In 1588, the ferocious Japanese military dictator, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, ordered the notorious Sword Hunt. Throughout Japan, all swords and other weapons were confiscated from the entire population – except for the samurai warrior class that was under Hideyoshi’s iron control. The purpose of the Sword Hunt was to render the citizenry completely defenseless against Hideyoshi’s totalitarian power as enforced by the armed samurai and, in consequence, to reduce the populace to hopeless impotence against the government’s harsh impositions.
Hideyoshi’s weapons control program was extremely effective, not merely during his reign, but through succeeding eras thereafter. It reduced the non-samurai Japanese populace to a depth of abject servility and docility that can only be described as grotesque. When samurai and their daimyo overlords passed through a town or village, everyone was required to fall to their knees and bow their heads to the ground until they had passed. The samurai were entitled to slay on the spot any citizen who failed to comply. James Clavell’s brilliant novel Shogun faithfully, and disturbingly, depicts this dark reality of Japanese history.
The historical precedent of the Sword Hunt provides an ominous lesson for contemporary America. In the wake of the recent appalling murder of children in Connecticut, gun control advocates have seized on that incident as an emotional pretext to justify sweeping restrictions on the citizen’s primal and natural right of self-defense. Believing that merely invoking the horror of that atrocity gives them an unchallengeable high ground, these advocates have cast restraint to the winds, and have expanded their usual calls for restrictions on sales of so-called assault weapons to include impassioned demands for actual confiscation of firearms presently possessed by many millions of law-abiding citizens.
A more outrageous threat to the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution would be difficult to contemplate. And a more menacing parallel to Hideyoshi’s totalitarian Sword Hunt would be hard to draw. But confiscation advocates would be well advised to consider that freedom-loving gun-owners from Virginia to Texas to Pennsylvania, and indeed throughout American, bear little resemblance to the submissive Japanese peasants who bowed to Hideyoshi’s samurai. Even if the government could somehow locate the multi-millions of firearms stocked in American homes – and their attempt to do so would be hindered by the Fourth Amendment, as well as the Second – many gun owners would only surrender their arms when, and if, they could be pried “from their cold, dead hands.”
This is not to suggest that American gun-owners are inclined to engage in some form of unrealistic resort to armed resistance. But even acknowledging that reality, the bedrock principle underlying the Second Amendment remains true, and is not to be dismissed as a mere abstraction: an armed citizenry is the best guarantee against the kind of tyranny that enabled Hideyoshi and his successors to reduce the disarmed Japanese populace to a state of abject and hapless subservience. If and when government dragoons – controlled by those who possess political power at the time -- hold a complete monopoly on firearms in America, not even theoretical or potential citizen resistance will provide any deterrence against totalitarian excesses.
Cautionary tales are not always mere fiction; sometimes they point to hard truth.