They ask something like this: “Do you really think Bubba in camo gear hiding in the forest is going to take on the U.S. military? The U.S. military has nuclear weapons!”
Who exactly do you think has stymied the U.S. in Afghanistan for 16 years? The Taliban is made up of Afghan Bubbas. The Taliban doesn’t need to defeat nuclear weapons, though they are humiliating a nuclear power for the second time in history. They use a mix of Kalashnikovs and WWII-era bolt-action rifles. Determined insurgencies are really difficult to fight, even if they are only armed with Enfield rifles and you can target them with a TOW missiles system that can spot a cat in the dark from two miles away. In Iraq, expensive tanks were destroyed with simple improvised explosives.
If the U.S. government (and the American people behind them) doesn’t want to use nuclear weapons on foreign fundamentalists in Afghanistan, why does anyone presume they’d use them against Americans in Idaho?
It is not just our fecklessness. All great powers take into account the moral and manpower costs of implementing their rules and laws on a people. And an armed citizenry, especially if they seem to have a just cause to rally around, will dramatically raise the price of ruling them. The British Empire controlled one quarter of the world’s territory and ruled one quarter of the earth’s population in 1922. In that very year, they were forced to make an effective exit from the main part of their oldest colony, Ireland. Why? Because a determined group of Irish men with guns made the country ungovernable. The British technically could have deployed their entire navy, blockading the restive island, and starving any rebellion into submission. But they were unwilling to pay the moral price, or the price in blood. It was precisely this foreseeable event that had caused the British to ban Irish Catholics from possessing firearms hundreds of years earlier.