Two out of three Americans see the Second Amendment as a safeguard against tyranny. What?
The notion that an individual right to bear arms guarantees the American people against government tyranny is of course an old one. Given its apparent validation in the Second Amendment of the Constitution itself, it's not surprising that the notion has survived in some way through to the 21st century. Given its defiance of history and common sense, though, what should be surprising is that it's survived to remain so widespread.
If America experienced a widespread political uprising today, it would bear little resemblance to Lexington and Concord in 1775, with well-disciplined minutemen assembling on the town square to defend liberty against the redcoats. It would more likely be a larger scale reenactment of the "Bleeding Kansas" revolt of 1854 to 1861, when small bands of armed zealots unleashed an orgy of inter-communal violence, unbounded by any laws of war or human decency.
There is, we all know, a Second Amendment right to gun ownership. Under our constitutional form of government, the Supreme Court has the authority to decide what the Constitution means, and after decades of judicial ambiguity, in District of Columbia v. Heller a majority of the justices found an individual right to gun ownership, unrelated to membership in a state militia. But the Heller decision also makes it clear that this is not an unlimited right, and that it may be subject to extensive government regulation.
A citizen uprising today would probably not involve like-minded constitutionalists taking up arms to defend democracy and liberty.
However, in recent years, the belief in widespread gun ownership as a defense against tyrannical government has become an alluring idea, gaining traction with members of Congress as well as fringe conspiracy theorists. As Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma put it just last week, "The Second Amendment wasn't written so you can go hunting, it was to create a force to balance a tyrannical force here." And if this is insufficiently incendiary, one only need look to the doctrine of the "Three Percenters," with its ominous warning that "all politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war."