Thinking about some American history today, specifically the beginning of the American Revolution. This scene from Blackhawk Down is eerily similar to the battles of Lexington and Concord over two hundred years ago. Instead of British Red Coats, American soldiers are thrust into the role of fighting the local militia with very similar results. While the American Rangers surely dished out more punishment than the Somali’s did, the end of the battle was a political defeat for the United States just like the American Revolution was ultimately a defeat for the British Empire. This battle also demonstrates the power an armed population that’s willing to fight and die for their beliefs, can bring to bear against a modern fighting force.
The story of the battles of Lexington and Concord are fundamental to the way we view ourselves as Americans. The legend of “the shot heard round the world” was even enshrined in the beloved kids series “Schoolhouse Rock”. It also illustrates an important lesson about gun control and our Second Amendment. Elements of the British Army who were occupying the colonies at the time were sent to the towns of Lexington and Concord with a twofold mission- first to capture Patriot leaders John Adams and John Hancock who were rumored to be in the vicinity. Second, they were to seize and destroy colonist’s arms and gunpowder stored in the armory in Concord. Fortunately, the Americans were tipped off beforehand by the local Patriot intelligence network and had moved or destroyed much of the arms cache and supplies.
When the British soldiers arrived in Lexington, confusion, and skirmishing resulted in a full-blown running battle between the British soldiers (the Regulars) as they were known and the colonial militia including multiple companies of Minutemen. The result was a lopsided British rout at the hands of the militia. Hundreds of the Kings troops were killed in the fighting against less than one hundred militia lost. A high priority of the raid for the British were the colonist’s cannons hidden in local fields along with powder and shot. What the colonist didn’t move was destroyed by the soldiers:
“Using the detailed information provided by Loyalist spies, the grenadier companies searched the small town for military supplies. When the grenadiers arrived at Wright’s Tavern, they found the door barred shut, and the tavernkeeper refused entry. According to reports provided by local Tories, Pitcairn knew cannon had been buried on the property. Holding the tavern keeper at gunpoint, he ordered him to show him where the cannon was buried. The grenadiers burned some gun carriages found in the village meetinghouse, and when the fire spread to the meetinghouse itself, the soldiers and residents joined forces in a bucket brigade to save the building. Nearly a hundred barrels of flour and salted food, and 550 pounds of musket balls, were thrown into the millpond. All the spiked cannon were repaired the next day, (those with broken trunnions and hammered muzzles were not, however) and all the shot was also recovered. Barrett’s house had been an arsenal weeks before, but few weapons remained now, and these were, according to family legend, quickly buried in furrows to look like a crop had been planted.”
What we can derive from this account is highly relevant to understanding the importance of the Second Amendment and why it was written the way it was. First, we see the value of intelligence when resisting a government bent on oppressing its own people. All successful rebellions depend on information networks, informants and spies. In this case, the colonists were able to thwart and rout a vastly superior force by using their intelligence networks to develop the information on the British mission and objectives.
In the story of Blackhawk Down, the American Rangers likewise stage a raid to capture a Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. But the mission was compromised when the Somali spy network raised the alarm summoning the local militia. Burning tires and hand-held radios allowed the Somali’s to rally much like the American Colonial militia did that day at Lexington and Concord. Even the Ranger’s retreat from the city, the legendary “Mogadishu Mile” bears a stunning resemblance to the British retreat back to Boston with Americans sniping and harassing them along the way.
Luckily Patriot leaders Adams and Hancock were able to escape allowing them to play their parts in the Revolution. (Eerily, Mohammed aidid also escaped the raid in Mogadishu) Critical supplies were also able to be removed, hidden or even destroyed making the British mission a futile exercise resulting in heavy losses for little gain. This story also illustrates why firearms registration should be resisted at every turn. The British targeted Concord because they KNEW in advance there was a Patriot armory there. In any government crackdown, it’s an enormous benefit to the government to have lists of targets, like gun owners.
There is another aspect of this story many would like to overlook or dismiss from today’s debate- the weapons involved. The British and Patriots were both equipped with small arms, smoothbore muskets, the assault rifles of their day. At the time there was no debate about the ownership of private arms in America. The tactics of the British Crown prior to and during the Revolution made firearms ownership a major point of discussion during the framing of the Constitution. So important was the provision guaranteeing personal ownership of firearms that it became the second item in our Bill of Rights right behind freedom of religion and speech.
Our Founding Fathers knew that cannons were held in private hands under the control of the militia. The militia does not report to the government as this battle clearly illustrates, rather formed up in opposition to the King. So, when gun control advocates say the Second Amendment doesn’t allow you to own a tank in one breath, yet in another claim that it only applies to the militia… they can’t have it both ways. The colonial militia had assault weapons and cannons and used them on government troops.