Friday, September 03, 2004


"It says a militia!"

How often have we heard that refrain from those opposed individual firearms ownership when dismissing the 2nd Amendment?

And you know what? That's true. The 2nd Amendment is about the militia.

But you also know what?

The militia is YOU!

A militia, properly understood, is nothing other than the body of armed citizens.

Just as urbanites have lost touch with the realities of the farm, so too have moderns lost touch with the civic realities of their forefathers, becoming infantalized and expecting a parental Government to take care of them. Thus the original meaning of the word "militia" becomes forgotten.

A militia is not just another term for a second-rate army, or for a rabble, or for a State-run army. It has a specific meaning and is supposed to be an important institution in the checks and balances designed by the Founders.

The 2nd Amendment states,
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Here's my no-fail, handy-dandy, 3-step recipe for crushing 2nd Amendment deniers by simple Logic:

Surely, even gun opponents must admit that the 2nd Amendment is not devoid of informational content, and as such, some entity must have a right to arms that cannot be infringed.

Let's ignore for a moment the clear grammar, in which the dependent clause of the preamble is simply a justification, and that the possessive word "of" modifies the noun "people".

Pretending we are illiterates, there can only be 3 possibilities: the right to bear arms must either belong to the army of the Federal government, to an army of a State, or to the People individually.

There are no other possibilities.

First, clearly it is nonsensical to have an amendment to protect Congress from itself! All of the amendments are protections for the States or for the People against Federal power; that's the whole point of the Bill of Rights. Congress already has an explicit power in Article I, Section 8, "to raise and support armies". To imagine it also had to be added to the Bill of Rights is just plain nuts. Therefore it cannot refer to the Federal government.

Ah, but what of the States! Surely it might mean that a State can have an army, which is called for some reason a "militia", but never mind why. But that's a contradiction with Article I, Section 10: "No state shall...keep troops..." It would be bizarre to suppose the first ten Amendments, that came along with the whole document when it was first ratified, were meant to already modify the main body; any such desired changes at that time were incorporated into the main text.

So that leaves, by process of elimination, the People.

You know, just like it says!

But what are we to make of this mention of the militia, isn't that the National Guard?

The riddle is solved by realizing that a militia and an army are distinct entities.

Look at the language used in the Constitution (Article I, Section 8): armies are "raised" by Congress, and as such are creatures purely of the Government, with no existence beyond it.

But in addition, Congress is given a separate power of "calling forth the militia", and
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed by the United States...
So if the militia is "organized" or "called forth", that implies it already exists in an unorganized form, completely independent of Government!

That's the whole point of the militia, its independence, as a check against standing armies.

When "organized", it becomes what was called a "select" militia, and that portion of the general militia that is "employed by the United States" we today call the "National Guard."

Therefore, the National Guard is a subset of the militia, not its entirety. And although governors have the privilege of calling it forth in peacetime, the Guard is in fact under Federal control and acts as the armed reserve of the Federal army.

This view is further supported by a review of all the State Constitutions of the time, as well as the proposed drafts of the 2nd Amendment. For example, the New York Convention of July 26, 1788 suggested
That the people have the right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state.
The emphasis is in the original document! That delegation also wrote on July 7 that
no regulations tending to render the general militia useless and defenceless, by establishing select corps of militia, of distinct bodies of military men, not having permanent interests and attachments to the community, ought to be made.
All delegations submitted similar sentiments. The version finally adopted was seen as an elegant distillation of what the Founding Fathers saw as completely obvious; it is only the pathetic ignorance of history and inability to comprehend English that leads to misunderstanding today.

It could not be clearer.

But finally, what of that phrase "well-regulated"? It does not here mean "subject to regulations", otherwise that would directly contradict "shall not be infringed." In my Oxford English Dictionary Supplement, it indicates there is an archaic meaning in the context when speaking "of troops", meaning "properly disciplined in the art of war", or practiced in the manual of arms.

So next time someone denies an individual right to bear arms, ask them to explain who they think that amendment applies to, and how it is meant to operate in practice -- their explanations will necessarily demonstrate they are claiming the amendment in fact means nothing.

Have them explain what a "collective right" is, which seems to be applied to no other right than bearing arms, and seems only to mean a right that can be conveniently denied to any particular person -- which is no right at all!

So yeah, it means a militia -- and you're the militia!


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