Thursday, August 15, 2013

Much Is Required

"The only theory absent from the current debate over the Second Amendment," according to Professor Saul Cornell, "is the original civic interpretation."*

The National Rifle Association's propaganda has been effective. Gun control is the NRA's Boogey Man. The phrase elicits cries of tyranny, fears of confiscation, and threats of armed resistance. Nevertheless, despite all the sound and fury, their position is ahistorical.

"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Or so the NRA tells us. But that is a partial quotation, lacking proper punctuation. For, actually, the Second Amendment reads as follows: 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. Thus, even before consulting history, the NRA's position is exposed and overrun by a cursory examination of sentence structure. Without the appositives, the Second Amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia...shall not be infringed."

The Second Amendment does not authorize every Tom, Dick, and Harry to have firearms. For the Framers were not fools. A distinction was made between the common defense and the common law right of self-defense. (Cornell 15-16)

Beyond grammar, there is context. The Second Amendment does not stand alone. It cannot be understood without reference to Article I and Article II of the Constitution. Neither of which the NRA ever invokes.

"If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security....," Alexander Hamilton observed in background remarks on the arrangement made by the Federal Convention. (The Federalist Papers, No. 29)  Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 gives Congress the power "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions." Clause 16 of the same section gives the Legislative Branch power "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." Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 makes the President Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, "and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States." Such are the functions of those parts of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security.

The former artillery officer and aide de camp to the Commander in Chief of the Continental Forces gave credit where credit was due. But Hamilton also noted the need for improvement. And he explained why.

The American militia, in the course of the late war, have, by their valor on numerous occasions, erected eternal monuments to their fame; but the bravest of them feel and know that the liberty of their country could not have been established by their efforts alone, however great and valuable they were. War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perseverance, by time, and by practice. (The Federalist Papers, No. 25)

How was that science to be acquired and perfected? Hamilton presented a preliminary proposal.

What plan for the regulation of the militia may be pursued by the national government is impossible to be foreseen. But so far from viewing the matter in the same light with those who object to select corps as dangerous, were the Constitution ratified, and were I to deliver my sentiments to a member of the federal legislature from this State on the subject of a militia establishment, I should hold to him, in substance, the following discourse:

"The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious, if it were capable of being carried into execution.... Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year....

"The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate extent, upon such principles as will really fit them for service in case of need. By thus circumscribing the plan, it will be possible to have an excellent body of well-trained militia, ready to take the field whenever the defense of the State shall require it." (The Federalist Papers, No. 29)

The comprehensive recommendation, which the Washington Administration submitted to Congress, was prepared by Secretary of War Henry Knox. And while national defense was carefully considered, that vital task was not viewed in isolation. For, more than a table of organization or order of battle, the Knox Plan** serves as a reminder that citizenship involves rights and duties.
The Introduction

An energetic National Militia is to be regarded as the CAPITAL SECURITY of a free republic; and not a standing army, forming a distinct class in the community.

It is the introduction and diffusion of vice and corruption of manners into the mass of the people, that renders a standing army necessary. It is when public spirit is despised, and avarice, indolence and effeminacy of manners predominate, and prevent the establishment of institutions which would elevate the minds of the youth in the paths of virtue and honor, that a standing army is formed and rivetted forever....

If the United States possess the vigor of mind to establish the first institution, it may reasonably be expected to produce the most unequivocal advantages. A glorious national spirit will be introduced, with its extensive train of political consequences. The youth will imbibe a love of their country; reverence and obedience to its laws; courage and elevation of mind; openness and liberality of character; accompanied by a just spirit of honor. In addition to which their bodies will acquire a robustness, greatly conducive to their personal happiness, as well as the defense of their country. While habit, with its silent, but efficacious operations, will durably cement the system....

But the second principle, a militia of substitutes, is pregnant, in a degree, with the mischiefs of a standing army; as it is highly probable the substitutes from time to time, will be nearly the same men, and the most idle and worthless part of the community. Wealthy families, proud of distinctions which riches may confer, will prevent their sons from serving in the militia of substitutes; the plan will degenerate in habitual contempt; a standing army will be introduced, and the liberties of the people subjected to all the contingencies of events.
The Plan

Although the substantial political maxim, which requires personal service of all the members of the community for the defense of the State, is obligatory under all forms of society, and is the main pillar of a free government, yet the degrees thereof may vary at the different periods of time, consistent with the general welfare. The public convenience may also dictate a relaxation of the general obligation as it respects the principal magistrates, and the ministers of justice and of religion, and perhaps some religious sects. But it ought to be remembered that measures of national importance never should be frustrated by the accommodation of individuals.... (Emphasis added.)

The advanced corps, and annual camps of discipline, are instituted in order to introduce an operative military spirit in the community. To establish a course of honorable military service, which will, at the same time, mould the minds of the young men to due obedience of the laws, instruct them in the art of war, and by the manly exercises of the field, form a race of hardy citizens, equal to the dignified task of defending the country.... (Emphasis added.)

 As soon as the service of the youth expires in the advanced corps, they are to be enrolled in the main corps. On this occasion, the republic receives disciplined and free citizens, who understand their public rights, and are prepared to defend them.

The main corps is instituted, to preserve and circulate throughout the community, the military discipline, acquired in the advanced corps; to arm the people, and fix firmly, by practice and habit, those forms and maxims, which are essential to the life and energy of a free government. (Emphasis added.)

The reserved corps is instituted to prevent men being sent to the field, whose strength is unequal to sustain the severities of an active campaign. But by organizing and rendering them eligible for domestic service, a greater proportion of the younger and robust part of the community, may be enabled in cases of necessity, to encounter the more urgent duties of war.... (Emphasis added.)

If wealth be admitted as a principle of exemption, the plan cannot be executed. It is the wisdom of political establishments to make the wealth of individuals subservient to the general good, and not to suffer it to corrupt or attain undue indulgence. (Emphasis added.)

It is conceded that people, solicitous to be exonerated from their proportion of public duty, may exclaim against the proposed arrangement as an intolerable hardship. But it ought to be strongly impressed that, while society has its charms, it also has its indispensable obligations. That, to attempt such a degree of refinement as to exonerate the members of the community from all personal service, is to render them incapable of the exercise, and unworthy of the characters of freemen.

Every State possesses, not only the right of personal service from its members, but the right to regulate the service on principles of equality for the general defense. All being bound, none can complain of injustice, on being obliged to perform his equal proportion. Therefore, it ought to be a permanent rule, that those who in youth decline or refuse to subject themselves to the course of military education, established by the laws, should be considered as unworthy of public trust or public honors, and be excluded therefrom accordingly. (Emphasis added.)

If the majesty of the laws should be preserved inviolate in this respect, the operations of the proposed plan would foster a glorious public spirit, infuse the principles of energy and stability into the body politic, and give an high degree of political splendor to the national character.

There are no easy answers, although there are some obvious tentative first steps.^ And they have been taken. But being on the right path means nothing unless we press on to the end.

Facts, those "stubborn things" of which John Adams spoke, are torches. And they can enlighten the American people.

The original vision of a well-regulated militia was premised on the notion that rights and obligations were inseparable. Arms bearing was a public activity, a way of nurturing and demonstrating one's capacity for virtue. The militia was viewed by the Founders as a vital political and social institution, part of a seamless web that knit the locality, the state, and the national government together into a cohesive political community. (Cornell, 214)

The NRA is fond of setting up straw men. So, why not challenge them with facts disguised as scarecrows? Take the fight to the gun lobby by taking away their fictional Second Amendment.

While the ideal of the Founders' militia functioned as a means of producing a common civic culture, modern gun rights ideology has largely worked to undermine this goal. Gun rights ideology has fostered an anticivic vision, not a vision of civicmindedness. In this ideology guns are primarily viewed as a means of repulsing government or other citizens, not a means for creating a common civic culture. (Cornell, 214)

Stand back and let their shills object. And then watch their lies fall like dominoes.

The Knox Plan stands as precedent for a Universal National Service Act, which would change the nature of the debate by a return to the origins of the Republic, a place where time exists in the quantum realm. Thus, when Alexander Hamilton foresaw "an excellent body of well-trained militia, ready to take the field whenever the defense of the State shall require it," in a sense, he was going back to the future. For, as Senator Obama said, in July of 2008, "We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set." And notice how closely that complements Hamilton's thought on a "well-trained militia": "This will not only lessen the call for military establishments, but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens." (The Federalist Papers, No. 29) It is as if they are completing each other's sentences. For Senator Obama went on to say, "We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."^^

Universal National Service*^ offers advantages old and new--something borrowed, something blue--by using the same format as Secretary Knox. The age ranges of the Advanced Corps, the Main Corps, and the Reserved Corps would be 18-20, 21-45, and 46-60, respectively. The three tiers would be extended throughout the national security establishment--the Armed Forces, the Intelligence Community, and the Diplomatic Corps. But conscientious objectors could work in hospitals, education, or infrastructure. And, at long last, those who do tough guy schtick, who want to play the role, can finally be told, "You got the part, and now it is time to perform." Then the blowhards must be pushed hard, and they cannot be DOR.

Meanwhile, as Wayne LaPierre and his good buddies are wearing fatigues and old fashion black combat boots, running in sand, clapping hands and singing cadence called by a Special Forces drill sergeant--"I want to be an Airborne Ranger/I want to live a life of danger"--the Department of Justice can file suit against the faux militia. After all, they are no more entitled to call themselves a State Militia than a citizen can claim to be a Federal agent. Both constitute fraud or misrepresentation. Therefore the coy soldiers should change their group's name to Gun Club.

"A lie can travel halfway around the world," said Jonathan Swift, "while the truth is putting on its shoes." Well, the tortoise has laced up his sneakers. Yet, like the hare, Wayne LaPierre believes the race is in the bag because of an enormous lead. But what he has is a bandanna and a backpack full of NRA propaganda.

(c) 2013 Marvin D. Jones.  All rights reserved.

*Saul Cornell, A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America, 7. See also



*^ Additional reasons to consider Universal National Service.

*^^This quote has long been attributed to Mark Twain, but it was made by Jonathan Swift.  And now, the correction has been made here.  (01-08-2023)

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