A Well-regulated Militia

The time is approaching when we will be compelled by an act of Congress to register our firearms.

We are continually reminded that “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That part is clear to everyone except those promulgating law in Washington, D.C. Few people, though, understand what is meant by the first part of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Let’s begin with an account of a genuine muster of the well-regulated militia:

The four pages of text in these images (following the title page of the book from which they are copied) give a brief illustration of the reason for the much-misunderstood Second Amendment.  Ezekiel Porter, mentioned on the second page, was my fourth-great-grandfather, by the way.

This excerpt describes the forming of the militia in Farmington, Franklin County, Maine, which at the time was in Kennebec County, Massachusetts.  They had good reason to become “well-regulated” and they were expected to use their privately-owned guns.  Yes, those guns were simple black-powder muskets, long rifles, and pistols and, in the event of an invasion, those citizens would come up against the same sorts of weapons they themselves owned plus a few cannons that the invaders could drag with them.  There was no standing army in the USA of 1790.  And this militia, described in the History of Farmington and comprised of capable men of the area towns, was smart to train for battle, because the British surely did come back and invade the United States in the war of 1812.

The Constitution provides for a navy, but it specifically prohibits a standing army for a period of longer than two years.  That provision has never been rescinded by any amendment.  However, we have supported a standing army (and more) ever since the last time Congress made a declaration of war on June 5, 1942, now 75 years longer than authorized by the Constitution since we’ve had no threat of invasion of this country in that time.

Among the powers granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8, are these:
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.

Then the Second Amendment clarifies:

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.

Now compare this language from the Constitution to the truncated excerpt from the History of Farmington, above.

Should the United States be policing the world? Or instead, should we citizens throughout the country be training ourselves regularly in order to repel invaders?  I am not proud of the politics since 1945 that have been driving us into a permanent worldwide policing role and military presence.  We have been in Korea, for instance, since 1950.  Could we not have trained the South Korean military in self-defense in a little over two years from the cessation of gunfire in 1953?  Could we not have withdrawn our forces from that country by, say, 1955?  (See A Parting Tribute to my Uncle Woody.)

The constitutional prohibition against a standing army and the provision for a well-regulated militia together clarify the meaning of the Second Amendment.  Perhaps the original intent, defending ourselves from a foreign army invading by land, has evaporated, but perhaps a new basis has cemented itself just as firmly.  Perhaps the invaders we must defend against are hidden within our midst.

But We Have A Standing Army Now

The National Guard, a term in use since 1824, now fills the role of the constitutional militia.  The Militia Act of 1903 redefined and recreated the traditional state militias as the “organized militia,” that is, the National Guard. So how is it that we also maintain not just a militia (and a reserve) but also a standing army dispersed to permanent undeclared wars and other assignments around the world?

It was clear to the founders of the United States that an armed population is comprised of citizens, an unarmed population is comprised of subjects.  George Washington is credited with the statement: “A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”

The Second Amendment, then and now, is about defending the United States of America from forces that would destroy it, from outside or from within.  Originally, every home was equipped with one or more firearms anyway — standard equipment for hunting and personal defense, and readily diverted to the purpose of defending the country.  It can certainly be argued that a citizen might properly own a weapon in any class of arms that could be deployed against the United States, the better to employ such a weapon in the service of the militia.

In the centuries that have passed since the adoption of the Second Amendment in 1791, the National Guard, better trained and better equipped, has taken over for the militia described in the History of Farmington.  I accept that, and while I have no desire to own my own fleet of Phantom jets, I also do not intend to jeopardize my permanent right to own the firearms that I consider important to my own safety as well as my country’s defense.

I was among those caught up in the revival of the military draft. Birthdates were drawn in 1969 for 18-26-year-olds to determine who would be drafted in 1970 (unless they volunteered). The younger adult population, the ones most affected by this country’s repugnant involvement in Vietnam, was almost uniformly furious. We were the ones most affected because most of the 50,441 Americans killed in that non-war came from our ranks. And for each young pawn killed, wives, girlfriends, parents, and friends all suffered as well. Americans began fighting in Vietnam in 1955, and the United States didn’t officially surrender until 1975. (They didn’t call it a surrender. The mission was accomplished, or some idiotic term like that was used.)

Aside from the uncertainty whether I would be drafted and whether the killing would ever end, I was depressed in my own way about the people in America whose emotions were being manipulated and angry as well about those doing the manipulating. The rising opposition to the non-war was highly appropriate. I was opposed to it too and for more than personal reasons. It was entirely wrong for the U.S. to be fighting someone else’s war. There was no threat to this country from Vietnam, just as there was no threat to this country from Korea in 1950. My Uncle Woody had been a pawn in that chess game, which is still being played. So it was not a matter of national defense. It was a matter of — and President Eisenhower warned against it — the military-industrial complex. It is in the best interest of top-level military leaders to have a war going on. They are best served, personally, with people to command and weapons to control. And the industries that manufacture those weapons need customers with wars to fight.

To serve these combined illigitmate interests, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973. Although the Constitution is clear in Article 1, Section 8 (11) that only Congress has the power to declare war, the War Powers Resolution, which later became an act instead of a mere resolution, bestows that power onto to the President under vague terms of scale and duration. This also permits the four branches of the federal government (legislative, executive, judicial, and regulatory — the last of the four having no basis in the Constitution) to maintain a standing military force during times of undeclared war, contrary to Article 1, Section 8 (12), which limits expenditures for a standing army to two years in the absence of a declared war. The militia mentioned in the Second Amendment and under the command of the states’ governors, is intended to protect the country’s borders, and that’s one of the several reasons why citizens have the right to be armed. As noted, the militia was re-christened the National Guard in 1903, and in 1908 the prohibition against using the National Guard overseas was dropped. When Congress, with the War Powers Act, renounced its responsibility to declare war in 1973, all obstacles were removed, giving the President the sole discretion to wage perpetual war around the world and subsuming the citizen militia into the nation’s Constitution-prohibited standing army.

With these manipulations Congress and the President believe they have made moot the need for an armed population prepared to repel invaders and thus have rendered the Second Amendment archaic and violable. The Supreme Court has not yet agreed with that stance. And the population of responsible and informed gun owners has not capitulated to that stance either. Meanwhile, though, in the absence of invaders to repel at our borders, the military-industrial complex has made itself necessary wherever around the world a conflict flares up. All they need is to invoke the phrase, “America’s interests,” and they can intervene on behalf of one faction or another.

Voters in 1964 feared an escalation of fighting in southeast Asia and the news media’s dishonest portrayal of Barry Goldwater, candidate for President, as a “war monger” against its fawning portrayal of President Johnson and his party as peace-loving “doves” cost Goldwater the election. In early 1965, with Johnson newly elected, about 50,000 U.S. troops, mostly advisors, were in South Vietnam. By the end of 1966, that number had grown to 385,000 with the majority being army units and by that time, they were on the offensive.

The people stirring up emotions in 1970, though, were, just as today, ideologically aligned with the forces of totalitarianism — any form of collectivist political ideology that advances the sovereignty of supposedly-benign government over the sovereignty of free individuals. Of course America should get out of Vietnam — I knew that. In my view, we had no business being there. In the view of the communist Chinese government of Mao Tse-tung, backers of the Viet Cong and puppeteers of the North Vietnamese government, we had no business being there. But it was the Chinese and the “Soviets,” wishing to advance worldwide communism and promote it in America, who were motivating if not also funding the protests in this country in the 1960s. And so I was against the war, but I was also, if it makes sense, against the protests because of the corruption behind them.

A Recent Historical Perspective

I suppose I am more in tune with the America of the 70 years preceding my birth than the America of the 70 years since I was born.  While I have mastered the skills for “survival” — better to say participation — in the ever-changing society of the past few decades, I have also mastered the skills needed for survival in the ages familiar to my grandparents.

I’ve seen it from both perspectives.  I don’t trust the present — the technology, the world order, the federal government, the culture of the masses, the distribution systems for food and other perishables, or America’s single source for all manufactured goods (China).

That something has changed in the character of our population is obvious to an older American. When I was born (1950) a home typically had one wage-earner. There was a mindset that approved of locking up the mentally ill, and more were locked up than perhaps was right. But some were confined that should have been. Courts did not coddle violent criminals. Children conformed to certain social standards called “manners” and did not dictate the tone of a household or the spending habits of a family. Only a narrow band of entertainment and advertising were aimed at children, not the entire entertainment industry. Education was designed to impart information and promote critical thinking, not to indoctrinate compliant minions of a ruling oligarchy.

When I was five years old the Meadow Gold milkman in Lima, Ohio, still drove a horse-drawn ice-chilled wagon drawn by the mare, Buttermilk.  The man who repaired pots and pans also appeared from time to time on a horse-drawn cart.  Many of the country’s railroad trains were still pulled by steam locomotives.  Our home didn’t have a television or telephone, and my parents survived for months at a time without an automobile.  A long gun in a closet or on the wall was no more unusual than an umbrella in a stand beside the front door.  The elevator at the Montgomery Ward store had a full-time operator who delivered customers to their chosen floors.  It took a nickel to get a six-ounce bottle of pop from a machine and there was a two-cent deposit on a glass bottle.  My grandmother was still mourning my uncle’s death in Korea.

It wasn’t until I was ten years old that I owned my first firearm, a Marlin .22-caliber single shot rifle which I earned by selling Christmas cards in Gomer, Ohio.  I told my customers what I was working toward, and they supported my objective.  I still have the Boys Life magazine with the ad for Junior Sales Club of America, which provided the Christmas cards and the gun.  It was shipped to a local hardware store in my name, and my father had to go with me and sign for it to pick it up.  I haven’t shot anyone with it yet.

I am not nostalgic for the living conditions of those times.  Perhaps, though, I miss the gentle sense of peace, security, and opportunity.  Perhaps I am nostalgic for the freedom to engage in any enterprise as a teenager, from street musician to seller of homemade potholders, from apprentice gardener to newspaper carrier.  I miss coins made from silver, photo albums, and a news media that barely paid attention to politicians and celebrities.

I miss heroes who were actually honored, Sunday school, and shelves full of National Geographic magazines.  I miss holidays that were sincerely celebrated with town ceremonies on the appropriate dates before it became de rigueur to shift them to the nearest Monday for people whose incomes were derived from taxes (and, yes, bank fees have become a new form of taxation with the complicity of Congress, so banks now close on those Monday holidays).

And I miss the respect that Congress once held for the American people. I am not volunteering to register my firearms, but I do think that we are, at last, a conquered people.

=David A. Woodbury=