I’ve mostly ignored the “Prags” v. “Threepers” divide in the gun rights activists community. But then after making this post the comments lead to one thing, another, then another. Sebastian got more than a little sarcastic. So now I think it is time for me to say something.
It maybe true that I don’t have much chance of breaking new ground but I’m going to try.
First let me attempt to define the position staked out by the “combatants”. Because I have been mostly ignoring the “battle” I may not have this quite right so please feel free to correct me if I misrepresent someone.
The position of the “Threepers” is that the line has been drawn in the sand here and now. Not one further inch (or millimeter) of infringement will be allowed. If further restrictions are made then it will be resisted. That resistance may be passive such as refusing to comply with registration or licensing. That resistance may be subversive as in smuggling or participation in a black market. Or in the face of forced compliance they will actively resist using armed force if necessary. Quoting the primary advocate for this position:
We will not disarm.
You cannot convince us.
You cannot intimidate us.
You can try to kill us, if you think you can.
But remember, we’ll shoot back.
And we are not going away.
The origin of the name “Threeper” is also of potential interest and comes from the same site as linked to above:
During the American Revolution, the active forces in the field against the King’s tyranny never amounted to more than 3% of the colonists. They were in turn actively supported by perhaps 10% of the population. In addition to these revolutionaries were perhaps another 20% who favored their cause but did little or nothing to support it. Another one-third of the population sided with the King (by the end of the war there were actually more Americans fighting FOR the King than there were in the field against him) and the final third took no side, blew with the wind and took what came.
Three Percenters today do not claim that we represent 3% of the American people, although we might. That theory has not yet been tested. We DO claim that we represent at least 3% of American gun owners, which is still a healthy number somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million people. History, for good or ill, is made by determined minorities. We are one such minority. So too are the current enemies of the Founders’ Republic. What remains, then, is the test of will and skill to determine who shall shape the future of our nation.
The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act. Three Percenters say quite explicitly that we will not obey any futher circumscription of our traditional liberties and will defend ourselves if attacked. We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders’ Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.
We are the people that the collectivists who now control the government should leave alone if they wish to continue unfettered oxygen consumption. We are the Three Percent. Attempt to further oppress us at your peril. To put it bluntly, leave us the hell alone. Or, if you feel froggy, go ahead AND WATCH WHAT HAPPENS.
The pragmatists or “Prags” are those that take essentially the default position of political activists for defenders of the 2nd Amendment and liberty in general. The term “Prag” is used primarily as a derogatory term by the “Threepers” and hence are mostly defined and identified by them rather than the “Prags” self-identifying as such.
The position of the “Prags” is now is not the time to take up arms to regain or defend our lost rights. Even publically discussing such action is “scaring the white people” and as such is counter productive. “Threepers” might claim the “Prags” will never take up arms and will be do nothing more than grumble no matter how oppressive government becomes. Some defenders of the “Prag” position might claim that the threshold for using force exists but we just aren’t there yet. If nothing else when they are “loading up the box cars headed for the camps” or they start going door to door to collect arms they will start shooting.
I am of the opinion that both sides have valid claims advantages for their positions and both have valid criticisms of the other side. I am also of the opinion the effort spent squabbling with each other would be better spent on other endeavors and perhaps the best of both sides can be synthesized into something better than either.
Neither psychology nor politics are my specialty but I am of the opinion the “Threepers” are overlooking something in the psyche of the U.S. population and are making a tactical error.
They have some things right, such as a lot of anger and resentment which exists at the excessive government and the massive infringement of liberty. The thing I think they are overlooking, or at least excessively discounting, is that people in the U.S. have by history and principle, perhaps unarticulated and even subconsciously, have near zero tolerance for bullies and hypocrits. I know they believe of themselves and advocate from a position of standing up to government bullies but I fear it will be far too easy for the media and the government to spin the “Threepers” position as the bullies and hypocrites. They can be spun as bullies because they are willing to use force to get their way.
They can be spun as hypocrites because they insist the government adhere to the constitutional restriction on government powers but reject legal restrictions on them even though those restrictions have passed through legislative debate and vote, executive signing, and judicial review.
The bully aspect brings up another concern. The people in power will take exceptional offense because they self selected to acquire those positions of power and are very jealous of it–they have at least a little and in many cases a lot of bully in them. To challenge them, to make them look impotent will cause them to expend far more resources than if it were some ordinary person that was injured or had their property damaged. Think of the laws that punish those that injury or kill law enforcement and government officials compared to those that punish people that don’t draw a government paycheck. The resourced devoted to “bring the perpetrators to justice” will be far, far, more than those devoted to catching and punishing someone that committed the same injury against a private citizen. There may be claims of “equal protection under the law” but there are different laws that apply and a much different attitude is there to back it up. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
The tactical error I think they are making is publically identifying themselves. Even if they use aliases and handles unless they take some rather extreme OPSEC precautions they can be easily tracked down. If there is an “incident” in a particular geographical area that has anything close to a flavor resembling something from a “Threeper” website or email there is going to be a relatively short list of “people of interest”. With the disproportionate resources devoted to “the problem” the chances of getting away with it are much lower and will discourage others from attempting something similar. This last claim may be a bit weak because depending on the circumstances and type of coverage the “incident” gets it is possible martyrs will gain sympathy for the movement. But I think it is extremely risky to count on this. Law enforcement and politicians in particular will be able to sense the risk of sympathetic martyrs and do their best to avoid that scenario. Drug dealers get near zero public sympathy even though a case could be made that they are exercising an infringed upon liberty. I claim “gun dealers” are a very short distance from “drug dealers” in the hands of skilled propagandists manipulating public opinion.
The “Prags” are correct that progress is being made via political and judicial processes. D.C. v. Heller over throwing the D.C. ban on handgun possession is the crown jewel of this. It was a political process that watered down the ’94 “assault weapon” ban to have an expiration date and the requirement that effectiveness studies be done. It was political processes that prevented the AWB from being renewed. It was political processes that restored our right to carry self-defense tools in National Parks.
As successful as the “Prags” have been in the last decade that could all be wiped out in another decade or two. Think of the widespread drug use in the 1960s which was essentially ignored by police and politicians. By 1980 we had much harsher laws and SWAT teams were breaking down doors with no-knock warrants (at least at the Federal level created because of the risk of drug evidence being destroyed see also here). Do you think it couldn’t happen? How many drug users were there in the 1960s compared to gun owners today? With the wrong people on the Supreme Court and/or the wrong poster children challenging the laws the “reasonable regulation” language of the Heller decision could result in Federal laws that mirror the gun laws of New Jersey where “When dealing with guns, the citizen acts at his peril.”
The questions that have to be asked of the “Prags” are, 1) “What is your threshold at which you will tolerate no more infringements and take up arms to defend them?” And 2) “If you are fully committed to only the defined political and judicial processes then how can you say you are not condemning our children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren to a life of perpetual servitude?” Remember the words of Winston Churchill.
Reader Rob recently asked me in email, “Has there been any time in history where a government once having usurped human rights, has returned them without blood shed to regain them?” He proposed this as a “cousin” to my Just One Question. I managed to poke some minor holes in his implied assertion but I think the point is mostly valid. Infringed rights extinguished for a generation are probably going to go extinct. Think of machine guns in this country and handguns in the U.K. the odds are very slim that those will be regained via political and/or judicial processes. If the “Prags” say they will take up arms “if the conditions are right” then there really isn’t that much difference between the “Prags” and the “Threepers”. It’s only a matter of where they each draw the line and how publically they do it.
As a self-defense firearms instructor one of the most important lessons I try to teach my students is to draw a line in advance of actually needing to use deadly force. As John Clifford once convinced me of in a private conversation is that “When you draw your gun is far more important than how fast you draw it.” If you don’t know when to draw it the “game” will be over without you drawing. You must “draw a line in the sand” and stick to it or you might as well not have a gun at all. I think this probably applies on the larger scale of government tyranny. What went through the minds of the Jews in Germany during the 1930s or the gun owners in the U.K. as they suffered one infringement after another? Wasn’t their surrender without a fight a failure to “draw a line in the sand” and stick to it?
Assuming these observations and conjectures are true what conclusions can be reached? I claim the following:
- As long as the “Prags” are making progress there is little or nothing to be gained by a pure “Threeper” philosophy
- The “Threeper” mindset of preparation and training if expressed in terms of firearms sports (USPSA, IPDA, Steel Challenge, and even Boomershoot) and disaster preparedness can be almost as useful in preparing for an armed conflict
- Firearm sports as training exercises will give plausible deniability and enable the recruitment of far more people than an open declaration of hostility to government infringements backed up with threats of violence
- The mindset of a gun enthusiast is nearly incompatible with that of statist determined to infringe the rights of others–the more gun enthusiasts we can recruit the more liberty lovers we will have recruited
- All people should “draw their line in the sand” but such lines should be kept, for the most part, private
- If people take action after their line has been crossed it should be in such a way that it maximizes the chances of getting away with it
But the most important claim I make is probably not obvious and is the opposite tactic of that by all other groups that I know of in this country that have used violence to further their aims. If illegal action is taken it should be in such a manner that the political goals are hidden to the greatest extent practical. Earth First taking credit for property destruction does not further their cause. People in the U.S. do not respond well to threats. I believe the same applies to “Threepers”.
If you decide it is time to take action it will be better for the action to appear as an accident, motivated by personal (is that judge who is hostile to gun rights sleeping with someone’s wife?) rather than political reasons or even the action of your enemy. Even if the action were to be the destruction of multiple parking lots filled with ATF vehicles it is better to let the motivation for the action to be ambiguous (was it politically motived by the laws restricting alcohol, or tobacco, or firearms, or explosives, or rocketry, or one of any other number of special interest groups?) than for credit to be taken. Politically it will be much easier for both friends and enemies in government to change government behavior to comply with your wishes if they can believe it wasn’t because of the illegal activities of activists they are conforming with. How will they know what needs to be done to stop the pain? They’ll know. They aren’t stupid. They can connect the dots and form reasonable hypothesizes to act on from just two and certainly three hostile events (two points define a line, three confirm it). But the mindset of the U.S. people will not allow them to act on those hypothesizes if they are fully confirmed by someone taking credit or getting caught and their affiliation revealed. And even if they don’t move the government in a friendly direction if the action reduces the resources available for infringement of liberties it is still a net win.