Gun lobby wrong on militia role

Thursday January 24, 2013

Patrick Brase’s rambling letter about the colonial militia (Eagle, January 21) is fantasy at best. Not every household had a rifle and local militias made up the difference by providing muskets at community expense.

The Second Amendment to our Constitution did not give local communities the right to organize citizen militias, which had existed long before the Constitution was written. As originally proposed by George Mason of Virginia, Section 8 of the 1st Article was to read: "To provide for organizing arming & disciplining the Militia That the Liberties of the People may be better secured against the Danger of regular Troops or standing Armys in time of Peace." The last phrase reflected the Founders’ obsession with the "great danger to liberty from large standing armies" and believed it "best to prevent them by an effectual provision for a good militia." Nevertheless, Mason’s addition to Section 8 was refused by the Constitutional Convention.

When James Madison proposed his Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution, his draft of the Second Amendment read: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person." On September 25, 1789, Congress eliminated the reference to conscientious objectors and settled on the wording now found in the Second Amendment.

Later it was understood by Madison and Thomas Jefferson that militias could be employed only against internal insurrections like the Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts and the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. Since these insurrections were against government authority, militias were actually used to protect government, not, as the gun lobby today argues, to protect citizens from some imagined threat to individual liberty.

The paranoia of those who fail to see the necessity for strict gun controls in our society has no historical basis at all.




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