Ripped straight from today's headlines! Isn't that the way the old movie promos went?  "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." (Second Amendment of the US Constitution)

We hear a lot of discussion about changing this clause, about its outdated nature and how it conflicts with a modern ethos of society.  George Washington realized one brutal truth of political and social structures and that it is capable of great evil: "Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."   The Bill of Rights and those amendments were intentionally created to act as a buffer to protect the people from that fearful potential of any government to be a dire master.

In the second amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms the argument is often that there is no need for this since we have a military, we have a national guard,  and we have police.

We interpret militia in terms of radical extremism and potential terrorism. Instead it was neighbor with neighbor in time of need.  I would argue anytime people come to the aid of other people they are serving as a militia.  Not all battles involve bullets.

In historical research, however, it is necessary to look at things in their context.  How did those signers of the documents of freedom understand the term militia?

The term militia is derived from an abstract Latin noun and its recognized definition has been an army composed of ordinary - not military professional- citizens. It was the ability of the individual to be the army which was sought in such situations.  They were not fretfully waiting for someone to come to their rescue or their aide. They were not expecting some vague 'someone else' to defend their land, liberty, property, life, and sacred honor.

The idea dates back to early Anglo-Saxon days but the term may date back to only the late 1600's.  It was expected that every able bodied man would be able to pick up his weapon and rush to the aid of King and Country in the event of national emergency such as an invasion or hostile takeover.

The militia of the colonial period was crucial to protect the citizens of an area from hostile encounters of any type ranging from hostile Native tribes, invading armies, or other groups bent on hostilities.  The British army was far away, sometimes too far away to arrive in time to assist, and so locally prepared individuals were a must.  The British depended as much on these locally armed individuals as much as the settlements did.  

Remember communication was slow and a call for help might be answered too late.  Were none armed a clear and easy path to major settlements, supplies, and control of the colonies would have been presented to any hostile force intent on takeover.

Add to the dangers mentioned over time of a threat from the British government itself.   As tensions between British rule and colonial life began to heighten.  As the British raised taxes repeatedly.  As they refused to listen to complaints or grievances.   As they refused any representation of the Colonials in the rules and decision making process.  As Colonials were forced to open their homes to board officers   Forced to share their limited food and supplies whenever a passing British army troop wanted. They were stressed to make enough to pay the increasing taxes and keep their homes, farms, and businesses afloat. 

James Madison said : "A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best most natural defense of a free country. "

John Adams said : "The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws."

Benjamin Franklin said :  "Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

John Adams said:  "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.   Jefferson's "Commonplace Book," 1774_1776, quoting from On Crimes and Punishment, by criminologist Cesare Beccaria, 1764

Patrick Henry said, "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government."

A people ignorant of their history are always doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past. (mah)

Given the reality of the government becoming an absolute entity that corrupts absolutely, and the downward spiral of the abusive government seen in the Colonial period rising once more, and the need emerging to protect body, property and family from the forces unleashed in such a setting, is there not still the potential need for a militia?  Especially a militia defined as the prepared, armed and capable individual?  

As to the arguments.

We do not need a militia because we have the military.  The military are professional soldiers under the direction of the government and the law. If such a group, like the British government under King George or the military under Hitler, abuse that privilege and ignore the law, what is the recourse of the individual? If an outside force invaded or the standing military was decimated, what then? Heller has observed that anytime the rights of the people are mentioned int he Constitution it is predicated on the individual.  To paraphrase, "who you gonna call?" A group, a militia, a social anything is always comprised of individuals.

Militias are all just extremists, terrorists and radicals.  Sometimes that is the case, in some rare instances in the Civil War the militias, or state volunteers, disintegrated into marauders under poor leadership. Radical extremists with agendas of hate and terror have emerged. Sometimes there have also been periods when government failed to be the best it could be and devolved into something less than it should have been.  Like Washington noted, government is force and Madsion noted the Constitution was for moral people; sometimes our government and morality have been strangers.  The result was always a time of shame. No one calls for the eradication of the government though and so it must be recognized that there are these 'blips' sometimes.  Course corrections to realign the national moral compass are needed and we go on, hopefully having learned something along the way.

It is a complex issue, made more so by highly charged emotional, political, and social forces at work in the discussion.  Let us hope there is discussion and we do not devolve into shouting, vilifying  and exclusion.  Let us hope, also, that we do not throw the Constitutional baby out with the muddied waters of this highly charged topic.


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