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What would a large-scale gun confiscation look like?

Published: March 8, 2014
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After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was placed under martial law.  Residents were forcibly disarmed and forcibly evacuated.  (Source: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was placed under martial law. Residents were forcibly disarmed and forcibly evacuated. (Source: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

In the deepest fears of every freedom-loving American is the sinister thought of government following through with a mass confiscation of firearms — the tools of independence and self-preservation.

Some envision a proverbial “house-to-house” confiscation effort.  Police — perhaps soldiers — would be given an order to collect guns and they would literally go to every house in the country to find the guns and seize them.

These fears are often met with denial and deluded reassurance. But should they be ignored?

Could it Happen Here?

Dramatic, mass gun grabs depend on the perception of urgency or imminent danger.  The mass mobilization and intensity has to be fueled by something — real or contrived.  The enforcers must at least be moderately convinced that their actions will contribute to societal order.

Historically, these mass violations of rights have occurred during times of crisis or war.  These are the situations in which troops can be most easily convinced that restricting the liberties of the people is actually for their own good.  Indeed, it could happen here.  And it has.

In 1775, during a time of palpable civil unrest among the colonies, the Massachusetts governor ordered soldiers to confiscate firearms from civilians in the interest of thwarting a rebellion.

Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln.

In 1861, after rejecting the power of states to peacefully secede from the Union, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act, thus authorizing federal troops to confiscate firearms from civilians in preparation for military reconquest of the South.

In 1890, during the height of the American Indian “relocation” effort, U.S. troops disarmed the Lakota people en masse “for their own safety and protection” as they were corralled into their new home.  Most of the tribe was massacred when a deaf Lakota man refused to surrender his rifle to the federal soldiers.

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt used a foreign attack on an American territory to justify the mass confiscation of guns and other property from thousands of people deemed “enemy aliens” all over the United States.  After the confiscation, these disarmed individuals were rounded up and placed in concentration camps.

As history shows, tumultuous situations present the best opportunities to annihilate civil liberties.  Often, a hysterical populace — especially one in fear of physical safety and security — will show little resistance to forfeiture of individual rights.

A Case Study

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans became a veritable disaster area and was rife with violence and vandalism.  The government’s solution was to launch a wholesale gun confiscation effort in the city — door-to-door.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared that the city was under a state of “martial law” and proceeded to sic his enforcers on the innocent public with the usual excuses of preserving public safety and order.   Police Superintendent Eddie Compass’ chilling words still echo in the memories of many:

House-to-house gun confiscation during Hurricane Katrina (Source: ABC)

House-to-house gun confiscation during Hurricane Katrina (Source: ABC)

“There’s a martial law declaration in place that gives us legal authority for mandatory evacuations,” Compass said.  “No one will be able to be armed. We will take all weapons. Only law enforcement will be allowed to have guns.”

Cops and National Guard units went door-to-door — with their own guns drawn — to steal the means of protection from innocent homeowners and shopkeepers.  More than 1,000 firearms were seized, and untold numbers of people, houses, and vehicles were aggressively searched in the process.  Residents who had already suffered the hardships of the hurricane were left battered, violated, and defenseless by the government.

Victims of the Katrina confiscation say that they had government rifles trained on them until they surrendered their firearms.  Their property was stolen without due process, without receipts, damaged, and often never returned.  The enforcers went so far as to punch an elderly woman in the face while taking her unloaded revolver.   Homeowners were then either left to fend for themselves unarmed, or taken to a filthy FEMA-run refugee camp inside the local football stadium.

Following the disaster, the government promised that gun confiscation will never happen again.  But such guarantees aren’t worth the paper they are printed on during a crisis situation.  The guarantees in the constitution are certainly have not been upheld — why should one more resolution to prevent future gun confiscation?

The Next Gun Confiscation

(Source: Erik Kellar)

(Source: Erik Kellar)

It is clear that the lingering possibility of another door-to-door gun confiscation cannot be discounted.  Americans must carefully guard their liberties in any future war, terrorist attack, natural disaster, or incidence of of civil unrest.  Although the scope and duration of such confiscation orders has been limited thus far in America’s brief history, other countries can attest that this is not always the case.  The results for those involved is often devastating or deadly.

In lieu of a drastic emergency situation, mass confiscation of this sort would be politically challenging.  What may appear instead is a more gradual creep of restrictions and regulations that are not limited in scope or duration.  While the climactic “confiscation order” paints the most lurid image in our minds, it is the slow, meticulous strangulation of individual liberties that has proven to produce the most enduring results.

The two methods are sold to the public under the same pretenses of safety and order.  However, the incremental method is less alarming to the public, meaning it will cause less likelihood of resistance.   Over time, the tremendous restrictions on what was once called an inalienable right begin to seem normal to the average government-educated citizen.

It begins with laws similar to those already being passed in certain states:  owning firearms requires registration; carrying requires a permit; certain guns are banned; certain magazines and accessories are banned; certain ammunition types are banned; lists of “prohibited persons” are created.   Violations of such arbitrary rules often result in felony charges and years in prison — and a lifetime revocation of rights.

The growing list of gun control measures provides a basis to sic the enforcers on the citizens.  The oppression of citizens’ constitutionally enumerated rights becomes normalized for both the cops and those affected by the law.

To understand what comes next, look at the War on Drugs. One by one, people will be investigated and arrested for breaking the law.

Don’t expect militias to gloriously repel the tyranny. More likely, it will be a collection of seemingly isolated stories of people getting SWAT-teamed in the middle of the night.

Many innocent people will have their lives ruined, spend thousands of dollars getting wrung through the court system, spend years in prison, and live as life-long felons.  To boot, they never again have a vote to change the system.

People will read about it in the newspaper and rationalize the tyranny like they always have. “They shouldn’t have broken the law,” they’ll say. “If you don’t like our laws, move to Somalia.”

And things will go on like that, and it will become normal. People will wave their flags and sing songs about how free they are, as their fellow citizens rot in prison for doing nothing more than exercising their right to keep and bearing arms.

This strategy has worked effectively for decades in the War on Drugs.  If cops can be convinced to kick in doors and raid homes over plant leaves and other arbitrary drug contraband, they can certainly be convinced to do the same for so-called caches of “assault weapons” and “illegal guns.”

Observe what American cops are willing to do to keep people from getting high:

It Has Already Begun

The incremental method of subverting the right to bear arms is well underway.   All of the aforementioned gun control laws are already in place in many states.  The normalization process has begun.

Connecticut now demands gun owners register their weapons or become felons.  A new law prohibits over 100 firearm models, 10+ round magazines, and certain bullets.  It also prohibits private sales of guns without reporting to the government and creates a database of people denied their rights without due process (medical reasons).

The highly restrictive state of New York makes it a crime to load more than 7 bullets in a magazine.  New York City cops are working to disarm specifically targeted of gun owners for arbitrary reasons determined by the government.

California has its own team of full-time gun confiscation agents that go address to address seizing guns from those people the state considers “prohibited persons.”

In Washington D.C., a businessman named Mark Witaschek recently suffered a violent SWAT team raid on his family because the government claimed he had “unregistered ammunition.”

In New Jersey, a man named Brian Aitken had his world destroyed and parental rights destroyed when he was convicted of keeping his legally owned property in his vehicle for too long.  In Massachusetts, a college student is currently facing up to 10 years in prison for simply owning a standard rifle magazine.

In these states and more, what should be viewed as a sacred right has been eroded down to a retractable privilege issued by the government.  The laws Americans are being acclimated to today will someday make it easy for government to commit a mass-collection of firearms when the next opportunity arises.


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