Aug 16 2016

Right To Bear Arms – some history

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. 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.” – James Madison

Historically, defense was provided by professional military warriors, often employed by a King or Duke-like nobleman. They were commonly organized as mounted troops (knights), bowmen, pikemen, and ordinary infantry with swords and knives. The infantry was often composed primarily of “reserve-like” semi-professional fighters who were called upon during times of war.

It was considered that the common man had some level of obligation to defend their “homeland”. They may have had some part-time military training and usually maintained their own weapons. They could be called up to fight, but also expected to be released at some point when the harvesting of crops was needed. Laws of the medieval and colonial periods often required common citizens to maintain some basic form of armament so they could be useful in a militia call-up. Eventually, the English Bill of Rights, first accepted in 1689, incorporated this into a right to keep and bear arms.

The intent of this was both to provide for defense of the country and to prevent any future monarch from dismantling and disarming the militia while still maintaining a standing army under his own control.

Our founding fathers in the American colonies inherited a general distrust of standing armies from their British forefathers. This is well documented in history, further established by their study of how Roman emperors used the armies which were once citizen militias, to cement their total power over the empire as it decayed from a Republic.

“This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty.. The right of self defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.” – St. George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England

“The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.” – Thomas Jefferson

Under the Roman republic, only landowners were allowed to serve in the citizen militia, and non-landowners and slaves were not trusted to well and loyally defend the local land because they were not invested in it as were the landowners. When the Romans expanded their military mission beyond defending the homeland and turned toward expanding into conquest of foreign lands, that changed and they found it necessary to switch to a professional standing army. This was eventually the undoing of the Republic, as the military became more powerful and less linked to the people and the land.

“A standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People…. Such a Power should be watched with a jealous eye.” – Samuel Adams

“A standing army is one of the greatest mischief that can possibly happen” – James Madison

“Standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican Governments, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism.” – Elbridge Gerry

“There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation and which place them so totally at the mercy of their governors that those governors, whether legislative or executive, should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot but in well-defined cases. Such an instrument is a standing army.”
Thomas Jefferson

“Keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics – that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe” – James Madison

And so, they turned to militias as the appropriate defensive measure without establishing a standing army.

“What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.” – Elbridge Gerry

“A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include, according to the past and general usuage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms… To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.” – Richard Henry Lee

At various times and in various forms, militia arms might be kept in a local storehouse or kept at home. Many Englishmen considered that individual ownership of weapons was likely to promote rebellion and generally favored a collective storage of arms under more control. The frontier colonials faced a completely different set of threats in Indians and wild animals and so developed a predisposition toward individual ownership.

“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every country in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops.” – Noah Webster

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined…. The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.” – Patrick Henry

“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. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.” – Alexander Hamilton,

“As the greatest danger is that of disunion of the States, it is necessary to guard agat. it by sufficient powers to the Common Govt. and as the greatest danger to liberty is from large standing armies, it is best to prevent them, by an effectual provision for a good Militia.” – James Madison

These thoughts eventually became part of the US Constitution in Article One Section 8:
“To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.”

There are about 20,000 laws from federal, state and local governments that regulate the ownership and use of firearms.