Gun Rights, the Second Amendment and Early 20th Century Preparations for Revolution in Britain

One of the major issues that concerns the Republicans, and particularly the extreme right-wing of that party, is gun rights. They point to the Second Amendment in the Constitution guaranteeing American citizens the right to bear arms, which they view as one of the key democratic freedoms in America. They see it as the article in the Constitution that enables Americans to fight back against a tyrannical government. Hence the hysterical rage amongst the NRA and people like the conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, at the mere mention of gun legislation. This is always greeted with cries of ‘They’re coming for our guns!’ and the defiant snarl that they’ll only be able to take the weapon, ‘from my cold, dead hand’.

I’ve also seen a quotation from George Orwell trotted out to support gun rights. I can’t remember the exact quotation, but it’s something like the household gun on the wall being the mark of the free worker. Now Orwell’s quote could be a remark on many things. In the 19th century the poaching laws introduced by the wealthy farmers during the Napoleonic Wars were bitterly resented, because many agricultural workers believed they had the right to poach rabbits on their employer’s land as part of the perks of the job. And this became more important as the economic situation deteriorated and poverty and starvation more common.

It was also an attitude shared by the Social Democratic Federation, an early British Socialist party, which was one of the organisations that formed the Labour party. The SDF was Marxist, although its founder, Hyndeman, had fallen out with Marx himself as he had not credited Marx with the party’s programme. Pelling in his ‘Short History of the Labour Party’ notes that in period running up to the First World War and the debate about rearmament, several members of the SDF, most notably Will Thorne, believed

in a form of conscription known as ‘the citizen army’, which was based on the idea that a revolution could best be effected when all members of the working class had some training in the use of arms. (p. 29).

Now I’ve no doubt that the idea of radical, working-class Marxists bearing arms ready to start the revolution is something that scares the right witless. Gun rights are all right for right-wing Whites, but when Blacks and the radical Left get them, it’s a major threat to decent American society. The Young Turks and Secular Talk have pointed out that the authorities in America suddenly became interested in limiting access to guns after the Black Panthers started walking around with them. The Panthers had read the Constitution, and found that nowhere in it did it say that only Whites could carry firearms. And so even before they started shooting people the American government got very alarmed, and started passing laws to limit gun ownership.

Back in the 1990s parts of the Survivalist movement grew so concerned about what they saw as the new Communist threat and the imminent collapse of society, that they started forming informal ‘militias’. Somehow I doubt very much that the same people, who formed and joined these, would be comfortable knowing that their opponents on the radical left back in the very beginning of the 20th century, shared their ideas and desire to acquire firearms training to overthrow a tyrannical government. The only difference being that it was a right-wing, economically conservative government that they viewed as oppressive. I can’t see them being terribly enthusiastic about that little episode of British history at all.

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