By Mike Vanderboegh
Sunday, September 11, 2016
"A Restatement of First Principles: What is the purpose of the armed citizenry?"
By Mike Vanderboegh
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776
This is for those who are a bit unclear about who we are and what we're supposed to be about, at least as the Founders saw it:
We are the armed citizenry of the united States. The Founders expected future generations to be like them, both armed and citizens. These concepts were, to them, inseparable. Only a free man may possess arms that he or she may use for his or her own purposes. Only a citizen, someone constantly participating in the political process and vigilant to threats to liberty, utilizing all non-violent means available can be expected to short-circuit threats to liberty, life and property prior to violence morally justifiable as self-defense.
"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials." — George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788
In practical terms, the armed citizenry is supposed to:
1. Provide security in life, liberty and property to each citizen in his home from depredation by common criminals;
2. Provide security in life, liberty and property to the community by assisting, when necessary, duly constituted authority in maintaining civil order; and
3. Provide security in life, liberty and property to the states and nation by being the credible countervailing power to would-be tyrannical government.
These three functions are provided for in the concept of a "well-regulated militia," -- which at the time meant well disciplined, well led, well trained, well armed, with weapons of common caliber -- bands of citizen soldiers operating in the common defense of life, liberty and property.
"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive." -- Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).
Each task requires the armed citizenry to be "well-regulated," but each requires a different set of rules of engagement, as we style them today.
Tasks One and Two are, largely, non-political. The burglar is not motivated by your politics (or his) but by the prospect of obtaining your property, the rapist by access to your wife or daughter. Likewise, the ordinary urban mob is motivated less by politics and more by culture and the prospect of loot encouraged by a breakdown of normal civil order. They may claim politics as the reason, they may even believe it, and their destruction may have a political outcome, but the urban riot is merely the common burglar writ large. It is a crime of opportunity. They do it because they can.
"Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American...[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people." -- Tenche Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
Thus, these first two tasks of the armed citizenry are widely recognized as a legitimate exercise of defensive violence. The Founders, indeed, accepted this as they did the air they breathed. It was a given under the English Constitution and the common law that underpinned it. Only today in the minds of collectivists of varying stripes who covet other people's property, liberty and lives is it controversial -- and for the same reason that a burglar bitterly denounces burglar alarms.
Task Three, on the other hand, is entirely political, and thus far more controversial in some uninformed quarters although this was the principal purpose of the Founders in codifying it in the the Second Amendment. In Part Two of this short series, I will discuss what the Founders had in mind, and how today's armed citizenry must adapt their mission statement to new realities that they never foresaw.
"Whereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it." -- Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
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