Sunday, April 10, 2011

What Does the 2nd Amendment Really Say?

There has been a big move among the right wing of this country to abolish the reading of the 2nd Amendment. Just so we're all clear the 2nd Amendment, in full, states:

"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."

You're saying "Ragin' man, I know that. Keep and bear arms. I get it." Well, you've already missed the point. Our "Founders", who have become increasingly deified and monolithic in recent right wing cultural movements, wrote a precursor to the statement about keeping and bearing arms.

"Yeah, that thing about a militia. What does this have to do with the National Guard Ragin' man?" I'm glad you asked because it has almost nothing to do with the National Guard. In an effort to make themselves seem important, and add a little esprit de corps, the National Guard has promoted itself as the natural outgrowth of early militias in the United States. This is only partially true, and covers up an existing truth: a lot of National Guards are not even their state's militias.

I was born and raised in Illinois. My father was in the Army Reserves and my brother was in the National Guard. My other brother and I never served in either of these institutions, but we were every bit as much the members of Illinois' militia.

Article XII Section 1 of the Illinois Constitution states:

"The State militia consists of all able-bodied persons residing in the State except those exempted by law."

Why would this be the case? Illinois has a National Guard, so what is the purpose of this militia? It's a vestigial article that is necessary given the writing of our federal Constitution. War to our founders was something completely different than it is today. You only need to look at the role of the Army as far as the Constitution is concerned to see what the role of an Army was.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 12 states Congress shall have the power:

"To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years"

Sounds reasonable? Well then why does Clause 13 state:

"To provide and maintain a Navy"?

Obviously the Army was supposed to be a short term proposition, whereas the Navy was going to be long term. The writers of the Constitution lived at a time when the United States was separated from the military powers of the world by quite a distance. Essentially the Army of a free state was a defensive mechanism only. The Navy was necessary to secure trade against piracy and other sea faring nations. There is also an English distrust of standing Armies, but for the purposes of this we'll just all accept that there is a pretty good basis to assume the founders didn't envision them.

How does this lead us back to the 2nd Amendment debate? Well, the militia was obviously a concern of the founders since they had made no provision for maintaining an Army. They clearly saw a need for it to be "well regulated" and understood that it had a place in a "free State". Why would they think this?

Well it's important to note that the Constitution was ratified in 1788, 12 years after the Declaration of Independence and 5 years after a the peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War. The previous form of government, the Articles of Confederation, sought to keep the status quo of the colonies along with stopping what were the reasons behind the need for independence. What was the status quo? Well, it's important to understand that each colony was started for a different reason. Georgia was started as a debtor colony, Maryland was for Catholics, and New York was the spoils of taking from the Dutch. It became apparent that the decentralized movement that led 13 colonies to win independence, but left Canada to the British, was an ineffective form of government. How could it? Who would help a nearby state that was made up of people who couldn't even hold office in their state out of the kindness of their heart?

What came out of this realization were calls for a constitutional convention, which featured several competing views on how the government should be formed. Glenn Beck assures us that our founders were a monolithic group who agreed on the nature of the new nation, but that was not the case. It was not even the case on what this new Constitution really was. James Madison thought the separation of powers guaranteed freedoms to the people, but his close friend Thomas Jefferson lobbied for the inclusion of guaranteed rights.

Among these guaranteed rights was the ability to overthrow the government should it become too tyrannical. This war would not be made by militias as they are generally composed today. It would be made much like our Civil War was carried out, by states who resolve on their own to take on what they viewed as an overstepping of power by the federal government. The colonies had done the same to the King in England by voting for and signing a Declaration of Independence, not by simply running a guerrilla campaign against the King until he was unable to project power onto the colonies.

Now, if we all agree that the militia is to be run by the individual state and that it is an important defensive function of the state, then what does that say about the 2nd Amendment's reading by the right?

Well, if we are to suppose that a "free state" has a "well regulated militia" if we take away the state's ability to determine what the makeup of their militia will be, we have become, at the very least, an unsecure free state.

"Sure Ragin' man, but how does this apply to today?" The representatives of the people of the District of Columbia attempted to regulate their militia by denying handguns to it's citizens. Their reasoning can be called into question by anyone on either side of the debate, but the necessity of a well regulated militia to security of a free state cannot, if you are to believe the Constitution.

Justice Antonin Scalia was not informed of any of this when he wrote "We hold that the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense," because if he had he would understand that the purpose of the 2nd Amendment states clearly that it is up to the state to decide the makeup of their militia.

I watch a lot of right wing news sources, and I can't believe the guy who wrote that is statistically likely to be liked by this lady:

1 comment:

  1. So I didn't swing by your blog for a week, and you had posted something like this! I went for a reply, and it got longer and longer, so here it is: I like your post!