Editorial Ending Gun Violence: a Return to the Militia System David Reeder June 17, 2016 A recent article by David W. Brown in The Week caught my attention yesterday. Mostly I think because it's a different take on all those gun violence and gun control debates that churn eternally toward onward accomplishing nothing constructive. Is his idea the Answer? Probably not — but it is a sign of someone trying constructively find one. So let's take a look at it. For any measure of gun control to work, it must be practical, pragmatic and constitutional. Nothing I've seen or read yet from any gun control proponent fits that criteria. All the posturing, all the extra rules and regulations they put in place, the magazine restrictions, the bullet buttons…it's all dynamic inactivity. There's a lot going on but nothing is getting done. They're feel good measures that do nothing but unnecessarily impact responsible armed citizens. Practical, pragmatic and constitutional. Let's see how Brown's idea holds up. The article is called How Alexander Hamilton solved America's gun problem — 228 years ago. In it he draws inspiration from the writing of James Madison, quoting The Fedaralist Papers, which assert that local militias (like the ones apparently referred to by the Second Amendment) exists as a “formidable check on federal power.” “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.” [Madison/Federalist 46] He then goes on to suggest that the solution to our national gun debate is to re-implement the militia system. Think of it as a civic formation like a volunteer fire department or a police department's reserves and auxiliaries, wherein one would bear the civic responsibilities that come with having rights. Want to keep and bear arms? Be a member of a local militia — and remember, we're talking about a militia in its original sense, not the vilified organizations so often described as “extremist” or associated with the like of Timothy McVeigh. Such organizations would not and could not be bound by federal oversight or supported with federal money. That sort of involvement already defines the National Guard, which though purportedly under state control is effectively a federal reserve formation. A militia of this sort would be a state-regulated body; the NRA could even be involved in its training and administration. It's an interesting proposal, though one that will cause many to lose their minds. Suggests Brown, “Proper militias would be comprised of sane men and women who own guns and wish to comply with state law. (And that is key: Militias belong entirely to the states, who regulate them accordingly.) Militias might be formed voluntarily based on like-mindedness and geography. Never forgetting their purpose — the common defense — hunters in north Louisiana, for example, might form their own militia — which in practice would exist as a kind of society or association. State regulation of militias would seek to prevent the radicalization of any such group and thus suppress insurrectionists. Likewise, state laws and local governance from within a militia might find better luck in implementing piecemeal the gun reforms that confound federal legislatures.” He goes on, “Because, as Hamilton writes, formal military training would entail “a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss,” how might these militias spend their two days of annual assembly? How about using those days as opportunities for gun safety training. Why not bring the NRA to said meetings to conduct such training? Their political activities aside, the NRA is peerless with respect to teaching such classes. This also allows militia members to “feel each other out” and police one another, as all communities and associations are wont to do.” He contends such organizations would, to a degree, police themselves, and in fairness he has a point. Every organization is a microcosm whose members invariably become familiar with other members strengths, weaknesses and foibles. It's certainly more likely to identify a madman, sociopath or religious extremist within its ranks than someone processing the forms for a background check. “As militias would be geography based, members directly and through degrees of separation would run invariably across one another's Facebook profiles and the like. A monster like Dylann Roof, for example, might attract added attention with his pro-apartheid regalia, gun poses, burning American flags, and Confederate flag fixation. His friends might not care — and might well have similar beliefs — but a group of sane gun owners familiar with the consequences of inaction might be more willing to keep an eye on the guy and flag him to local law enforcement. Likewise Omar Mateen — not because of his name, religion, or skin color, but because hebeat his wife and was reared by an unhinged video podcaster preaching pro-Taliban propaganda. Anyone who grew up in a small community knows: Fair or not, word of such things gets around. And a militia, as it were, would be just such a community. This might not have directly prevented the massacres committed by Mateen or Roof or Adam Lanza. The simple disruption (or rather: restoration) of what it means to own a firearm, however, might well prevent future horrors.” Mobilization order from Rhode Island, 1775, ordering “James Briggs Corporall Etc.” to report to the house of “Chris. Lipputt Esq.” in readiness for duty on “21 Day Aprill AD 1775 by seven of the clock in the foor noone.” [Doubler-Listman fig. 1-19] Now, compulsory militia membership (for gun ownership mind you, not the draft or conscription) is not something most gun owners would welcome or agree to, and many will claim it's unconstitutional. But is it? Maybe. Maybe not. To the good side, it might make a compelling argument for the removing all those ridiculous NFA restrictions — after all, why shouldn't a militia have SBRs or suppressors? “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.” Some would argue an informal, civic militia is exactly what the founding fathers meant when they said we not only could but that we should own guns. It's an interesting idea, albeit one that would never meet with public approval or make it through the legislative process. Even stipulating such a reform could effectively be made and implemented (remember, practical and pragmatic), there are a number of things that would need to be addressed. Many of them are very significant. In 2008 the Supreme Court ruled (District of Columbia v. Heller) that the term “militia” as used in colonial times referred both federally organized and local/citizen organized militia, the latter consisting of “…a subset of ‘the people' — those who were male, able-bodied, and within a certain age range…” So what then happens to people who don't fit that description? Females aside (read the quote), the physical condition of many Americans would preclude them from gun ownership. Let's be blunt — what if you're too fat? Too old, too lazy or too much of a coward? Too crippled? Many responsible American gun owners endure maladies or disabilities that would prevent them from taking the field — are they now ineligible for gun ownership? There's also the question of how it would be enacted. Another amendment to the Militia Act of 1903? Executive order? A new law? The Militia Act of 1903 divided organizations into a reserve militia of able bodied men between ages 17 and 45 and the federally supported and funded organized militia — how does this address the gun-loving septuagenarian who still hunts every season with a “black rifle”? There is also the issue of “registration”, such as it is. If the country was to return to this interpretation of an armed, civil militia, there would be records of everyone involved. Not, perhaps, a specific registry of firearms by serial number, but enough for the government to know who is armed. That's important to some people. Perhaps most significantly, we have to ask ourselves (as we must of any measure): would any of this have prevented what occurred in San Bernardino or Orlando? The answer is probably no, at least with regard to the California murders. One might make an argument a militia system would've been more likely to spot Omar Mateen. After all, the guy at Lotus Gunworks says he tried to warn the FBI that Mateen (a possible customer) was acting suspicious, and there have been allegation of domestic abuse at the Mateen's home. It might be a tenuous argument, but we could discuss it. And so we're left to continue looking for answers, the the most obvious solution (to my mind) remains right in front of us — ensure the ability of everyone who so desire to defend themselves and their family. The ultimate responsibility for that lies on the individual — which is of course why so many of us espouse the carrying of a gun. You can applaud or excoriate Brown for his idea and dismiss his improbable idea as impractical as you will, but you cannot deny his effort to engage in civil discourse. Here's how he ends his article. “I concede that the likelihood of this proposal ever surviving the gauntlet of our legislative process to be slim at best. I would consider a small chance of taking a first step in the right direction, however, to be preferable to the nothing that followed the unimaginable wholesale slaughter of first-graders at Sandy Hook. If the prevailing arguments against gun ownership could survive that unrivaled atrocity, which was conceived by a lunatic and doled out from the barrel of a rifle, then those arguments will simply never gain traction. I mean only to submit other strategies to the public debate. I hope others do as well.” More like that, please. You can read Brown's article in its entirety right here. The cover photo came courtesy of this article from The Vault. 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