Opinion: What is the Militia?

The debate over gun rights is once again in full hysteria mode, and thus we need to go over those pesky gun rights for the millionth time. To skip over most of the common arguments, let’s go to the core. The text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads

“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.”

Nobody really argues over what “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” is to mean. The wording is extremely clear and direct, and can only be misunderstood if you’re actually trying to misinterpret it. The argument comes in during that first clause, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state”. What, gun control advocates ask, did the founding fathers mean by this? Surely not that every able-bodied man between the ages of 17 and 45 is a part of the militia. That would be ridiculous. It is also important to note that in the 18th century, the word “regulation” meant “to be standard and well supplied” in military use. So, let’s break it down in the words of our founding fathers, and then label the full strength and armament of the militia.

In the words of George Washington:

“It may be laid down, as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defence of it, and consequently that the Citizens of America (with a few legal and official exceptions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Militia Rolls,  provided with uniform Arms, and so far accustomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Country might be called forth at Short Notice on any very interesting Emergency.”

-Penned in a letter to Alexander Hamilton, 1783

Washington goes a step further than the US Code on the subject, suggesting that all men between the ages of 18 and 50 be required to provide a portion of their property (read “property tax”) and also their service in its defense. Thus, he writes that Citizens of America, excluding some for officially approved reasons, should be enrolled as militia. The excerpt of the letter goes on to explain that these men should all be armed uniformly, that is given standard issue weapons, and trained in their use. This would mean that our current National Guard would be expanded massively. To be fair, Washington also suggested in 1776 that militia were “a broken staff”, yet this was before he fought a war in which his primary force was militia.

Full Strength of the Militia: ~60 million

Armament in Modern Weaponry: M16A3 Assault Rifles, M9 Handguns, M67 Fragmentation Grenades

In the Words of Thomas Jefferson:

“For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security.”

“[The People] are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty.”

Jefferson goes into less detail regarding the definition of the militia, but he also refers to security of freedom being in the hands of the people themselves. Thus, if the people are the guardians of their own freedom, and the best way to guard freedom is through a well-organized militia, it is clear that Jefferson is implying that the militia = the people. If we then consider, as Jefferson did, all the people of the United States to be members of the militia, accounting for age we find that the number of able-bodied people is massive, and that all of them are considered the militia and thus have the right to bear arms. Jefferson, however, does not have the stipulation that the state or federal government provide these militia with arms.

Full Strength of the Militia: ~120 million

Armament in Modern Weaponry: Any Rifles and Shotguns, Any Handguns, Any Grenades

In the Words of George Mason and James Madison:

“I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few public officials.”

-George Mason

“That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free State; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

-James Madison and George Mason, Virginia Declaration of Rights

You can’t get much more direct than George Mason and James Madison. Under Mason’s description, the number of people described as the militia is the sum total of all men and women, regardless of age, sex, or status, who reside legally in the United States of America. Mason and Madison believed that, not only is the militia made up of the people, but it is to be trained and present in place of a standing army. This specific clause flies in the face of the common talking point that the militia are members of the military. The National Guard, of course, is an organized militia. While these Founding Fathers do not stipulate that the government provide arms, they do recommend that the people be trained in arms.

Full Strength of the Militia: ~300 million

Armament in Modern Weaponry: Any Rifles and Shotguns, Any Handguns, Any Grenades

In the Words of John Adams:

“The militia and sovereignty are inseparable. In the English constitution, if the whole nation were a militia, there would be a militia to defend the crown, the lords, or the commons, if either were attacked. The crown, though it commands them, has no power to use them improperly, because it cannot pay or subsist them without the consent of the lords and commons; but if the militia are to obey a sovereignty in a single assembly, it is commanded, paid, and subsisted, and a standing army, too, may be raised, paid, and subsisted, by the vote of a majority; the militia, then, must all obey the sovereign majority, or divide, and part follow the majority, and part the minority. This last case is civil war; but, until it comes to this, the whole militia may be employed by the majority in any degree of tyranny and oppression over the minority.

The constitution furnishes no resource or remedy; nothing affords a chance of relief but rebellion and civil war. If this terminates in favor of the minority, they will tyrannize in their turn, exasperated by revenge, in addition to ambition and avarice; if the majority prevail, their domination becomes more cruel, and soon ends in one despot. It must be made a sacred maxim, that the militia obey the executive power, which represents the whole people in the execution of laws. To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defence, or by partial orders of towns, counties, or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed, and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.”

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government (1787)

John Adams has one of the most interesting and difficult to comprehend opinions of the Founding Fathers. He begins by explaining the circumstances under which a militia would operate in the United Kingdom. While it is not wholly important or applicable to his definition of the militia of the United States, it explains his fears about such a force falling into the wrong hands.

His commentary on the militia of the United States is extremely interesting. He does not define them directly, but rather defines the power structure under which they are to operate. What he describes is, in fact, very similar to the current National Guard of the United States in its operation, but not in its organization. The militia described by John Adams consists of community members of municipalities of varying size, armed by their own private funds, who are under the command of the law itself. They are an executive force, to be ordered to and fro at the sole command of the executive power unless they are acting within their own communities or in self-defense. Adams bases this decision off of a fear that militias would become, in essence, similar to the partisans of post-WWI Germany; representative of minorities or majorities using the force of arms to impose their will upon their fellow man. With this in mind, he dictates that the militia should serve the written law itself, rather than any group of elected officials. The President or Governor, being the executioner of the law, should then be the only individual capable of commanding the militia outside of its own command structure.

Full Strength of the Militia: ~60 million

Armament in Modern Weaponry: Any Rifles and Shotguns, Any Handguns, Any Grenades

In the Words of the 10 US Code and the Conclusion which must be Drawn:

“(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.”

10 US Code 246

You knew I’d come back to this eventually. The United States code is actually the sole explicit and legally applicable description of the militia, and it falls in line most with the beliefs of Jefferson and Washington, in different ways.

It corresponds to the ideas of Washington it terms of its age requirements and the exemption of certain officials. While the militia ages differ slightly, it essentially is comprised of all individuals residing in these United States who are or have declared intention to become citizens, and who are considered youthful. At the onset of middle age around age 45, the requirement of service no longer applies. As well, this includes women but only those in the National Guard.

Jefferson’s stipulations take over from here. The militia is all of the people, but not by definition organized by the state or federal government. Hence, the breakup into two defined groups – organized and unorganized.

The organized Militia in today’s terms is the National Guard, Air and Army, and the Coast Guard. These are organized, straitified, armed and trained under the regulation of the State and Federal Governments. At the command of the Governor and the President, they fall into the structure proposed by Washington and Adams.

The Unorganized Militia consists of everyone else to whom the definition in Section A of 10 US Code 246 applies, and who are not members of the National Guard. In creating this piece of code, the Federal Government has, in fact, supported the position of groups such as the NRA, Oathkeepers, and 3 Percenters – the militia do not need the consent of the government to exist, nor to arm themselves. The talking point that the militia are the National Guard falls apart immediately, because the National Guard was simply an unofficial term for statewide unorganized militia until 1903, and was not fully incorporated into the Armed Forces of the United States until 1933.

The only conclusion available in this circumstance is that Gun Control Advocates really have no legal ground to stand on. The National Guard argument fails because they have existed since 1636, the idea that the militia was not intended to be all citizens is destroyed by the writings of the Founding Fathers themselves, and our current laws and regulations actually reinforce the idea that the militia are made up of literally all male citizens. If we were to use the current definition of our government, then the Gun Control Lobby would actually find themselves mired in their own poor understanding of the law. They say that only the militia should own weapons, then they must agree that all male citizens have a right to “keep and bear arms”, a clause which includes no restrictive language regarding the type of arms we may bear.

If the Gun Control Lobby disputes this, then it is not a difference of interpretation of law or intent that drives them, but a full tilt assault on the right to bear arms. Their argument is not that we are improperly following the law of the land, but that the law of the land is wrong and must be changed. Given a majority in the legislative branches of our nation, and a willing executive, they would surely enact laws to infringe upon our rights. As Adams clearly feared, a militia commanded by the state legislature rather than in service to the Constitution would be forced to either rebel or stand aside. Thus, the left wing gun control push actually proves that the militia as envisioned by Jefferson, Mason and Madison is a necessary and proper deterrent to hyper-partisanship feared by Washington and Adams.

The Gun Control Lobby, then, is nothing more than a partisan attempt to revise the protections of political minorities out of existence, erode the power of the executive, and push the nation towards tyranny of the legislative majority, all in service of a party that routinely expresses the collectivist views of a minority of Americans as fair and proper. This cannot be allowed, and thus the importance of the armed, unorganized militia is starker than ever before.

When people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.

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