The Second Amendment has another purpose, one supported by history.
We have been embroiled in discussions back and forth about the use of arms as a defense against crime and tyranny – and I believe those are valid purposes – but I also believe that the Founding Fathers, given their contemporary times, environment and the ambitions of people to push western civilization in to a vast, wild continent had another, more personal reason.
Did you know that in pre- and post-Revolutionary War America, freemen were required to possess weapons? Clayton Cramer, author of Armed America (one of the first counterpoints to Michael Bellesiles’ now discredited book Arming America) writes:
An examination of the Colonial statutes reveals that, contrary to Bellesiles‟s claim of distrusted and disarmed freemen, almost all colonies required white adult men to possess firearms and ammunition. Some of these statutes were explicit that militiamen were to keep their guns at home; others imply the requirement, by specifying fines for failing to bring guns to musters or church. Colonies that did not explicitly require firearms ownership passed laws requiring the carrying of guns under circumstances that implied nearly universal ownership.
Cramer goes on to note the sheer volume of laws that required weapon and ammunition possession in pre-colonial, colonial and Revolutionary War America, an example of which is this:
To make sure that householders moving to the new land were adequately armed, it appears that one of the conditions of receiving title to land in Maryland beginning in 1641 was bringing “Armes and Ammunition as are intended & required by the Conditions abovesaid to be provided & carried into the said Province of Maryland for every man betweene the ages of sixteene & fifty years w[hi]ch shalbe transported thether.” The arms required included “one musket or bastard musket with a snaphance lock,” ten pounds of gunpowder, forty pounds of bullets, pistol, and goose shot.
The Maryland militia law of 1638/9 was revised in 1642 requiring, “That all housekeepers provide fixed gunn and Sufficient powder and Shott for each person able to bear arms.” A 1658 revision of the law required “every househoulder provide himselfe speedily with Armes & Ammunition according to a former Act of Assembly viz 2 [pounds] of powder and 5 [pounds] of shott & one good Gun well fixed for every man able to bear Armes in his house.” A householder was subject to fines of 100, 200, or 300 pounds of tobacco, for the first, second, and third failures to keep every man in the house armed.
Why would a government require an individual to possess such weapons and stock?
It wasn’t to fight the government, I can assure you.
It was to provide the individual citizen with the ability to defend himself when the “official” mechanisms of government protection could not be employed.
In colonial America, where western civilization had taken hold there was an expectation of safety and consistency of behavior brought about by mutual respect for common laws. The very condition that allowed such a system was a common reliance on the prospect that your neighbor will allow himself to be bound by the common standards of behavior that are established by a government and when he didn’t, government enforced responsibility would assure it. This was not true on the frontier – as the Native American’s were being conquered as a new nation was being built; they resisted the relentless, inward migration of the White Man. Those white settlers on the fringes of civilization were important to the expansion of the nation and where this settlement extended beyond the reach of established governance, the only protection or defense they had was what they created from their own resources.
The Crown told the settlers that they were on their own in colonial America.
President Obama and the UK PM, David Cameron, have essentially said the same thing:
We politicians will not give up talking about it but the fact is that, at an individual level and on a public street, we cannot protect you or guarantee your safety – not in London, not in Boston, not in New York, not even on a US Army Base in Fort Hood, Texas.
I would suggest that today, we find ourselves in much of the same situation as the early American colonists. While the new limits of government protection are not defined today by a geographic boundary, they do have a definition rooted in ideology and culture. We are not fighting over land in this contemporary war; we are engaged in a fight for the ownership of our very souls. Just as the Iroquois, the Cherokee or Apache had little concern whether the white man was Irish, Scottish or French, the Islamist does not differentiate between Christian and Jew, between Hindu and Buddhist or between Wiccan and atheist – they only see in the stark colors of either acceptance or rejection of Mohammed.
Is it too much of a reach to think that a government that seeks to abrogate the Second Amendment has accepted your death as an “acceptable loss” in this war of attrition? Is it too much of an old fashioned idea to think that it is your civic duty to be prepared to protect yourself?
Maybe it is time that we enacted a gun requirement and mandatory community militia training rather than trying to disarm law abiding citizens.
The Maryland Convention in 1775 threatened that:
“if any Minute or Militia-man shall not appear at the time and place of Muster with his Firelock and other accoutrements in good order, … he shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding five shillings Common money…”
Something to think about.