Struggling Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden unleashed another incoherent rant about gun rights in front of a group of New Hampshire residents this weekend. While offering lots of the usual misinformation — Biden stands firmly against “20, 30, 40, 50 clips in a weapon,” for instance — things really fell apart when he started quoting Thomas Jefferson.
Biden: "Those who say 'the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots' — a great line, well, guess what: The fact is, if you’re going to take on the government you need an F-15 with Hellfire Missiles. There is no way an AK-47 is going to take care of you." pic.twitter.com/npmW40DHS2
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) February 9, 2020
This has to be the first time in history that a serious presidential contender has publicly gamed-out how a modern American military — armed with F-15s and air-to-surface missiles — would crush an imaginary citizen-led insurgency. (Sorry, Eric Swalwell — even though you once mocked Second Amendment supporters as being unable to defeat a government armed with nukes, you were never a serious presidential contender, so you don’t count.)
For one thing, it’s a weird way to appeal to a broad swath of voters. It’s also an ignorant way to talk about millions of law-abiding and peaceful American gun owners — many of them in contested states such as Wisconsin and Michigan — who are far less inclined to violence than the average WTO protester.
It’s also a really bad strawman, for a number of reasons:
1) It’s highly improbable that members of the American military would start murdering their countrymen simply because some bloodthirsty president ordered them to do it. One imagines that a large-scale insurgency would only be sparked by cataclysmic national events that would likely cause a fissure in the military as well. The notion that the Air Force is going to carpet-bomb Iowa revolutionaries simply because it has capacity to do so is dubious. This is the United States. One suspects that the military would be on the side of the patriots.
2) Biden should be aware that modern armies, historically speaking, have had quite a tough time crushing insurgencies equipped with small arms. There have been hundreds of such deadly, drawn-out uprisings around the world over the past 70 years, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3) Biden could not have used a worse example to make his point than the AK-47. Americans, of course, mostly own semi-automatic versions of the famous Russian rifle, but the real Kalashnikov is one of, if not the most, durable and successful in history. During the Cold War — and beyond — it was the weapon of choice for revolutionaries, gangs, guerrilla fighters, and terrorists around the world. It has been an extraordinarily pliant weapon, used in virtually every modern insurrection since the mid-1960s.
4) By arguing that legal guns are no match for an F-15, Biden is making a powerful case that citizens should be able to more easily own powerful military-grade weapons. That’s why the Second Amendment exists, as a bulwark against tyranny, should it ever appear here again. So his position makes no sense. Why does Biden believe that Americans have a right to own shotguns when an Auto-5 has no real chance against a Hellfire missile?
5) Biden cuts off Jefferson’s hyperbole about revolutions at a very convenient spot. The quote, which was given in the context of a centuries-long fight for liberty, is: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. (My italics.) One suspects that Jefferson — granted, far too animated by the violence of the French Revolution for my taste — was more interested in spilling the latter’s blood. Lots of it. But Biden skips that part and stakes out an authoritarian position, not only because he doesn’t believe in the core rationale for the Second Amendment but also because he doesn’t believe in the core rationale for the Founding. The American citizenry is conferred rights by God, not by the power of a missile. What Biden said is tantamount to claiming that we don’t need to protect our First Amendment rights because they can always be crushed by the power of an M-1 tank.
There’s a good case to be made that we no longer have to take Biden seriously. But this risible argument seems to be increasingly popular among Second Amendment antagonists. I’ll give them this: “You don’t need your guns because we can annihilate you with advanced military weaponry” is a hell of an electoral sales pitch.