Underlying our apparently peaceful democracies is the idea that the ultimate rampart against tyranny lies in the resistance of the people. This is not only an American and a French idea, but also a very English one.

In his classic Commentaries on the Laws of England, Sir William Blackstone, the famous 18th-century English jurist, stressed the danger of power for “English liberties.” The constitution (for this is how Blackstone labelled the legal traditions of England) provided safeguards under the form of “certain auxiliary subordinate rights of the subject, which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights, of personal security, personal liberty, and private property.” The auxiliary rights “of every Englishman” included the right “of having arms for their defence ... [which] is a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”

Many people like to think that they would start resisting before tyranny is well entrenched, but few actually would. It is risky to disobey laws: The state has the power to put resistors in jail, or give them criminal records. State propaganda tries to isolate and discredit resistors, especially when they are part of a minority (“a dwindling minority,” scorns the Canadian Firearms Centre). Armchair resistors who imagine themselves as heroes adulated by the populace are usually wrong: They will be treated as marginals, cranks, outcasts, criminals. Only later will early resistors be seen as heroes.

Starting tomorrow, we will have an opportunity to meet such heroes of the early resistance. On Jan. 1-3, in Ottawa, a few members and supporters of the Canadian Unregistered Firearm Owners Association (CUFOA) will post their “Declaration of Non-compliance,” and go to 24 Sussex Drive to present to the Prime Minister the ashes from their firearms licences and gun registration certificates. If they have not yet been arrested, they will visit the offices of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General. They are also planning to swap firearm parts which, since 1998, is a crime without a prior permission from the state. They are considering a side trip to Montreal.

The feds have tried diversion tactics. First, the Justice Department announced that prosecutions would not start until six months after the gun registration deadline of today, Dec. 31, so as to give time to the bureaucrats to issue the certificates applied for. Second, on Dec. 27, the department announced that gun owners unable to use the overloaded registration system can, before Jan. 1, write, fax, or e-mail their intention to register when the bureaucrats have fixed the one-billion-dollar system. The Ottawa heroes are still not complying with this pre-registration, and they are also in violation of the personal licensing obligation which came into force one year ago.

As the infamous C-68 “law” (the third major piece of firearm control legislation in 25 years) comes into full force, owning firearms without a personal licence and a registration certificate for each gun are crimes that carry penalties of up to 10 years in jail. The CUFOA resistors quote Henry David Thoreau: “When a man’s conscience and the laws clash, it is his conscience that he must follow.” They could also quote the 18th-century English writer Junius: “The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.”

There are many reasons to resist C-68. It forces any individual who even only wants to keep his hunting gun at home to apply for a personal licence every five years, and tell the police about his depressions and his love life. It forces 10% of the Canadian adult population to notify the police when they change addresses. It grants the police arbitrary powers to seize guns and to deny or revoke licences. In certain circumstances, it allows searches (rechristened “inspections”) without warrants. C-68 also forces the registration of all individual guns, and prepares the sort of confiscation that the British and the Australians have recently suffered (like, before them, subjects of all totalitarian countries). It is one of the last nails in the coffin of the right of individuals to defend their lives if the police cannot (or will not) intervene.

C-68 will have also created, from a few hundreds of thousands (according to government estimates) to a few millions, of instant, peaceful, paper criminals.

George Orwell, the author of 1984, 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.”

At great personal risk, a few Canadian heroes have made it their job to see that the gun stays in the labourer’s house. Besides CUFOA, other groups like the Law-abiding Unregistered Firearms Association (LUFA) are engaged in civil disobedience. Individual resistors like Allister Muir, a Nova Scotia businessman, have publicly admitted having guns without the required permits, and challenged the state to prosecute them.

CUFOA’s strategy of civil disobedience is especially daring. The Ottawa demonstrators will either be arrested, showing the real nature of the law, or else they will prove that the state does not dare enforce its so-called “law” against peaceful citizens. This small group of resistors includes respectable citizens such as CUFOA president Jim Turnbull, Dr. Edward Hudson, a veterinarian, Dr. Joe Gingrich, a dentist, Claire Joly, a Montreal writer, and Yvon Dionne, a retired civil servant and the Quebec spokesman for the demonstration.

From those of us who are less brave, from those of us who believe in individual liberty, from our future descendants, these heroes deserve gratitude and praise.