to read the rest. The ignorance contained in that paragraph is stunning. As Afghanistan and Iraq have amply demonstrated, insurgencies are difficult to combat even for the most advanced military on Earth. A widespread insurgency in this country would pose the same problems for our military on a vastly larger scale. We have a huge country inhabited by some 330,000,000 people. An insurgency supported by 40% of the American people, with ten percent willing to take up arms, would produce a potential guerilla force in the tens of millions. National Guard units and segments of the military would quickly line up with the insurgents in a rebellion supported by 40% of the people they are pledged to defend.
The State in which I live, Illinois, is 26th in size, with 102 counties and hundreds of cities, towns and villages. I can just imagine the military effort necessary to hold down just Illinois in a conflict where 40% of the population supported a war against the government.
Modern militaries have immense logistical tails supporting the fighting units, filled with soft targets, all tempting fruit for guerilla units. The idea that an armed population would not be a check on a tyrannical government in this country badly misunderstands both the nature of modern warfare and the history of this nation. Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote of a right of revolution. The Second Amendment guarantees that if that right ever must be exercised, the people will have the ability to do so.
The Founding Fathers, in all they did, struggled to pass on the blessings of liberty to their posterity. Ensuring that the American people would remain, in the words of a British officer during the Revolution, “a people numerous and armed”, was one part of the safeguards that they gave us against tyranny. It is the last protection between the people and tyranny. This safeguard is just as effective today as it was in 1789.