Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Well Regulated Militia...

The Second Amendment of 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."

What does that mean?  Those twenty seven words have been argued, misinterpreted, and even ignored by private citizens, the military and our elected representatives.  Where does one even start on how to interpret the meaning of those four phrases?

As I've matured as a gun owner, competitor, and hunter I've had the mixed blessing and curse of spending quite a bit of time around people who stress research and drawing logical conclusions based on forming an objective opinion.  So let's start off down this rabbit trail by trying to figure out what exactly the framers of that greatest of secular documents meant by the Second Amendment.

A well articulated article at lectlaw.com goes to great lengths to explain the meaning of the first phrase, "A well regulated Militia,".
"Thus, the well regulated militia necessary to the security of a free state was a militia that might someday fight against a standing army raised and supported by a tyrannical national government. Obviously, for that reason, the Framers did not say "A Militia well regulated by the Congress, being necessary to the security of a free State" -- because a militia so regulated might not be separate enough from, or free enough from, the national government, in the sense of both physical and operational control, to preserve the "security of a free State.""

The good folks at The Constitution Society had this to say;

"The phrase "well-regulated" was in common use long before 1789, and remained so for a century thereafter. It referred to the property of something being in proper working order. Something that was well-regulated was calibrated correctly, functioning as expected. Establishing government oversight of the people's arms was not only not the intent in using the phrase in the 2nd amendment, it was precisely to render the government powerless to do so that the founders wrote it."

In simple terms, well regulated means keeping your stuff in good, working order.  It does not mean nor imply any form of government oversight.  The lectlaw article continues to explain;

"By contrast, nowhere is to be found a contemporaneous definition of the militia, by any of the Framers, as anything other than the "whole body of the people." Indeed, as one commentator said, the notion that the Framers intended the Second Amendment to protect the "collective" right of the states to maintain militias rather than the rights of individuals to keep and bear arms, "remains one of the most closely guarded secrets of the eighteenth century, for no known writing surviving from the period between 1787 and 1791 states such a thesis.""

Stated a different way, there are no documents giving any credence to the idea that the National Guard or other armed body of individuals controlled by the individual states or the federal government were what the framers had in mind.

"Being necessary to the security of a free state," is really what, in my opinion as well as those of folks with much more formal education than I tend to believe the Second Amendment is really all about.  Context is everything when studying and interpreting historical documents.  These United States of America had just fought a difficult and protracted war with what was at the time the greatest military power on Earth, and won!  They were absolutely terrified of the thought of reverting back to the same political system with the advantages given to nobility, castes and monarchs.  Even more daunting was the thought of maintaining a large standing army that was solely responsible to whatever government replaced the old system.

These guys knew what evils lurked in the hearts of men.  Again from lectlaw;

"As Noah Webster put it in a pamphlet urging ratification of the Constitution, "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe." George Mason remarked to his Virginia delegates regarding the colonies' recent experience with Britain, in which the Monarch's goal had been "to disarm the people; that [that] . . . was the best and most effectual way to enslave them." A widely reprinted article by Tench Coxe, an ally and correspondent of James Madison, described the Second Amendment's overriding goal as a check upon the national government's standing army: As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article in their right to keep and bear their private arms."

By referring back to the thoughts and writings of the original framers we can gather what their primary interests were, most notably to not have to fight another war to secure a free state, especially against an army of their countrymen, precisely what had been going on in Europe for centuries and indeed led to the horrors of World War One and World War Two. Our founding fathers sought to rise above those petty intrigues with the creation of a true republic in which the majority ruled while the rights of minorities were protected.

"...The right of the people to keep and Bear arms."  I can't fathom how this can be interpreted in any other manner than what it says.  The people, both collectively and individually have the right to own, bear, and store weapons.  There are no limitations here.  No qualifiers about hunting, defense from marauding Indians, nothing about cosmetic features or color, barrel length or overall stock length.  There are no limitations that describe small arms only either.  There's nothing that says a private citizen can't have a cannon, mortar, bombard, Puckle Gun, a Ferguson Rifle, a heavy machine gun or even a tank.  Let's remember the purpose discussed above.  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."  People and equipment in good order capable of defending against a standing army turned against the people.

"...Shall not be infringed."  The term "shall not" is used in law books and codes though out the country at every level from the smallest town to the federal government.  Another way of saying this is, "Absolutely under no circumstances."  Infringed, according the the Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as; 

"to wrongly limit or restrict (something, such as another person's rights)"

With any right comes responsibility.  Exercising our right to free speech to incite a riot or a lynching is irresponsible to say the least.  Owning and bearing firearms without being well regulated, or in good working order is irresponsible as well.  To expand on that thought even further, not only do we need to make sure our weapons are in good working order, but our ability to use them is as well.  That leads us into training.

I want to pause briefly and clarify that I am not advocating preparing for armed insurrection.  Taking up arms against our fellow citizens is an abhorrent idea.  Should that time ever take place we as responsible individuals should strongly consider the ramifications of such actions and only do so with great reluctance.  

Proficiency in safe storage,handling and the manual of arms (how to properly load, unload, clear malfunctions, zero, aim and fire,) should be first and foremost in our quest for training.  Once the basics are understood and put into daily practice then the more advanced methods should be pursued.  What exactly are advanced methods?    Loading, unloading, aiming and shooting from the Standing, Kneeling, Sitting, and Prone positions are the logical next steps.  Once those foundation blocks are laid and cemented we can move on to shooting while moving, proper use of cover, and accurately engaging targets at various ranges.  Shooting while under minor degrees of mental stress will quickly show flaws in our equipment and methods.  To that end participation in one or some of the various shooting competitions should be pursued.  

Another avenue to explore is seeking professional instruction.  I'll caution the reader to do so with caution.  The training community has numerous quality instructors and training organizations.  Unfortunately there are just as many, if not more that claim the title and teach utter bunk.  I'd recommend looking into the numerous NRA programs as well as the Appleseed Project to start off in basic firearms handling skills.  Ladies that are interested in training without the sometimes overwhelming levels of testosterone can look for a local A Girl With A Gun chapter.

Regardless of your purpose in owning a firearm, do take the time to maintain proficiency.