For the love of God, stop fantasizing about a war between US citizens and their military

In 2018, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) casually asserted the United States military could easily crush those who refuse to surrender their rifles to the state.

Not long after, President Joe Biden said nearly the same thing when he scoffed at the idea of an armed citizenry serving as a check on the might of the federal government.

This sentiment that the U.S. military could easily overwhelm a non-compliant public, particularly gun owners, lives on as a point of serious discussion in certain political circles.

After all, what is the pro- Second Amendment crowd going to do about a military-backed gun confiscation program? Oppose the fiercest fighting force in the world with nothing more than body armor and AR-15s?

I’m begging you all, please, stop this. The thing you’re fantasizing about is called sectarian violence. Put aside the question of whether U.S. service members will comply with an order to confiscate rifles forcibly. Put aside the question of whether U.S. service members will agree to engage in armed conflict with fellow citizens (it wouldn’t be the first time). These miss the point. The point is the fantasy that the U.S. military agrees to a forced confiscation program and that gun owners are obliterated in an attempt to resist by force of arms.

A conflict between the U.S. military and those who refuse to give up their civilian rifles would not be quick. It would not be “mostly peaceful,” as the popular media euphemism goes. It certainly would not be bloodless. Indeed, forced door-to-door confiscation would undoubtedly lead to a great deal of death and brutality (if you think no-knock raids involving local police departments are dangerous, just wait until actual branches of the Department of Defense start kicking in doors). Things would only get worse from there. It would devolve into outright sectarian violence, which is and always will be hell on earth.


Ask the Northern Irish. Ask the Syrians. Ask the Rwandans.

Yet, despite history and a preponderance of evidence demonstrating just how costly and deadly these types of conflicts can be, some still wonder whether it would be so bad to pit the U.S. military against those persistent right-wing gun fetishists.

I assure you it would.

A conflict between U.S. gun owners and their own military would not be anything like “kinetic action” in far-off Afghanistan. It would not be as simple as calling in a drone strike on some remote mountain location thousands of miles away.

A fight between the citizenry and the government would create a warzone where the people work just as hard as the state to figure out where their antagonists, their friends, and their families live. It’s easy to think the conflict would be quick and one-sided. Just call in a drone strike! Quick and one-sided — until, that is, the drone operator receives a package in the mail containing the remains of his parents. And that’s after his other family members go missing.

This is how sectarian violence works. The warzone is where you live. 

Do the people daydreaming about unleashing the U.S. military on gun owners sincerely believe it’ll be easy to clear out Appalachia or the hollers of Kentucky? These are already nightmare scenarios for combat infantry, and they would only get worse once the “I just wanted to be left alone” crowd gets involved, which would almost certainly happen after otherwise uninterested or less-passionate citizens see the military turned on their neighbors.

The conflict may have started with the DOD pitted against just a small gathering of true, hardcore believers, but the opposition would swell once the calmer factions experienced the violence inflicted upon their communities by the fight between the opposition and the military. And the calmer factions would not even have to experience violence directly to feel compelled to join. They would join if for no other reason than self-preservation. Having tanks roll through your hometown will do that.

And yet, it gets worse.

An all-out shooting war would unquestionably go in the military’s favor. They have the tools and the know-how. But this is not how it would play out. Retribution and retaliation on a smaller scale would be the strategy. When the feds pull a Waco on a community center in, say, Missouri, the other side will bomb a federal building. When the feds kill a number of combatants in battle or imprison suspected collaborators, the other side will figure out where the generals’ families live. This is to say nothing of the damage to infrastructure and the havoc a prolonged conflict would wreak on supply lines, resources, and more. This goes on like this until one side is too exhausted to keep going. Which side will that be? The guy just following orders or the guy who lost his neighborhood to a drone strike?

Again, hell on earth.

This argument goes both ways. For the Second Amendment absolutist who says his AR-15 is what stands between him and tyranny: Think hard before engaging in armed conflict against the U.S. military. Do you really think you’re going to Swamp Fox the Marines, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force? Perhaps you’ll survive. You may even win — but that’s only after the feds raze your hometown.

So, please, I’m begging everyone, from the bottom of my heart: Stop fantasizing about this nonsense. It would not be quick. It would not be painless. You are daydreaming about something great and terrible, something in which you, your family, your friends, your representatives, and your colleagues will all be fair game for death.

Becket Adams is the program director of the National Journalism Center.

Close Menu