"That rifle hanging on the wall
of the working-class flat or labourer's cottage
is the symbol of democracy.
It is our job to see that it stays there."


The following excerpt from ORWELL: THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, by Michael Sheldon describes Orwell's (Eric Blair's) opinion on personal gun ownership. ~ Jackie Jura


Chapter Seventeen, pages 355 - 358:

Although Orwell had enough literary work to keep him busy in 1940 - he wrote dozens of essays and reviews for at least seven different periodicals - he seemd to think that he was wasting time, and that he could accomplish no work of any value as long as the war was casting so much uncertainty over the future. 'I can't write with this sort of business going on,' he declared in the summer, 'and in a few months there is going to be such a severe paper shortage that very few books will be published. In any case I feel that literature as we have known it is coming to an end. Things look rather black at the moment.'

There was good reason for him to be concerned about the future. The Germans defeated France in June, and all the signs seemed to point to an invasion of Britain before the end of the summer. Orwell was expecting the worst, and had taken steps to make sure that he would be ready to fight the Nazi troops if they landed. In June he joined the Home Guard (originally known as the Local Defence Volunteers). These units did not need to be particular about the fitness of their men, and Orwell was welcome in the ranks because of his experience in the Spanish Civil War. He was made a sergeant in the 5th London Batallion. If enemy soldiers had ever reached the leafy streets of St John's Wood - where the 5th had its headquarters - they would have been forced to contend with a dangerous character by the name of Sergeant Blair, who was armed with a variety of homemade explosives and other lethal weapons. ('I can put up with bombs on the mantelpiece," Eileen announced one day, 'but I will not have a machine gun under the bed.')

He spent three years in the Home Guard, and though he never had to fire a shot in anger, he was prepared to put up quite a fight. He wrote articles about the proper way to train the Home Guard and the best tactics to use in street fighting. On 22 June he warned in Time and Tide  that an invasion might be only days away, and he urged that measures be taken to 'ARM THE PEOPLE'. There was a shortage of rifles, so he advocated that the Home Guard be given immediate access to all the shotguns in gunsmiths' shops, and that hand-grenades be distributed to as many men as possible. It was as though he thought he were back on the streets of Barcelona, and the only hope was to take up positions behind barricades and rooftops, with all the firepower that could be mustered at a moment's notice. "I had a front-seat view of the street fighting in Barcelona in May 1937, and it convinced me that a few hundred men with machine guns can paralyse the life of a large city.' He was reacting to a real threat, but he was somewhat cavalier about the question of arming a lot of people who might not know one end of a shotgun from the other. His best advice was, "The powers and limitations of the shotgun (with buckshot, lethal up to about sixty yards) should be explained to the public over the radio."

He prepared some detailed notes on the techniques of street fighting, and used them as a guide for lectures which he gave not only to men of his own unit but to other Home Guard units as well. Some of his tips were of questionable value. "Bombs easier to throw downstairs than up,' one note declares. Other points, however, were no doubt useful to men who had never seen any street fighting, and who would not have known the basic dangers: "Note behaviour of bullets, different from in open country. Except at very obtuse angles, nearly always ricochet. Habit of coming round corners." He took this kind of instruction very seriously, and was hopeful that the Home Guard would develop into an effective urban guerrilla force - if it were given time to prepare, and if it received the right training and equipment.

From the beginning he was concerned that the effectiveness of the Home Guard would be undermined by elderly, upper-class officers whose notions of fighting were based on obsolete tactics from the First World War. Such men wanted to see a great deal of attention given to marching in open fields, bayonet practice and construction of trenches. He had nothing but contempt for one old general, a veteran of more than forty years' service, who gave a lecture one evening on the Home Guard's mission as 'a static defensive force'. The general told Orwell and the rest of his battalion that they did not need to bother with practising methods of taking cover. Their job, he said solemnly, was to die at their posts.

If the influence of the old conservative officers could be limited, Orwell thought that the Home Guard would make not only a good fighting force against the Germans but would also demonstrate the possibility of achieving 'a democratic People's Army'. In such a force, co-operation among different parts of society would replace the traditional reliance on upper-class leadership and a large, well-armed popular militia would act as a sort of insurance policy against government tyranny at home. At the end of an article on the Home Guard in Tribune, * Orwell wrote: THAT RIFLE HANGING ON THE WALL OF THE WORKING-CLASS FLAT OR LABOURER'S COTTAGE IS THE SYMBOL OF DEMOCRACY. IT IS OUR JOB TO SEE THAT IT STAYS THERE!

*RIFLE ON THE WALL QUOTE (reader points out that the "Orwell was armed" quote was published in Evening Standard , not Tribune)



Schools ban word 'gun' (after parent complained). Ottawa Citizen, Feb 11, 2003. Go to 18.Newspeak

USA wants gun registration (using sniper as excuse). Ottawa Citizen, Oct 18, 2002. Go to GUN CONTROL


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com