Martial Law = Gun Confiscation? One Big Reason Why it is Unlikely

Martial Law Gun Confiscation

Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Bolo.

Many Prepper and survivalist web sites contain an abundance of material about the likelihood of gun confiscation in the aftermath of a major disaster. The general premise is that government agencies and/or military units will be going door to door after a declaration of martial law to forcibly deprive you of weapons and ammunition. You resist – you die, or end up in a prison cell on the back side of some undocumented FEMA camp in the middle of nowhere; or so the theory goes.

Unfortunately, the distinction between local or regional disasters, such as a hurricane or earthquake, and a wider SHTF or “end of the world as we know it” event, are rarely made. In any historic disaster that you can name, government has always continued to function at both the state and federal levels. A varied collection of mostly nameless bureaucratic agencies have always been able to respond to a recognized need. The degree to which they were timely in their response, or even effective, is not an issue. The point is that a constituted and functional government (the people who you think you elected), were responding to a recognized need because they had a political motivation or statutory obligation to do so.

Most frequently cited in Prepper articles is the warning that gun confiscation is an inevitable consequence of a declaration of martial law. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement personnel were, in fact, going door to door to confiscate firearms. There were numerous highly qualified Search and Rescue teams that refused to go to New Orleans because they were not allowed to carry firearms for their own protection.

If the entire system were to suddenly go sideways, what is the probability of an enforceable martial law declaration, followed by gun confiscation? For example, if a solar coronal mass ejection (CME) event took out the entire national power grid could you realistically expect an army platoon to break through your front door in search of firearms, ammo and surplus food? I think not.


In order for martial law to be effective, you must first have a means of declaring it to the general populace. Second, you must have a means of enforcing it. The absence of either factor renders the declaration a moot point. Even without a means of communication, citizens will realize that a major catastrophe has happened. If there are no lights on at city hall, it won’t take a genius to figure out that civilization has gone south. Without a means of communication (TV, radio, Internet, posters on telephone poles, etc.) there is no way the general populace would know that martial law has been declared.

Second, if the command and control communications infrastructure has been disabled, government will have no ability to issue notifications or orders to law enforcement agencies (federal, state, county or local). By using the term “infrastructure,” I refer to computer based network communications, the ability to transmit communiqués via radio, the ability to contact and muster enforcement personnel, and essential coordination of resources. Stated a bit more directly, Fort Bliss will not dispatch a battalion of troops from the 1st Armored Division to Albuquerque, New Mexico (a distance of 225 air miles) to confiscate your firearms. They won’t be doing it in Humvees, M1-A1 tanks or Blackhawk helicopters. And they most assuredly won’t be on foot.

Finally, the enforcement of martial law (including gun confiscation) presupposes that county and local law enforcement personnel will be willing to carry it out on a national scale. It is one thing to suppress looters and arsonists, but requiring the military or state/county law enforcement to confiscate 350 million legally owned firearms is an entirely different proposition; especially if they are faced with determined resistance. Importantly, there are an increasing number of county sheriffs across the U.S. that have gone on record to refuse cooperation with federal initiatives that would lead to gun confiscation.

Doing house to house searches – whether vacant or occupied – is a very time-consuming and labor intensive process; not to mention the risks involved. Based on national averages, patrol officers number about 2 per 1,000 residents across the country. In rural communities, that number may be as low as one per thousand. In crime ravaged cities like Chicago, Washington DC and Baltimore, it can exceed four per thousand. When you consider housing and population density in urban areas, gun confiscation would be a daunting task to assign to any police force.

Martial Law has routinely been implemented in other countries.

Excluding overseas deployments, the number of active duty Army and Marines in the contiguous U.S. is significantly less than 500,000. That is less than 1.5% of the entire population. The number of Army/Marine personnel that would be trained and equipped to deprive you of your personal defense weapons would actually be less than one per 10,000 population. Within a matter of days, every state-side military installation will be in the same situation that you will face: No gasoline, no diesel or jet fuel for vehicles or aircraft, no resupply for commissaries or mess halls, and no direction from the federal or state branches of government. They will be eating MREs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If the grid is down for you, it will be down for them, too. If you don’t have fuel, or if the semiconductor circuits in your vehicle have been fried, do you think the military will escape a similar fate? You can think of it as an ‘equal opportunity’ form of calamity.

A More Probable Scenario

In my view, the disintegration of government and the abandonment of Constitutional rule of law would rapidly lead to a collapse of civil order. Without a functioning government, looting, arson and home invasions would erupt within hours – if not minutes – in major population centers. Any form of effective law enforcement (civil or military) would quickly evaporate. Instead, as the realization that civilization as we know it has come to an end, local communities and individuals would institute their own versions of martial law, but in a distinctly reverse manner.

The important distinction is that communities would be relying on citizen’s firearms to prevent being overwhelmed by refugees and looters. In other words, if you are inside the compound or town limits, and have possession of a firearm, you will be a defensive asset to the community. Moreover, local law enforcement will likely be aiding your collective defense. The enemy will be on the outside of the barricade.

In a total SHTF scenario, I believe that you are far more likely to be engaged in defending your family, property or survival community from raiders than you would be from government-backed confiscators of your weapons. The more tangible danger is from a still-functioning government that has abandoned Constitutional rule of law.

  1. Very good arguments. If a populace were faced with choosing between either a) meekly surrendering their weapons and therefore their personal self-determination, or b) defending themselves, their families, their property, and their self-determination from “adversaries” — uniformed or otherwise — the choice would seem to be obvious to me. But our friends in Australia have already gone down that road and many of them gave up their weapons, grudgingly or otherwise. I am indeed comforted to learn that reasonable, clear-thinking people like Bolo consider it unlikely that we’d have to make that choice in this country. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, but I assure you that I have little confidence in government’s commitment to the Constitution. I am merely saying that a collapse of government is likely to render them incapable of imposing a program of gun confiscation. We will still be in very deep yogurt…

      1. Now that you see what is currently being pushed in many areas, such as:
        red flag laws
        “Asualt rifle” bans (in many cities)
        The push of hr7115
        California rep saying that he wants to use the gun registry to confinscate guns and later saying that “we have nukes” in response to someone someone saying that gun confiscation would start a war.
        And some states chamging the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 (when the army will have you give your life at the age of 18)

        Do you still feel the same today, that the government would not go against the constitution?

  2. This may be the first author who really knows how dependent our government and military is on the commercial system. In my experience in 24+ years of service, our military has a ridiculously small supply of food and fuel on hand. Ammo is stored in large supply in a very few centralized locations; most units have miniscule amounts of operational ammo on hand. I can’t speak for FEMA, because I have never worked for them, but the military will be hungry, walking, and in the dark shortly following any major infrastructure interruption.

  3. Basically I totally agree with the above article.
    Being a retired LEO and having worked during Hurricane Andrew as well as other hurricanes the staffing needs of local law enforcement immediately is cut in half with 12 hour shifts being imposed…
    Secondly, depending on the situation, calls for service will probably require actions above gun confiscation.
    Another factor is communicating the directive to “confiscate guns” working it’s way down from some high level such as POTUS …..especially if the event were of a SHTF or other nation wide event rather than a localized incident like a hurricane.
    If a EMP did happen 1 million military and 700K law enforcement personal more than likely would not be able to respond, control or “police” a nationwide situation ….
    So yes, in theory it could happen, but in reality it’s probably at best only something that can be put out for general “what if” conversation and nothing more than that….
    There simply won’t be enough people who could make it work, let alone willing to even remotely attempt to enforce it.

    1. Well said. I landed in Orlando less than two hours after the airport reopened and spent three weeks in south Florida and the Keys recovering voice and data networks for my company. On the first day, drivers were courteous, cars took turns going through intersections littered with downed power poles, and people gave the right of way to ambulances. Within 48 hours it had turned into a dog eat dog situation. I even watched cars intentionally try run over unarmed National Guard troops that were trying to provide a semblance of order in traffic intersections.

      Regarding the capacity of our military to suppress civil disorder and/or confiscate citizens’ firearms, my guess is that they will be totally preoccupied with very real external threats to our national security.

      1. during charlie which hit sw fl, the guard was carrying m 16. i was a vol with emergency management, no confrontations were reported officially or unofficially. citizens are reluctant to mess with a armed person

        1. In Andrew, the National Guard was essentially unarmed. Some had M-16’s, but no ammo. People quickly took advantage. That is why Army troops (and a strict curfew) were deployed within a few short days.

    2. We (North Dade County was suppose to take the direct hit from Andrew until it veered left about 80 miles out and went down toward Homestead and basically wipe that location off the map…..
      My city was without power for 14 days….and we went to “Alpha Bravo” shifts….12 on and 12 off and no days off….
      We put out 2 man and 3 man units to respond to and take care of calls etc…..
      We were in pretty good shape considering…..but still businesses were closed and basic necessities like food water, grocery stores where in short supply due to lack of electricity…..
      We had a lot of trees down, roads blocked and some building damaged…..
      From Miami south towards Homestead it was a different story….they were extremely hard hit and really had to struggle even for basic necessities…..
      Water was in short supply….and long lines were out there for very limited resources…
      If you recall the Federal government was also slow to respond, until the head of the Dade County Emergency Management went on TV and uttered that phase “Where the Hell is the Calvary on this”????? in reference to the lack of assistance from the Feds….
      So I know what a local even can do to a location…..
      Now I raise this question …..
      What would happen if it happened on a regional or national scale????
      What kind of shape would we be in?????
      Could assistance be had within a reasonable amount of time????
      My feelings are NO!!!!…. There is no way beyond a local even would help come…..
      On a regional or national scale were going to see that we’re royally screwed…..and only those who have prepped up on a serious scale will male it through it….all others are simply going to be SOL!!!!! sorry to say……
      Just my humble opinion here…..

  4. Good overall, Bolo. I do have one point of contention, though. The “if the grid is down for you, it’s down for them”.

    Government installations, most especially military ones, all have built in redundancies and hardened storage areas, including (not limited to) segregated power grids with back up generators w/plenty of stored fuel, underground storage tanks for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc., hardened areas to store and protect sensitive equipment from EMP damage (vehicles, aircraft, radios).

    While the government would be hampered by SHTF or TEOTWAKI, I have to believe it would be several weeks/months (years?) before they would completely collapse comparably with the general population.

    I’m pretty the worst case scenario would see military forces securing the government, it’s officials and those with political “pull” and hunkering behind their walls to let everything else burn itself out and come out after the fact to rebuild.

    1. Bolo’s article is spot on the money from my personal and professional experience. While my SHTF experiences personally and professionally are relegated to several wildfire-firestorms, a few earthquakes and one large riot, large-scale firearms confiscation is simply NOT logistically possible, Even during WWII when the Nazi Germany forces were occupying cast swathes of Europe and entire countries, they could NOT guarantee at all, that they had confiscated all firearms from the populace.during the “Cold War” the KGB, could not manage to confiscate all firearms from the mafiyah members and other disaffected members of their countries, and they knew it. Currently in the United Kingdom an extremely hostile government to it’s subjects owning or possessing any kind of firearms, it IS quite easy to gain access to full automatic firearms, for those who desire to. For those who ascribe to the Continuity of Government(COG) theories about the political elites being able to be sustained in their bunkers, indefinitely, that is also a complete fallacy. When the grid goes down, it goes down for us all, sooner or later, your fuel supplies of you huge generators will be depleted with NO means of resupply. very few FEMA vehicles or military inventory vehicles are EMP proofed and able to operate in a grid down environment for longer than 5-7 days at the most.In the history of our Republic, we’ve never had to experience a grid down environment for any extended period of time, except for SMALL areas. Nationally, it has never happened. Thus, we are not prepared for “it” to occur.
      So, Bolo again, is absolutely correct. No matter how they would try, (and I believe in SOME areas they would try) to disarm the populace, “battleground pickups” will always become available to those determined folks.The attempts at confiscation will come BEFORE any real SHTF event, IF we let them.(apologies for the rant to the choir members!)

    2. Lawrence – Good points and thanks for commenting. The thrust of my argument is that a CME/EMP event would melt transmission lines and burn out transformers on a massive scale. Nuclear and hydroelectric plants would go off line because there would be no transmission grid to put the power out to. Gas and cola fired plants would be out of business for the same reason, but also with fuel.

      This also means the refinery operations would come to a halt. At some point, any military depot is going to run out of its stock of gasoline, diesel and JP-8. I know that JP-8 requires a lot of additives, and producing it is a very specialized process. I don’t know how long it can be stored before it goes bad, but gasoline can only be stabilized for about one year. Sooner or later, the troops are going to be on foot.

      1. I agree with all of that. My only aim was to forestall readers who may believe that the gov’t will be as short-rationed as we are, as quickly.

        I agree widescale gun grabs are unlikely, but possible in localized areas (it won’t be just the government doing the confiscating, either), bit I don’t think that’s a part of the “plan”. Much easier hide securely and rebuild when the unruly masses have largely taken themselves out. Isn’t that the same plan many of us have?

      2. Gasoline a year? Sorry. In an otherwise absolutely fantastic article in which I whole heartedly agree with everything, that issue is simply incorrect. Gas can be stored years 🙂

  5. For local LE, it would not be worth the conflict. Armed communities can take care of themselves and not drain the LE resources that are left. First responders will be hit hard in any emergency.

    1. The problem I see, is that the government will not want to see local communities protecting their own, lacking a real need for federal/state support.

  6. I think a lot of the gun confiscation scenario comes from what happened during Katrina. Admittedly I never looked at the situation as Bolo put it.

    I also think what ETM1 is saying about confiscation before martial law being declared is being tried. When theres a high profile shooting at an indoctrination center, I mean school or college, the outrage is unending. But on the slaughter on the streets of major cities we hear crickets from the high and mighty.

    I think I just moved martial law declarations to the top of my “its time to bug out when…” list, lol. And all my weapons, right down to butter knives, will have been lost in a freak canoe accident.

  7. Here’s a real life scenario – another Baltimore or Ferguson – local gooberment is rolling over to the rioters/looters/arsonist due to intervention from the White House (AGAIN) …

    In this scenario, the gang has finished off the retail and is now making left/right turns into those residential areas that are both profitable and need “a lesson” ….

    Residents blockade their streets with barricades backed up with usual misc mix of weapons – firefights have erupted and the residents are taking a toll on the blessed invaders ….

    Who sees the National Guard getting orders to roll the M60 equipped Hummers for disarming the residents and opening up those streets?

  8. I can’t go into all the things that are wrong with this, I will hit the fuel part.
    National reserves ?? for the military, police and emergency vehicles.
    The authority will be active, not everywhere but in enough area’s.
    Then confiscation of fuel if necessary directly from distribution points so Authority will have ALL of the fuel available.
    command and control communications
    Anyone dumb enough to think military comms will be limited or non functional is not thinking right.
    The people who need to know will know what’s going on, orders will be given and carried out.

    If there is a confiscation people will be notified, time will be taken to collect from the willing and slowly towns will be rotated to one at a time in a wider and widening area until those area’s are mostly gun free probably starting with the city’s.

    With the “disintegration of government” military/police will control whatever area’s they choose to and you think they will allow you guns ?? they won’t want power struggles and getting shot in the back.. away with your guns.

    The above story is someones wet dream of a settling, the start of a bad dream of UN controlled utopia.

    1. For the record, the U.S. Strategic Oil Reserve is comprised of crude (not refined) oil. This reserve was less than 700 million barrels of oil as of August, 2015. That works out to a 38 day supply based on 2013 consumption rates.
      Without an operating refinery, it would never make it to your gas tank.

      1. And there you have identified priority #1 of any WROL gov plan. Get the military to 1 refinery, secure it, scavenge all parts necessary to get one running to power their machines.

  9. If a democrat wins the white house, the more likely situation would be that…if you use a gun, even in self defense, you will be arrested. If you are found to be carrying a gun, you will be put away.

  10. the New O fiasco caused by mostly the corruption of the police dept and specifically by the now in prison nagan,and the late gov. carried out the confiscation. which today has had many states pass laws prohibiting the process, if fact Fl now allows non licensed to conceal carry during declared emergency’s . and remember armed forces in the US swear to the Constitution of the United States not the president like many other countries do. plus posse comitatus as does many if not most law enforcement persons
    and unless it goes over state lines it is the governors right and responsibility to call out the state guard who follow his or hers orders.
    and today in disasters private co in fl for example Publix( all large stores have or will have gen power others will within 24 hrs., home depot lowes wal mart are part of the recovery and planning and private co are very capable as they do not relie on bureaucracy, but previously were not part of planning now they are. where some gov has failed is late callups and indecision mostly in riot situations, which require immediate and large show of force. terrorism is where gov should embrace volunteers, deputizing and training rather than the current policy of fearing gun and peppers careful vetting though

  11. One more thing I would add… With terrorism on the rise, police departments are openly admitting what the US Supreme Court ruled in 1981, that they (the police) “are not responsible for protecting the individual citizen.” This has led to a massive spike in gun sales and; with this new ownership group, there are more people than ever who now have “skin in the game.” Doubtful that any citizen will part with a firearm they just paid upwards of $900 for (or more). Not to mention hazarding one’s family for lack of a means of personal protection.

  12. all good arguments BUT what if something like MAJOR TERRORIST ATTACKS ALL OVER THE NATION AT THE SAME TIME and people start saying enough of the people that are here ILLEGALY and start taking of the problem themselves???

  13. martial law taking food and propertys casue they know they cant get shot when robbing killing and beating them.

  14. This article is rationalized fiction. Urban, suburban, rural & remote residents will have different experiences as their LOCAL SHTF situation develops.

  15. I have considered organizing a group on my street to organize and prepare to defend and assist each other during a shtf event, should i?

    1. Russell, thanks for the question and it’s one I think a lot of people have considered with the recent events. The short answer in my mind anyway is that it depends on a multitude of factors that should be considered with a heavy seriousness before you approach any other people. We will be addressing topics like this coming up in the next weeks on TPJ and I hope you will find some value in the posts and join in the conversation. I think we are in for rough times ahead and it will pay to be vigilant.

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