Sunday, February 25, 2007

2nd Amendment Education: We, The Militia

(Yes, this is the first Rule 308 post in about four months. Op-For’s been keeping me busy. So much to talk about, so little time.)

Today’s topic is the militia, specifically what it is and what it isn’t, and why it’s important. Since those of you who really understand it will say, “Yeah, tell me something I don’t know,” this is directed at those who simply don’t know the militia is, in order to educate them. As for those who have been told what it is and why it is that way but still insist on believing otherwise, well, read on and see if your mind opens up a bit.

The definition of the militia is at the heart of the debate on the meaning of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which 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.”

Gun control advocates claim that it grants the States the right to establish and maintain military forces, today called the National Guard, and has nothing to do with individuals’ rights to keep and bear arms. Besides the obvious facts that only individuals, and not governments, possess rights; that no piece of paper grants a right but rather protects it; that the National Guard is a fairly recent invention that is armed, organized and ultimately directed by the Federal government as a reserve component (check out a Guardsman’s uniform—it says “US Army”); and finally that there is no way to say that this amendment strengthens the power of the state when the entire thrust of the Bill of Rights was meant to protect the people’s rights from the government.

Nope, it means nothing of the kind, as gun rights advocates, who are really civil rights advocates, will correctly point out. The militia is the vast majority of the citizens of this country, the law-abiding, engaged, able-bodied working men who stand ready to defend themselves and their communities, and who can be called into national service if the need arises. It's pretty much all of us. How do we know this? We ask the Founding Fathers. They reply through the very clear writings and commentary they left on he subject. (See here, and here to name only two sites.) Bottom line: the militia exists beyond the power of the government, it can be embodied by the government when necessary, but at other times it simply is. And it is up to the members of the militia to see to it that they are well-regulated, i.e. armed and trained and ready. The government just stands out of the way.

Still not convinced? Still believe that armed force is a state monopoly where citizens ought not tread? Where we should all leave it up the “professionals,” because of course they’re so much better trained than we are? Let me give you some food for thought, about another vital area of security and safety in America where the citizenry plays a vital role-- Jury duty.

Serving on a jury is akin to serving in the militia. It is a consequence and an obligation of citizenship. You might never be called upon to do it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be called upon, and while you can with some difficulty get out of it, there are consequences to saying you won’t do it. The jury pool is made up of sound-minded able-bodied citizens, and it specifically excludes certain types of people, criminals for one. Others who would be excluded from jury duty include, interestingly, lawyers and police officers. Why? Because they’re too close to the system and they serve it in other ways, oft-times as agents paid and directed by the state. An independent, non-professional jury is a check on the judicial power of the state in just the same way as an independent non-professional armed citizenry is a check on the overall power of the state. Prospective jurors are only called into service—embodied, as it were—when needed, and then dismissed when their work is done. It’s all part of being an engaged citizen.

So there you have it. I hope you learned something today, and I hope you pass it on to others, especially those who just don’t get it. The right to keep and bear arms is a right whether you exercise it or not, and it’s a vital part of the safety and security of this country.


Blogger Norman said...

Dear Sir,

Great article! The only correction I would offer (which doesn't alter the substance of your argument) is that unfortunately, lawyers (who don't work for the government) ARE called to jury duty. There is no automatic "lawyer exclusion," at least in the State of California. I know because I am a lawyer, I have friends who are lawyers, and we've all been called before.

However, practically speaking, most of us will never actually sit on a jury, mainly because no lawyer in his right mind wants another lawyer in the jury. Most judges recognize this and, unless they're in a bad mood (or just hate lawyers), will usually let us go home without actually having to sit through voir dire.

- Norman Lee

4:13 PM  
Anonymous PatR said...

Great post, LtColP (my first time checking out Rule 308, big fan of Op-For).

I think the jury-duty analogy is well-chosen, and thought-provoking. In the spirit of full-disclosure and non-trolliness, I should state up front that you'd have to consider me on the "other side" of the gun control debate; but I'd be the first to agree with you that most gun-control proponents haven't a clue on the constitutional definition of militia.

I think there is a vitally important lesson to take from the jury-duty comparison: That there are MANY principles that support the foundation of U.S.-style republican democracy and the idea that they can be cherry-picked at will to suit trend or whim is dangerous. In fact each of those principles are load-bearing, and removing one of them has the effect of undermining the society as a whole. Believe it or not, I agree that the 2nd amendment makes this point pretty clear.

Where I part company with you is in the inerpretation of "the right... shall not be infringed". Plenty of people have used the argument that the Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the evolution of arms that would occur within the lifetime of the Republic, and that the spirit of the Amendment shouldn't be taken to enable the "uninfringed" right of citizens to arm themselves with military assault weapons. I'll actually go you one better. I don't think that the class of weaponry is the important issue here. I think the real problem is that the Founding Fathers couldn't have anticipated the race-to-the-bottom that emerges when a large number of private individuals independently attempt to ensure their personal safety (and that of their families) by procuring an ever-escalating progression of countermeasures to those employed by their neighbors - or notional enemies. Escalation of military arms may have existed in the late 18th-century, but it must have seemed inconceivable that this phenomenon could be replicated among the citizenry. No one was buying extra large sport-utility ox-carts as a hedge against flipping over in a collision with the farmer down the road...

I'm sure someone will make the case that big-stick-bigger-stick has been playing out in some form or another since or ancestors lived in caves. But in their optimism, the early drafters of the constitution may have expected that the private citizen would be more enlightened in individual thought and action than the government could be. It's a worthy idea. I just wish that the evidence bore it out as it relates to the use of force.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Freeman said...

Great post, I especially enjoyed your first link, though I was thoroughly surprised to see that it was written by the InstaPundit: Glenn Reynolds (I'm not what you would call a big fan of much of his writings that I have read in recent past). I'll have to give his stuff a little more consideration when I come across it in the future.

I would add this link to your list as well. Not as comprehensive as your second, but not as long of a read either. A few choice quotes:

"Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?"
-- Patrick Henry, 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836

"The right of the people to keep and bear ... arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country ..."
-- James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789

patr: You seem to be concerned mostly with the degrees to which the right to bear arms is afforded. Well, I guess one must draw the line somewhere (who would argue in favor of privately held nukes, for instance), but we shouldn't lose sight of one of the primary purposes of the second amendment (the other being national self-defense), which Lt.Col P alludes to: a check on the power of government and a prevention of tyranny of our own government towards it's citizenry. I think military-style assault weapons are instrumental towards these ends. I personally know quite a few peaceful, law-abiding civilian citizens who own such weapons and practice with them regularly. I do not fear this, but rather, I'm comforted in knowing that many of my fellow citizens are ready and willing to stand by me in defense of our liberties against all enemies foreign and domestic, as the saying goes. Don't let a few whacko school shootings convince you that those perpetrators are in any way representative of citizens who arm themselves with assault weapons, the vast majority of whom are peaceful, law-abiding, God-fearing family folks who pose no threat to anyone but would-be tyrants.

11:07 PM  
Blogger William said...

I'd like to inform PatR that the founding fathers may not have had the clairvoyance to see the evolution of smooth-bore muskets to the Barrett .50BMG M107 Sniper Rifle, but they were well-aware of the past events when the Minuteman Regiments of the New Hampshire Regiment stood toe-to-toe with British Redcoats at Concord and Lexington, and realized the importance of a group of well-regulated citizen soldiers, i.e., the militia. Remember, those who argued over the Bill of Rights understood how the Regular Army controlled by a Dictator would have a difficult time against an able-bodied citizenry with current military compliment. They did however see the writing on the wall in France, when their Revolution took place coincidentally on the heels of the American Revolution. Hmmm? Back then they were worried more about a Monarcy than a dictatorship, but to me there is very little difference.
Look, in hindsight their choice of militia was at the time, prudent, but today it allows weasels such as Dianne Feinstein to circumvent the doctrine and grab our guns. Thank God we had George W. Bush in the White House who allowed the AWB to sunset. Say hello to my little friend.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Basically... said...

Great article. I had a nice time this evening digging through the links, as well as checking out the U.S. Code definition of a "militia."

What worries me is it defines militia as any able-bodied male age 45 and under. So couldn't an argument be set up against folks over 45 with guns?

Just a thought...

5:16 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home