Linoge linked to a couple of articles last week, and one of them – once I finally got around to reading it – tripped one of those switches in my brain that said “Oh! Now I get it!” regarding the deceptively clumsy phrasing of the Second Amendment.
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. – U.S. Constitution, Amendment II
The relationship between the two clauses, and how or even if they cause the Right to relate to militias, has been debated for at least a century. A popular argument among those who favour gun control – whether outright bans on all guns, or bans of “assault weapons” – is that the 2nd Amendment is preconditioned on membership in a militia, and that the National Guard and/or the advent of professional police forces has superseded the founder’s model of local militias. As a result, they argue, the 2nd Amendment does not apply to ordinary citizens, only to police and National Guard members.
While this argument certainly ignores the fact that the unorganized militia is still embodied in US law, it is flawed on a much more basic level – the 2nd Amendment clearly and specifically assigns that right to the people, not to the militia or members of a militia. This is the classic dependent/independent clause argument – that the reference to a “well regulated militia” explains the necessity of protecting the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but does not limit that right to membership in a militia.
But there was a point in reading that article where something else clicked for me, though I can’t point to any one sentence or paragraph and say “this is where I understood”. It’s a surprisingly simple concept.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, so that they may quickly and easily form a militia should the need arise.
When the Right for each and every citizen to own, possess, and carry arms is restricted, a militia cannot be formed without those people first going out and obtaining arms. If the government is allowed to restrict how, when, and if a citizen can purchase firearms – yes, even military weapons – then the government can restrict or prevent the formation of any militias.
But why, you ask, in our modern society, would anyone need to form a militia so quickly that they couldn’t wait for the government to approve it if it truly was needed?
Leaving aside the assumption that the government a) would approve it in the first place, and b) would do so quickly enough to do any good, it also ignores the speed in which bad situations can develop. A perfect modern day example of this is the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, and the events that took place in Koreatown during those riots.
With the police overwhelmed (and, by all accounts, not terribly motivated to intervene in that neighborhood anyway), it fell to the citizens there to defend their homes, livelihoods, and their lives themselves. They banded together in small groups for their own defense – the very definition of an unorganized militia. Once the riots started, they didn’t have time to go to a store and buy a gun. They didn’t have time to sit through a background check. They were dependent on the guns they had at the time.
Without the protections afforded by the Second Amendment, Koreatown would have been destroyed by the rampaging mobs.
What would have been more effective in Boston last month – unarmed citizens cowering in their homes with the police and National Guard imposing martial law (lite! with only half the jackboots!) while searching house to house, or armed citizens standing watch over their own neighborhoods while directing the police towards any suspicious activity?
I’ll say it again. The Second Amendment Right to keep and bear arms does not depend on membership in a militia, it is what allows us to form militias where and when they are needed.
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