Twenty Seven Uncommon Words
Ryan A. Rocquin
Above all things the founders of the United States wanted to ensure that the people of the nation could be secure in their own liberty. To protect this liberty the people were given a shield. The shield is a document that has not had its substance altered but has had its meaning misinterpreted. What is the purpose of these twenty-seven? That is one of the most complex of the protections that were laid out by the framers. In today’s world our language has changed. In the United States the flow of the language has changed, from the usage of words to the way sentences and paragraphs are structured. Simple words, such as state, have changed over the course of two centuries. To get to the heart of what was meant by the founders will require an examination of terms and phrases used, the men who wrote those words, what the Founders perceptions of those words were and what form these perceptions may take today.
To start at the beginning is the most sensible way to start the breakdown of this sentence, “a well regulated Militia […]”. The subject of this clause is the word “Militia.” Today this conjures an image of toothless weekend warriors waving a Confederate battle flag while shooting their guns and drinking beer. For men like Alexander Hamilton the Militia was a check on the power of federal troops. In The Federalist Papers No.29 he discusses how the Militia is in place to ensure that the federal government cannot overreach. Federalist 29 details the Founders’ ideas on the most effective employment of the populace in order to maintain a peaceful society, such as dealing with natural disasters or civil unrest that may be both military and law enforcement at heart. Hamilton also lays out a scheme for meeting the burden of “well regulated” which will be thoroughly addressed later. For now it should be said that the notion expressed was that the common man would have the skills of a common infantryman; possessing knowledge of a manual of arms, fire control, field words and general military discipline to name a few things. Understanding this clause requires an in-depth understanding of the word Militia and how its etymology has moved. The Militia is not an organization which is beholden to the federal government but to the constitution of the nation, the state and under the authority of that state’s governor, a concept that is foreign today.
“… [B]eing necessary for the security of a free State”
Here the subject of the clause is the word State. But not any state, a “free State”. At the time the nation coalesced from the thirteen former English colonies each was a free and independent nation. Most had their own currency and cultures as distinct as those of European nations of the day. Prior to the American Civil War it was common to hear “These United States” in recognition that the states were largely independent of one another. This can be seen in the way that debt from the revolutionary wars was viewed. Each state paid for their own incurred debt separately until the Assumption Compromise, where wealthy southern states assumed debt from other states and compromised on what would become the location of the nation’s capitol. This was also the beginning of the federal government as it exists today. Prior to assumption the states were autonomous. To a degree this remains true today. States have different rules about marriage, the sale of liquor and the handling of various other affairs. The states were to be laboratories of liberty and freedom. Tied to this idea was the notion that the each state was responsible for its own security. Today this manifests in the form of sheriffs and state police departments but not in the Militia as it was seen by the founders.
Every man from fifteen to fifty of able body was considered by the founders to be a member of the militia. Therefore “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” is about the individuals and the households that were to stand when called upon. Time and again this clause is misinterpreted just as the term Militia is misunderstood. At its heart this clause is the means to a defense and a call to arms. Both in the phrase “the people” and “bear arms” is the essence of responsibility and the empowerment of nature. The people are the power of the nation. It is the people that are responsible for the maintenance of the nation through the keeping of their own communities. Even when there is someone with a badge who takes up arms and walks the night for the rest to sleep in peace, one person is not enough in the face of wrong. Here the Founders are charging all who are able to stand the watch to do so. To that end they empower all that answer that call with the means of arms. Whether a knife, rifle or even one’s mind there is no limitation placed on the form of these arms. There is no restriction. When General Washington manned the earthworks in New York the most feared weapon of the day was not the cannon, or the rifle, but the bayonet. Innovation was something that the founders understood. If the individuals of this nation had not been armed from its conception, today there would be United States of America.
When penning the protections that many believe to be concessions, men like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams thought that future generations would recognize their intentions at a glance. The Bill of Rights does not grant a single right. Like the Constitution itself, the first ten amendments to the Constitution are protection for the people from government. The words “…, shall not be infringed” should make that quite plain. These three words are the Founders reaching across the gulf of time and telling all in government to keep their hands off this right. Rights may be forfeit but at no time may government step in and interfere with anyone’s free exercise of their life, so long as they are not infringing on the rights and liberties of others.
To do justice to this sentence it must be read for what it is. “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.” Or more plainly, “A well organized and trained Militia is necessary for the security and sovereignty of a State and therefore the right of the people of that state to own and keep arms to that end will not be interfered with.” This is a shield for the members of the United States and for their people, a protection from the encroachment of federalization. A guarantee that if force is needed the people of that state will have the means to dispose to that end.
When politicized the second amendment to the Constitution is marginalized and misinterpreted, often by men and women that have sworn oaths to defend it. This has helped lead to a slow erosion of rights. These rights were not taken by force. If that would have happened, the tree of liberty surely would have been watered. In fact, these rights were forfeit by the complacence of the public. Far too often the people did not stand up and tell the federal government “no.”
The American Constitution is the foundation upon which the United States of America was set. Designed to be solid, but not inflexible, the Constitution is more than a slab of stone. The Constitution also sets the boundary which the foundation may not exceed. To ensure against this the Founders gave the people of the new nation a means to prevent the government from encroaching on the properties of the people and the states. The initial element of the Bill of Rights is the voice of the people to speak out against illegal growth, the next right protected was the means to put force behind the people’s voice. In the world today force to put down a government is rarely seen outside of the third world, but it was one of the intentions of the Founders that the people should have the means to check the government.
A modern American state marching against the armed forces of the United States of America is thought to be laughable. The populace does not believe that the people of the nation could stand up to the power of the U.S. Armed forces. Through the 1980’s and 1990’s this might have proven out. Today the U.S. military has been involved in a decade long conflict that has brought the veterans of the nation together. The bond of war is one that political derisiveness cannot compromise. This aside, it is concluded that the rights of the state to create an armed force should coalesce in a different form. Detractors of this right say that the phrase “well regulated militia” is fulfilled through the national guards of a state. The modern national guards and the modern American military or sworn not only to the Constitution but to the commander and chief of the armed forces. This is the flaw that allowed of the Louisiana National Guard to be operating in Iraq when Hurricane Katrina raked across the American Gulf Coast. State militias are to be the protection first of the state and of that states municipalities and its people, then at the direction of the state to answer the call of the nation in a time of crisis.
Today the militia would be part police and part army, a group of people under the direction of a sheriff who are in part reserve deputies. So rather than only several hundred officers attempting to manage several thousand rioters, as was the case in Los Angeles in 1992, the sheriff could have had a force of around seven thousand to assist in putting down riots. This estimate is based on 3.8 percent of the population being veterans, based on current L.A. county veterans population, the population of the county in 1992, (9,115,600) and estimating just two percent of those veterans volunteering to serve the country and the state as members of the militia.
Much like the volunteer firefighters and reserve police officers these people would apply and be screened by the county, district, and/or state. Though it would not be required, veteran status would be a benefit since the organization would not be a strictly police organization. The militia would not only be able to be utilized during times of civil unrest to reinforce the regular law enforcement, this group would also perform search and rescue functions, provide supplemental forces for wild land fire operations, disaster relief, and state level operations. Even with just two percent of an area’s population, this would provide an enormous force multiplier in times of emergency.
Individuals must be able to own and maintain personal weapons in order for a volunteer militia, country/state-level militia to be plausible. Several reasons exist for this. Chief amongst them is that every person has a right to defend themselves. As members of a civilized society under a social contract there is a moral calling to assist others in need. Whether a person is in need of CPR, a child is lost in a store, or there is an emergency requiring the application of force, there is a calling to assist. There is a small segment of the population today that carry concealed weapons. Fewer people carry CPR masks or are trained in CPR. This is a responsibility within today’s society that has been largely neglected. Apathy allowed for the rights of the states and the people to be eroded.
Responsibility is concurrent with a right. The right protected by the second amendment to allow the states to raise and regulate a militia and it is the concurrent responsibility for at least some members of that population to keep and be willing to bear arms when required. These people are no different that volunteer firefighters who willingly place their lives in danger for the protection of their community. This requires time, training and equipment and is the reason that this could be used as a template for the reconstitution of militias in our society with a few addendums.
The process for selecting members of the militia would be similar to the process that is used to hire police officers. Each member of the militia would be screened by the local sheriff’s department. This step is vital since this is an armed force and since as reserve members of the sheriff’s department the militia would have limited powers of arrest in a county and within its respective state if called upon by the governor to act. Like the regular military and police forces the militia should have a chain of command and demarcation of rank. Unlike the armed forces of the United States the militia will have the governor of the state at the top of the chain of command. It will be the governor and the state legislature that set rank, determining title and promotion. A different standard would be set for officers within the militia. Those who wish to hold officers’ rank will have to have served on active duty with the military or have held a full commission as a police officer. To assist with the management of a larger force a corps of officers will be necessary for managing smaller areas which day to day normally fall to local municipalities.
Physical fitness standards and marksmanship will be standard to qualify for the militia and for continued service. Much like rank, this standard should be set by the state legislature to ensure that there are common core standards throughout a state. This will hold true for training standards and the curriculums used in that training. Equipment will have to be set county by county. Some states have environments that are in stark contrast to one another from high plains to low swamps, unique weather and other factors. These factors could be considered when creating training specific to the area.
All members would be required to complete a reserve officer academy and to receive a course in basic emergency management, infantry tactics and search and rescue. Each member would be responsible to provide their own weapons while activate. The sheriff’s office would provide a list of approved equipment to ensure some commonality and the members would be responsible for its acquisition and maintenance. Weekly training will be directed by the officers in charge of sub districts. Annual training, including rifle and pistol qualification, will be managed by the sheriff’s office. Additional training will be the responsibility of the district units to organize fund, track and report to the sheriff’s department.
More than just a simple means of fielding additional police, this is also a way of increasing security throughout communities through citizens of the community. In major cities across America people live in fear of crime and allow crimes to go unreported. This may be due to a social disconnect between law enforcement and large portions of the public. Having neighbors in the militia, working in local business, schools and participating in community groups may lead to an added sense of security and deter criminal elements from settling into some places.
What if there had been a militia of even seven hundred people from Orleans Parish and they had taken part in maintaining order after hurricane Katrina (2% of New Orleans pre-Katrina veterans assuming national average of 7.3%)? Would it have been better to have members of the communities acting to help deliver relief and enforce the rule of law rather than strangers? There may have been some benefit to men and woman from their own towns and neighborhood going door to door, dealing with the few business left operating and preventing the spread of lawlessness. What if in L.A. in 1992 instead of a few hundred L.A.P.D. officers with tear gas the rioters had been faced with seven thousand equipped militia? Would drug runners and human traffickers risk running the border if they thought that the Rio Grande in Maverick County Texas were patrolled by around three hundred militia, enforcing the sovereignty of the state of Texas (2% of Maverick County veterans, 2.9% of total population)?
Thougt the focus of the above statistics has been major incidents there are also benefits to day to day operations with the incorporation of militia. When called upon they can aid in wildlife management, traffic enforcement, corrections/penal crew oversight and search and rescue missions. Since the militia will be all volunteer there is little or even no expense to field the militia to aid in these operations. At the heart of this group will be the people. The people who are the towns, counties and the states to whom the second amendment was meant to protect.
Though it is not often thought of as a community or even a state right, that is what the second amendment protects. In addition to the right of the individual to own arms to protect themselves there is also a responsibility to one’s community. With battles raging along the nation’s southern border, a populace that grows ever more volatile and gangs warring over the nation’s cities there is a need for a force that is beholden to the state and to small communities.
For too long the second amendment has been just about guns. It is about more than that. To the men that wrote those twenty seven words the matter they addressed was security, security of the states and of the people. Distracted by other issues the people have let their responsibility and rights be marginalized and ultimately infringed upon by the one thing that the founders feared, the very government that they created.