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Response to DetlefK (Original post)

Mon Mar 19, 2012, 04:39 PM

64. Understanding the second amendment.

 

Looking for a well-regulated militia

To put it blunt: I'm a foreigner and I'm confused.

"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."

The text is very clear: The sole purpose of the right to keep and bear arms is the establishment of militias, which would in turn be regulated by some authority.

Where are the well-regulated militias that text refers to? (The only militias I heard about are border-patrolling racists, secessionists or flat-out home-grown terrorists.)
Why are proponents of this amendment fighting regulations when the text clearly calls for them?


Here are some things to understand about militias and the second amendment in the United States.

#1: The purpose of militias.

Firstly, it is necessary to understand what the militias were supposed to do. Why did the founders set up (or rather, allow to continue to exist) a decentralized military? Why not have a single standing army under the control of the federal government?

Remember, the founders had just fought a war against a highly centralized government - a tyranny. They were very wary of centralized power systems, because they knew that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

From Hamilton to Jefferson and many others, standing armies were considered "dangerous to liberty". As one anti-federalist put it, "we all agree, that a large standing army has a strong tendency to depress and inslave the people."

The entire reason for a decentralized militia system was because the founders did not trust the government with the guns.

#2: Where are those militias today?

The second thing you need to understand is that the militias that existed during the founders' day no longer exist. They were federalized in 1903 with the passage of the Dick Act. While still nominally under state control, the National Guard now functions primarily as reserve federal troops and enhances, rather than counters, federal military power.

However, the Dick Act did, in addition to creating the Organized Militia (National Guard), create the Unorganized Militia - all able-bodied men aged 17-45 not otherwise in the National Guard.

Also, many states specifically provide for militias in their governing documents.

But the idea of a decentralized military force able to block federal oppression no longer exists.

The founders may well have anticipated the corruption of the institution of the militias, which is why they specifically enumerated the right to keep and bear arms as something belonging to the people, not to the militias.

#3: What does "well regulated" mean?

In modern vernacular, when we think that something is "well regulated" it is tempting to think this means "functions under the burden of rules and regulations. This is not what it meant in the founders day. For example, early accurate clocks of the day were called "regulators" because they were very precise, well running machines. Even today when we have a well-running digestive system we consider ourselves "regular" and our digestive system to be well regulated.

Well regulated means well-functioning.

Finally you should know that our Supreme Court has recently decided, in Heller, that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, regardless of membership in any organization such as a militia. This was a unanimous opinion even by the dissenters in the ruling.


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DetlefK Mar 2012 OP
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