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OK, You Lost Me

January 16, 2013

You want a gun to hunt with? OK, I get that.

You want a gun to defend yourself, your family, and your property from criminals? OK, I get that.

You want a gun to defend yourself from an oppressive government? I’m not sure I’m totally with you, but I get where you’re coming from.

You want a gun to defend yourself from an oppressive government, and you want a strong standing military? OK, you lost me.

The most common argument for guns these days seems to be that people need to be able to defend themselves, whether from criminals or a tyrannical government. And yet, the people who are the strongest proponents of gun rights also tend to be the strongest proponents of expanding the military, the very thing out of control governments use to oppress their people. This is especially true of the pro-gun activists’ favorite examples, Cambodia and Nazi Germany. How did we get here?

Let’s look at the Amendment everyone is so up in arms (sorry) about: “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.” How did this passage make it into the Bill of Rights, and what is its intent? The Constitution is actually fairly clear on this issue, if we step back from the Second Amendment in particular and consider the whole document.

First, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution defines the powers of the Congress, including, “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” What exactly was meant by “the Militia”? Originally defined by the Militia Act of 1792, it was composed of “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside…”

This is where the Second Amendment comes in. Obviously, the only way for such a militia to be effective is for them to be armed. This intent is clearly explained by Tench Coxe, a Revolution-era economist, as “Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”

So, inasmuch as gun proponents claim a right to firearms as a means to prevent government oppression, they are correct. This intent breaks down, however, when they go on to support a large standing army. In fact, the Constitution was written with the above passages because of a desire NOT to have a standing army. The newly formed country had just overthrown the rule of a government which used its military might to bend the colonists to its will, and they recognized the corrupting influence of such a force. Indeed, Article I, Section 8 gives Congress separate powers to maintain a militia and “raise and support Armies,” but these forces are limited, as “no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.” In other words, no standing armies. Why else does the Defense Department use the word “DEFENSE” and not “WAR”?

So, by supporting a strong military, gun proponents are also promoting the oppressors from which they claim to need protection. Is this cognitive dissonance, or a clever plan?

I should note that I am not against a strong military, nor do I mean to denigrate the role this country’s service men and women play in protecting us and our freedoms. While I have not myself served, I have many family and friends who have, and I am grateful for each and every person who agrees to put their life at risk to defend our great country. But I also am not against common sense regulations on firearms.

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  1. Duh, Second Amendment | Rambling Man of ALS

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