Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A well regulated militia. . .

Though billions of impassioned words have been spewed debating the intent/meaning/limits of the second amendment to this nation's constitution, relatively little is said about the first dozen or so words:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a
free State. . . 
I'll not take a stand in the overall gun control debate for now. . . No, I just want to pass on what I have researched and learned about that particular part of this very controversial 'right'.
Though it may not seem so clear to us now in modern times, I can assure you, the Founding Fathers (FF's) were very familiar the term 'militia'. Perhaps so much so, that they felt no further elaboration was necessary.
Pop quiz, hotshot:
What is the 'militia' they were referring to, translated into modern terms?
A. National Guard.
B. Groups like those armed extremists/patriots that recently took over the Oregon bird sanctuary.
C. ROTC/Military Academies.
D. Military 'Reserve' forces.
Answer: E. None of the above.
This is perhaps why many of us don't often get it. It doesn't really exist anymore as it did at the time.
You've heard the stories though, these were the non-professional, citizen-soldiers that fought and won the Revolutionary War, then went back to their farms and families.

Each of the 13 colonies sponsored militias. Prior to the actual war, they were pretty much placeholder organizations and maybe occasionally, ceremonial. Poorly trained and equipped, lacking in nearly every necessary military resource, including professional leadership.
They were farmers mostly, and certainly not plantation owners in the rank and file. Poorly compensated, bringing their own muskets and knives, rarely even issued a uniform. Usually they were only deployed for a few weeks or months at the most, rarely did they venture far from home.
In 1775, the Continental Congress established a Regular Army. Not to replace the militias, but to provide a small, stable, trained core of soldiers and officers to train and command those militias in wartime.
Most of the FF's absolutely abhorred the idea of a large, standing military. i.e.:

"Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all
Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people"    - James Madison -

“The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.”   - Thomas Jefferson -
Sorry, I don't want to belabor this missive with a pile of archaic quotations, but these are just to highlight the point made, to peek into the mindset of the people that actually drafted the constitution.
So the 'intent' of the FF's was perfectly, undeniably clear. Maintain only a small standing military and when needed, conscript the civilians!
Yes boys and girls, we're talking about 'the draft.'  In Revolutionary times, up until the American Civil War, conscription was managed entirely by individual states.  With the outbreak of that latter war, both the Union and the Confederacy legislated 'national' conscription. It was no more popular then, on either side, than it was in the heady days of the late Vietnam conflict. Rioting, demonstrations, civil unrest, rampant draft dodging and desertion. Precisely because of all that noise and violence, the U.S. switched to an 'All Volunteer' policy in 1973. However, registration is still a requirement and a call up could occur should the need arise. The draft has not been eliminated, just shelved.
But that's a whole 'nother essay.
In those early days (1700's) most of the population (around 2.5 Million) of the U.S., were stretched out thinly across the colonies. Not so much crammed into cities, mostly on small farms. Away from the cities there were lots of things to be wary of. 'Savage' indigenous peoples, wolves, bears, mountain lions, etc. One simply didn't set up a homestead five miles into the the wilderness and away from the nearest neighbor without packing some form of 'protection' from these and other certain hazards. Yes friends, nearly everyone had guns in their homes, times were very, very different then. It is not hard to imagine that the FF's assumed that an already armed populace would not need additional weapons provided to them in wartime. Practically every farm boy and even girls had several years of experience shooting, something. Hunting back then wasn't a 'sport', it was a vital necessity, a near daily chore out in the woods. 
On paper and in times of non-war, the militia idea, hardly a new one, worked . . . okay. 
These colonial and state militias provided the boots on the ground for several major and minor battles and skirmishes. The Revolution, 1812, etc. 

In 1792 Congress enacted the Militia Act, which left the militias firmly in the control of the states, but outlined certain minimum requirements and definitions. Formalizing the existing concept of militias and setting more uniform standards. It called for:
" . . . each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia. . ."

Okay, pretty much every white male between 18 and 45 (later expanded to 'all' males and to age 54).
Now the meaty bit:
". . . every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch (etc). . ."
There it is, 'bring your own weapon.'
This is exactly the 'well regulated militia' that needed to be perfectly free to own and 'bear' arms. 

Our FF's not only knew that a large percentage of the population was armed, they counted on it. Heck, they mandated it. If you think about it, even though at the time of the drafting of these acts, there were few, if any high-powered, rapid fire 'assault' weapons, I imagine a local banker-temporarily-turned-Captain hastily called up to guard a railroad bridge during the Civil War would have been absolutely delighted if a couple of his local boys showed up for muster with AR-15's and boxes overflowing with shiny ammunition. 
The FF's themselves were not thinking only about single-shot muskets used only for sport or hunting or home defense. Effective national security as they envisioned it actually counted on these militia men having powerful and fast weapons available, the more, the merrier. 
So in historical context, the wording of the second amendment was not at all vague, peculiar or misunderstood. In time of war, regular gun totin' civilians would be called up in the form of state-run, well regulated (structurally/uniformly defined) militias and turned over to the Fed for its defense.

The Militia Act of 1792 was amended many times throughout the remainder of the 18th century and through the entire 19th, until it was all but completely superseded by the 'Dick Act' (I'm not making that up) or 'Militia Act of 1903'.
The Spanish - American War, which we rushed into in 1898, really highlighted, once again, many of the problems with a conscript dependent military. Low levels of training and readiness, lack of uniformity of command and leadership skills, non-standardized equipment and weaponry, etc. It was really hard to pull boys off the farm and get them up to speed for big combat if they were needed in a hurry.
The Dick Act formed the more professional institutions that we know now, the Reserves and the National Guard. This, and many subsequent amendments to that act, created and fixed budgets, created ROTC, set policies in place for the use of 'Federalized' Guard units, set standards for uniforms and equipment, etc. It also did away with all those archaic, self-equipped, state militias as they existed in the 18th and 19th centuries, those familiar to the FF's..

Thus, the Dick Act of 1903 pretty much eliminated the need for conscripts to own and bring their own weapons.

So what about the second amendment?
Well, this all shows how outdated the wording/concept may be. The only stated reason given at the time for that unconditional right to bear arms, simply no longer exists. However, legally, the amendment stands on its own. It doesn't cease to be the law of the land simply because nobody bothered to update it. (Speed limits don't go away just because the signs have been knocked down.) Quite the contrary. In order for the various anti gun movements to ever be ultimately successful, they are going to have to get that amendment changed. Pretty much every attempt to sneak under or around it has been slapped down by one Supreme Court decision or another. 

It was, simply, an idealistic, perhaps unrealistic effort to create a new nation without also requiring/allowing a large standing military to 'protect' it.
Does it need to be changed/updated? If so, there's a mechanism for that. I didn't say it would be easy.

For those who occasionally wonder why cars have to be registered and drivers licensed, hairdressers must be licensed, many, many businesses can require drug testing and background checks, etc. but guns are somehow, magically, exempt from any of those types of requirements and inconveniences:
Simple, because hairdressers, cars, drivers and corporate employees do not have an entire line item devoted to specifically singling them out, right there in the bill of rights. Guns do.
There's your problem!

* Interesting factoid that would have many of the 'small-army' FF's rolling in their graves: The current Active duty/reserve military headcount in the U.S. is around 2.5 Million, roughly the same as the entire population of the U.S in 1776.

* * * No, I am not at all interested in debating the merits/problems of personal gun ownership, good guns vs. bad guns, mental health issues, WMD's, open carry/concealed carry, etc. The only purpose of this whole exercise was simply to try to understand the meaning and intent of the second amendment.