Grumpy Libertarian’s Second Amendment Reading
The second amendment to the United States Constitution is co-equal with the other nine amendments of the Bill of Rights. Those are essential precautions against the power of government without which our constitution could not have been permanently accepted. Because those ten amendments were intrinsic to the acceptance of their parent document, they are as close to sacred as any secular coda can be.
Federalist forces were deeply desirous of a strong central government for what had, until the constitutional process, been a loose confederation of states. The Bill of Rights was the price the federalists paid to have that government survive.
The second amendment 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.”
Much has been made over the phrase, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” But the interpretations that suggest reading that phrase as requiring the subjugation of the militia to the authority of government, or even regarding it as an aspect of government, are obviously false.
In that era “well regulated” meant simply “efficient” or “effective”, as may be seen by looking at any number of contemporary writings. “Regulation” in the modern and regrettable sense of government control, was simply not in the language then. And “the security of a free state” is obviously as much about maintaining liberty, a “free state”, as it is about armed reaction being available for public safety.
That free state phrase is an obviously deliberate ambiguity. Many Libertarians have suggested that the federalists, who generally preferred less personal liberty for the citizenry, were simply not as agile-minded as the liberals. And this poetic double entendre would seem to confirm that judgment.
In any case, the clear and unambiguous phrase “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be abridged”, is the declarative and operative heart of the amendment. “To keep”, to own, to have, to maintain in one’s own place, and “to bear”, to carry, use, transport, are incontestably clear. And it is a right “of the people”, not of the state. Of course, as Libertarians, we understand that states do not have rights; only individuals can do so.
So we have the second amendment; a clear, evocative guarantee that our government will never, (“shall not” remember?) be allowed to tamper with our right to be an armed people guarding our own freedom, our “free state”.
All assaults on that guarantee are hideously dangerous threats to all of our liberties. Not only nature but any social system abhors a vacuum. If the machinery of our liberty is taken away, the power of the state, sooner rather than later, will take its place. Witness Jerry Brown’s recent shameful endorsement of the eradication of the right to open carry (bearing) even unloaded. That was and is pure cultural warfare. Some characterize it as metrosexuals against rurals. What it is, in fact, is the government-oriented left suppressing the personal-liberties cultural core of our country.
In my reading of this amendment, I rely on the idea of a militia as being a reactive force of the people; not of the government. Of course, the militia would, in a sane and normal situation, sometimes be mobilized and function in concert with government action. Both, after all, were intended to act in the defense of human rights of property, life, and safety.
But the militia is not a governmental entity. It is a loose, sometimes amorphous potential for reaction which resides in the people themselves. A militia action can be as simple as a householder grabbing a stick or gun and responding to a cry for help in the neighborhood. It can be as complex as a mustering in military formation for a campaign against an invading army. In that context, a militia unit would obviously require some operating procedures and a chain of command to be established, either at time of coming together, or previously, to allow for greater efficiency in forming an effective (“well regulated”, remember?) unit. Does this sound like a posse? It is not that. A posse is assembled and authorized by the police power of government. A militia is authorized by the free will of the people.
Of course, when large numbers are necessary militia mobilization would most commonly be called for by government personnel in danger of being outnumbered or outgunned, who would then form the trained professional cadre of a reactive force. As examples, a reaction to banditry in a remote area, or, historically, an Indian raid or an infestation of river pirates, or the near presence of invading forces in the absence of the standing army (the cross-border incursions from Canada during the revolutionary period.)
In the modern context the militia reaction is masked by misunderstanding. Militia action is confused with lynch mobism, and people perceive danger from militia because they think of government, rather than their fellow citizens, as their guarantor of safety.
Some organizations have gone to organizing reactive or active units in such a way as to mimic private standing armies . . . I remember seeing one featured in a popular magazine in the sixties . . . but looser associations are more the norm.
Also, there have been and are associations of people calling themselves “militias” which have been characterized by a great deal of unsophisticated paranoia and racism, seeming to specialize in propaganda and conspiracy theories rather than in seeking out even the military form of intelligence, While that characterization has sometimes been on the basis of a few extreme and noisy individuals, there is much distrust generated by their publicity.
Unfortunately, somewhere in even those faulty associations are exactly the well meaning citizens intended to constitute the militia, the guarantors of a free state. The sheer idiocy and bigotry of a minority of the leadership or membership of those organizations have given our modern federalists, our statists, a brush with which to tar the entire concept of militia.
At the same time our leftists decry any militia organization our leftist-controlled government organizes militias in nations in which we are at war. Apparently our native second amendment opposition movement thinks we are unique in the world, and nothing bad requiring reactive force can ever happen here, except, perhaps, an armed citizenry.
True militia can be seen in every Neighborhood Watch organization, in the Guardian Angels who tried to ameliorate threats to people in the cities, in the voluntary search and rescue groups that appear everywhere in time of need, in the associations of ham radio operators who form communications networks during disasters and emergencies, in volunteer fire departments . . . and in the simple action of someone grabbing a stick or a gun and responding to a terrified cry for help in the night.
Most militia movement people are just like that, patriotic constitutionalists willing to offer their service to the good of the republic.
Negative public perception is where the militia concept has been derailed. The organized opposition to second amendment rights fully exploits and magnifies that negative perception. And this is a primary reason we are much less safe today than we were a century ago. If a householder or a passing motorist responds, say, to a scream from a woman being assaulted, grabs a gun, and either foils the attack simply by appearing on the scene, or fires at, wounding or killing the assailant, that savior will probably find themselves with their weapon seized, themselves handcuffed, the local D.A. being given carte blanche by the media to bring weapons charges, excessive force charges, illegal firearms transport charges, etc.
The result will be at the least very expensive, and, at worst, life destroying. The left media has so conditioned our police and prosecutorial personnel that they think of themselves as the only legitimate reactors to crime; job protection, in a way. Of course that is nonsense, but that is how many justice system people have been trained to act, and it is going to take a generation of retraining to reverse the idea that successful self defense or helping someone else to withstand attack are criminal offenses.
There has been so much vilification of people who take responsibility for their own and others’ defense that people commonly respond to heroism by asking, timidly or indignantly, “But was it . . . government or police authorized?”
If it were not for this sheeplike mindset, there would be no possibility of gangs taking over entire communities . . . there could be no protection racket in the markets of New York. Police would not be in the position of feeling alone and outnumbered and they would not be yielding to the tribal impulse, like the gang hoodlums they must deal with every day.
The spontaneous community service that resides in the militia concept is wasted, and our country is the poorer for the waste. Armed action by non-governmental people has been so scorned, prosecuted, vilified, and made so expensive, that we have people being assaulted and terrorized in full view of their fellow citizens without action being taken.
Oh, someone may call a cop. Maybe. But a mugging or a beating doesn’t take as long as the average response time of our overworked police.
And those seemingly uncaring fellow citizens? They are not uncaring, they are just scared. Since the guarantees of the second amendment have been denied them by thousands of laws and ordinances, they are not armed; they have no recourse to force save to bleat for the uniformed sheep dogs.
A wise man, Sensei Ben Otake, said, once, “There is no goodness without strength.” Denying the strength of arms to the people denies their potential for goodness.