Last week, my new weekly columnist Dave Baumeister discussed the linkage between the right to bear arms and the militia, that group of patriotic citizens who are supposed to keep their muskets handy in case the Redcoats or the Spaniards or the Indians or the slaves start shenaniganizing. I stayed out of that conversation (since I’m convinced that the fundamental solution to gun violence is change the American mindset from associating guns with masculinity to recognizing that guns are for sissies and represent a failure to solve problems by rational, humane means). But I’d like to make on quick note on the militia.
As I reviewed the constitutionality of Scyller Borglum’s Wooden Nickel Referendum plan (which will require amending at least three Articles of the Constitution), I noted that the Founding Father mentioned the militia in four places in their Philadelphia scribing:
The Second Amendment famously refers to “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State….” But check out the three other references to “the militia”:
- Article 1 Section 8 includes in Congress’s powers the ability “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;” and “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;…”
- Article 2 Section 2 makes the President the Commander in Chief “of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Perhaps this is the Constitutional provision Donald Trump had in mind yesterday when he “hereby ordered” all American businesses to implement his economic policy (hmmm… so if we call it a trade war, can we say the commander in chief is ordering businesses to act as the militia in repelling an “invasion” of foreign goods?).
- The Fifth Amendment says “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger;”
Each of those references outside the Second Amendment includes “the,” the definite article. The Founders had in mind a single, specific entity. That single, specific entity may be called upon to back up the regular land and naval services for specific purposes: executing the laws of the Union, suppressing insurrections, and repelling invasions. The militia must follow the President’s orders. The militia is to be organized, armed, trained, and disciplined as Congress prescribes. Militia members, like soldiers, have fewer rights of due process when serving.
Gun nuts peddle the illusion that gun ownership is all about individual agency and virility (again, guns are the refuge of the inadequate). But the Constitution’s militia language makes clear that bearing arms is no primary individual right; that right is really an expression of and means to the greater good of national preservation. Contrary to the anti-government fantasies of Bundyville, the Constitution doesn’t affirm guns as a fallback against tyranny. The Constitution allows all those guns solely as an armory to protect itself and the government creates, weapons to be mobilized and controlled by the state.
Guns really are about socialism, not individualism. The Constitution gives the President no authority to nationalize businesses, but it explicitly grants the government power to nationalize guns and impress their owners into immediate national service. To that end, one could argue that Constitutional regulation of the militia requires registering every gun owner and every gun, so the government knows the exact size and location of the armory at its disposal. The government needs to know where those militia members are so it can call them up for training, discipline, and service at any time.
Gun control isn’t a violation of the Second Amendment; gun control is a fulfillment of the Constitution’s intent to protect the nation with a well-regulated militia.