The purpose of this article is not to declare why guns aren't needed, or that people shouldn't have access to them. Rather it is simply to illustrate the alternative means through which power, true, despotic, repressive government power, has been beaten back multiple times through nonviolent measures and movements.
During the 20th century, nonviolent political movements altered opinions on power which evolved dramatically away from long-held narrative that any projection of power was solely contingent on a monopoly of force. The consent of those under the auspices of a given power has proven to be more powerful than any automatic weapon.
The following is an excerpt from the 2006 book, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, which chronicles the successful challenges to some of the most notorious dictatorships in recent history. From 1900 to 2006, in 323 cases, nonviolent measures were successful 53 percent of the time compared to a 26 percent “success rate” among violent uprisings.
Here are some gleeming examples from Ackerman and DuVall's work:
In 1905 an Orthodox priest, Georgii Gapon, persuaded 150,000 workers to walk the icy streets of Russia's ancient capital in the 20th century's first public challege to autocratic power. He ignited the mass action nationwide that lead to the country's first popularly elected national parliament.Continuing this trend into the 21st century, beginning in the spring of 2011 the dictators of several Middle Eastern nations were disposed through what was, widely, a nonviolent wave moving through the region in what has been dubbed the “Arab Spring”.
After the world war that opened the door to the Bolshevik takeover in Russia and imposed reparations on Germany, miners and railway workers in the Ruhr in 1923 confronted invading French and Belgian soldiers who were sent to extract German resources. They refused to cooperate and thwarted the invaders' goals until the British and Americans pressed for the troops' withdrawal.
In 1930-1931 Mohandas Gandhi led mass civil disobedience against the British in India. He convinced his followers to stop paying salt taxes and cease buying cloth and liquor monopolized by the raj, intensifying his nation's long, successful drive to independence.
Danish citizens during the German occupation in World War II refused to aid the Nazi war effort and brought their cities to a standstill in the summer of 1944, forcing the Germans to end curfews and blockades; other European peoples under Nazi occupation resisted nonviolently as well.
Salvadoran students, doctors, and merchants, fed up with the fear and brutality visited on their country by a longtime military dictator, organized a civi strike in 1944. Without picking up a single gun, they detached the general from his closest supporters, including members of the military, and forced him into exile.
Less than ten years after the British left India, a Baptist preacher from Georgia, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., following Gandhi's teachings, led his fellow African Americans on a fifteen-year campaign of marches and boycotts to overthrow racial segregation in the American South.
A few years after Dr. King was assassinated, Polish dissidents defied communist rule by initiating new forms of social action rarely seen in the Soviet bloc. Later workers struck and won the right to organize, giving rise to Solidarity and eventually the end of communism.
As change was brewing in Poland, a group of Argentinian mothers, outraged by their government's silence about the disappearance of their sons, started marching in the central plaza of Buenos Aires. They did not stop until the legitimacy of the country's military junta was undermined, leading to its downfall after the debacle of the Falkland Islands War.
As the generals fell in Argentina, General Augusto Pinochet, across the Andes in Chile, faced a surging popular movement that mounted a series of protests of his dictatorship. Ultimately they overturned him through a plebiscite he was not supposed to lose.
Half a world away, after Ferdinand Marcos stole an election in the Philippines in 1986, the widow of an assassinated opposition leader led hundreds of thousands into the streets. Supporting a rebellion by reform-minded military officers, they deprived the dictator of any chance to hold power by force, and he fled the country.
Not long after the Filipinos reclaimed their democracy, Palestinians challenged Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by organizing protests and boycotts and by building their own network of social services. This wave of nonviolent resistance became the largest if least visible part of the intifada.
While Solidarity continued its fight, boycott organizers, trade unions, and religious leaders in South Africa joined to wage a nonviolent campaign against apartheid. Along with international sanctions, they helped force the freeing of Nelson Mandela and negotiations for a democratic future.
Days after the Berlin Wall fell, thousands of Czech students sat down at the edge of Wenceslas Square in Prague chanting, “We have no weapons...the world is watching.” In weeks the communist regime and others like it in East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and even Mongolia were gone.
In the 1990s, a Burmese mother, Aung San Suu Kyi, led her country's democracy movement while under house arrest, as young Burmese were bolstered in their struggle by a new worldwide cohort of nonviolent activists and practitioners.
In 1996 and 1997, tens of thousands of Serbian citizens marched through the streets of Belgrade to protest the refusal of President Slobodan Milosevic to honor the results of local elections, until he finally capitulated – and in 1999 they returned to the streets to demand his removal.
Gun rights aside, one's best weapon against oppression is their own resolution to not be oppressed as recognized authority depends completely on the premise that you recognize it. If a growing number do not see a respective power or authority as legitimate, that changes everything.
If a police officer orders you to move, and you refuse, you pose a direct challenge to that police officer's recognized authority. And if your sentiments are widely held, and reinforced through previous police brutality, or government/corporate corruption, you form a bloc of power by yourself (“people power”) the second you act on it.
The late historian and activist Howard Zinn once said, “Protest beyond the law is not departure from democracy, it is absolutely essential to it.” You don't need to live in a democratic society to engage in direct democracy, or to advance democratic reform; democracy is an inherently revolutionary concept in its foundation in realizing self-determination.
This is where the nonviolent aspect comes in, and has come in. When people deny, through nonviolent means, a just reason for the state to act violently against you, they already know what will happen as nobody likes seeing police and military engage in bloodshed against unarmed civilians. To the contrary, violence induces anxiety among those less inclined to take up arms. A violent response to authority can easily be turned against the lesser entity, however noble the intent.
Nonviolence has changed our sensibilities. We may not even realize it. To a greater extent, Marxism, socialism, and especially anarchy have also had impacts that we have long forgotten the roots of in the sense of reconfiguring how we view relationships of power between individuals. The economic impacts of these philosophies is not what's being argued here; only the way through which these things have challenged the traditionally top-down views of the world.
Nonviolence has helped us reach a new understanding of power, and throughout its history we have come to re-evaluate human life. Nobody wants to live under a dictator, presumably.
The main point is that nonviolence works. It has worked. It has evolved and that flexibility has been key, as demonstrated, but there are literally hundreds of methods of nonviolent direct action. And it will continue to work. Gun rights or not.