Friday, April 21, 2017

Where the Founders failed ... or where their descendants did

So-called 2nd Amendment advocates are now looking at the demonstrations in Venezuela and saying, "too bad they can't have guns. If Germans had had guns in 1938, they could've stopped Hitler." The implication is that because Americans have guns, they can bring down a tyrannical central government.

Americans with guns are an unorganized, undisciplined--or, to use the language of the amendment, un-well-regulated--body. Could they defeat a powerful military that includes an air force, navy, elite units, and the support of a dense intelligence network? Unquestionably no. It's not just--or even mostly--the mismatched armaments. It's more the complete absence of a unified military organization among armed citizens in the US, including so-called Constitutional militia groups--and, no, membership in the NRA doesn't count.

But what really gets me is that these apologists for the unorganized militia are unaware of the Founders' understanding of the purpose of the 2nd Amendment.

It's pretty well-known among people with a glancing knowledge of history that Americans who supported breaking away from Britain had a pervasive fear of a permanent standing army controlled by the central government (a fear still encoded in the Constitution of my state, Tennessee, to wit: "standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to freedom.")

But what very few people seem to understand is that the 2nd Amendment was meant to ensure that the arsenal of the nation should be the people in arms as a mechanism to prevent reliance on an army equipped by the central government. I cannot emphasize this fact enough.

Let me put it more plainly: the right to keep and bear arms is protected so that the people--in its incarnation as a well-regulated militia--shall be both army and arsenal.

If you want proof of this fact, look at the Militia Act of 1792, which gave statutory teeth and clarity to the amendment. It required every free, able-bodied white male citizen between 18 and 45 to be in a local militia company and to provide his own firearm and ammunition. There was in fact a small standing army that garrisoned frontier and coastal forts, but anything larger depended on a declaration of war and funding on an ad hoc basis from a Congress made up of people deeply suspicious of such a military institution.

By 1903 the universal citizen-armed militia (which had long become, practically speaking, an artifact) was replaced by the Federal-government-armed national guard. And nobody made a peep.

Ah, the Founders and their quaint notions.

I don't think they'll be coming back. Wildcat insurrectionists aside, I know of one person who is making a concerted political effort to bring back the Constitutional Militia. He seems to be outgunned.

But if the Militia Act of 1792 were updated for the 21st century, every adult citizen within a certain age range (say 18-60) would be in the militia ... and would provide his or her own weapon--according to specifications--and would be trained in its use. Then all those adult citizens would slap their foreheads with amazed, sudden, Founders-intent, Constitutional enlightenment: "Oh, it says 'common defense,' not 'imperialism,'" and the Defense Department would be downsized from jumbo to regular, but there would still be more than enough freedom fries for Blue Angel flyovers. (There's a reason this blog is called "Follies.")

Meanwhile the NRA notion that somehow a bunch of armed individuals can stand up to the most powerful military on earth? Talk about quaint. It's high time it got the derisive send-off it deserves.

(If you require a nice, succinct, authoritative, lawyerly explanation as to why, in the Second Amendment, the Founders were not addressing the individual right to bear arms for self-defense, here you go. Quick answer: it already existed.)

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