Common errors in thinking have characterized the argument among progressives that the term "well regulated militia" as contained in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandates national gun control laws and various restrictions.
Such thinking, however, cannot be verified by the historical record.
How do we know that this is the case? How can we be certain that the Framers did not wish to impose cumbersome national gun restrictions and controls on the firearms rights of the citizens?
The text itself, understood within its historical context and the philosophy and written explanations of the Framers themselves, provides the answers.
The Second Amendment is part of an overall Congressional bill known as "the Bill of Rights" -- the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The first 10 amendments were presented to the states as one entity for approval. Although originally the bill contained more than 10 amendments, the states whittled them down to 10, the ones on which they all could find common agreement.
It is no accident that the first 10 amendments were called the Bill of Rights. The intent was to delineate specific rights that are entirely the people's domain, the entire citizenry, and to place restrictions on the power of the central federal government to limit them. Thus, the entire thrust of the first 10 amendments was to enumerate the rights of the people, not to limit or restrict them. The only restrictions are upon government.
Further, within the actual text the term "well regulated militia" did not refer to government regulations as progressives often claim. How do we know this is the case? We know for a fact that this is the case because the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to affirm the rights of citizens, not restrict or regulate them. We also know for a fact that the Framers intended to restrict government rather than the citizens.
When the Bill of Rights was penned the term "well regulated militia" meant that given it is assumed that all able-bodied adult males within the citizenry would automatically become the militia, since there was no standing professional army, those citizens would be expected to maintain their shooting skills and keep their firearms in good working condition. "Regulated," thus, meant "regular," or "well disciplined," or "regularly kept in good working condition."
If the citizens would serve as the army or "militia," then they had to take great care in regularly exercising their shooting skills and in keeping their firearms in regular working condition, or else the nation could not depend on the citizens to fight if it came under attack. The militia, or all able-bodied male adults, had to be ready to take up their arms at the drop of a hat in the event of a surprise attack, and to use their firearms quickly and accurately.
The thinking of the Framers as indicated by extensive historical documentation, along with the words of the Framers themselves, is summarized by Daniel J. Schultz.
And perhaps one of the most crucial statements made by the Framers is that of Alexander Hamilton, who not only differentiated between a professional, standing army and a people's militia but further insisted that this people's militia must be able to match a standing army:
...but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights . . .
How, exactly, did such a people's militia remain able to match skill for skill a massive standing army? By being well regulated, that is, well-trained, disciplined, and knowledgeable of the tactics of warfare.
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My latest blog entry in the series, Musings After Midnight, is now available at The Liberty Sphere. It's titled, "I get a vote, you get a vote, all God's children get a vote! That's right, Mr. President, and that includes gun rights activists!"
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