We are all familiar with the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution: “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. But what is hidden by the ellipsis?
This: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”.
In the Declaration of Independence, we are introduced to the idea of “self-evident” truths; ideas which were agreed upon by all as true, and needing no argument. This might just be one of those self-evident truths.
It is, after all, just a preamble to an enumerated right of the people. But judging by the way it’s written, a it seems to be a preamble which needed no argument to support it.
What was meant by “well regulated”? It certainly doesn’t refer to lists of rules, as in “regulations”. In it’s day, “well regulated” referred to something in good working order, or calibrated, or functioning as expected. So, it seems, the founders believed that a militia, in working order, functioning as expected was necessary to the security of a free state.
Did they really believe that, or were they, as we’ve been taught, just reacting out of fear of a standing army? After all we know that the Patriot Militia was a complete bust, don’t we? We’ve been taught that success in the War of Revolution was only had by the trained Continental Army with Washington at its head; that the militia was ineffectual if not downright incompetent.
Have you heard of the Battle of Breed’s Hill? You might know it as Bunker Hill. On June 16, 1775, by night, the American Patriots quietly fortified the hill overlooking Boston, and by morning had the high ground secured. The British Army was surprised, but nonetheless attacked with 2400 men to the Patriots’ 1500. Patriot Americans fought off three British attacks and they finally gave up the field only when they ran out of ammunition. They lost 450 men to the British loss of 1150 men. So – when did George Washington take control of the Continental Army? 3 weeks later on July 3, 1775. Those men on Breed’s Hill were not army regulars, led by Washington, they were Patriot Militia!
Who are the “militia”? Let Tench Cox answer that one: “Who are the militia? Are they not we ourselves?” The militia is not the National Guard. That group would have qualified at that time as a “select militia”. What did James Madison say in the debate in Congress over the 2nd Amendment? ” A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country…” (June 8, 1789) The definition of a citizen militia is the “body of the people, trained to arms”.
So you see, the founders, rather than acting out of fear of a standing army, truly believed that a well functioning, calibrated militia, taken from the body of people trained to arms, was the best and most natural defense of a free country.
That brings me, finally to teaching. I teach basic rifle classes and basic pistol classes with an NRA certification. I teach Concealed Carry classes and Hunters Education with the certification of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Why? Because “a well regulated militia (is) necessary to the security of a free state”.
My goal as a teacher is to see that as many of “the people” as possible are trained in the use of ordinary arms. It doesn’t matter if they are hunters, or recreational shooters, or defensive-minded folks. It’s out of those people, trained to arms, that a well functioning militia can be formed, and a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state.
The founders said so. They believed it, and so do I. It wasn’t just a throw away line. It was a self-evident truth.