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.
I know I’ve been talking a lot about guns, gun control, and the 2nd Amendment (2A) a lot lately. I can’t help it. Our basic rights, recognized and enshrined in our Constitution, are under attack and I feel compelled to respond.
I’ve been reading a lot from the Federalist Papers recently. I’ve also been reading the debates that took place during the adoption of that amendment so that I could understand what those 27 words mean. We hear a lot of static from all sides of the aisle. Some claim that the Founding Fathers could have never envisioned the type of weapons we have today. Others say that the 2A only applies to the military.
So, what is the truth? What is the “militia” of the Constitution referring to? I’m not going to present a grammatical argument to this issue, though one would suffice alone in coming to a realization of what “the militia” is. Instead, I’m going to talk about what our Founding Fathers intended through their own words.
Interestingly, I’ve never heard anyone quote the ACTUAL LAW in any argument about what constitutes the militia.
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are—
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
Title 10, Subtitle A, Part I, Chapter 13, § 311
What I find funny is that the definition of “militia” contains the word “militia.” But, it does specifically say that even if you’re not in the military, you are a part of the militia.
But, that still doesn’t really answer the question as it relates to the 2A.
While we were fighting for our very existence, Samuel Adams wrote the following letter to James Warren (letters are how we communicated before text messages and Facebook).
It is certainly of the last Consequence to a free Country that the Militia, which is its natural Strength, should be kept upon the most advantageous Footing. A standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People. The Militia is composd of free Citizens.
Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens. They have their Arms always in their hands. Their Rules and their Discipline is severe. They soon become attachd to their officers and disposd to yield implicit Obedience to their Commands. Such a Power should be watchd with a jealous Eye.
I have a good Opinion of the principal officers of our Army. I esteem them as Patriots as well as Soldiers. But if this War continues, as it may for years yet to come, we know not who may succeed them. Men who have been long subject to military Laws and inured to military Customs and Habits, may lose the Spirit and Feeling of Citizens.
And even Citizens, having been used to admire the Heroism which the Commanders of their own Army have displayd, and to look up to them as their Saviors may be prevaild upon to surrender to them those Rights for the protection of which against Invaders they had employd and paid them.
We have seen too much of this Disposition among some of our Countrymen. The Militia is composd of free Citizens. There is therefore no Danger of their making use of their Power to the destruction of their own Rights, or suffering others to invade them.
As a Soldier, I’m sure the irony of me publishing this isn’t lost. How can I support in such strong terms the words of a man who said that me and brothers and sisters in arms should be “watchd with a jealous Eye?” But, he does make a good point after he makes this statement; a point that I believe is just as applicable today.
As a Master Sergeant (and certified First Sergeant), I am in a position of influence commensurate to that rank and position. Soldiers are required to take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
So, what if the President of the United States orders me to confiscate firearms because a law was passed that banned them and required confiscation? My oath is to both support the Constitution and to follow orders. The assumption here is such orders are legal and constitutional. It’s up to each and every Soldier to determine if those orders are constitutional or legal.
There are some troops who actually believe that the president is not a citizen and ineligible to hold the office so any orders from him are unconstitutional. Others have refused to deploy (under both Bush and Obama) because they thought or think that those wars were illegal, in spite of congress declaring them wars.
It comes down to what someone is willing to sacrifice to stand for their individual principles. I would never obey orders to seize guns from any Americans, law-abiding or not. That is a police authority and would violate Posse Comitatus. I would also not enforce or transmit orders to subordinates to do that. This would be an issue on which I would stand on principle.
From 1845-1849, Josiah Quincy, Jr. was the mayor of the City of Boston. He once made the following statement about standing armies that I find fascinating.
“No free government was ever founded or ever preserved its liberty, without uniting the characters of the citizen and soldier in those destined for the defence of the state…. Such are a well regulated militia, composed of the freeholders, citizen and husbandman, who take up arms to preserve their property, as individuals, and their rights as freemen.”
I highlighted the key statement in there that all troops in today’s military should pay attention to in deciding whether or not they should act on orders against Americans (NOTE: I do NOT believe that there are ANY plans by the government to use the military against Americans. There is no training being conducted; no plans being drafted; and frankly no reason to think this is even a possibility. I’m merely addressing questions posed to me and thoughts I’ve had recently that are my own.)
I base my decision on whether or not my actions would be legitimate or not based on whether such actions would protect individual liberty or not. I constantly urge all my elected representatives – from the sheriff to my local city council to my representatives and senators at the national level – not to vote on anything without first asking themselves if their vote will strengthen or weaken individual liberty and whether or not that vote will authorize government to further encroach upon my life.
I will always obey legal, moral, and ethical orders by anyone appointed over me. I will always disseminate such orders and ensure compliance of those within my authority to enforce.
Likewise, I will always disobey orders I feel are illegal, immoral, or unethical. Thankfully, as Samuel Adams noted and I agree with today, “I have a good Opinion of the principal officers of our Army. I esteem them as Patriots as well as Soldiers.” I don’t think that today’s military leaders have “[lost] the Spirit and Feeling of Citizens” so Americans won’t be “prevaild upon to surrender to them those Rights for the protection of which against Invaders they had employd and paid them” any time soon.
My allegiance will always be to America, first and foremost. THAT is why I’m a Soldier.