Washington today faces two major domestic policy issues, gun
control and the federal budget. Interestingly, reforming the former could help to
ameliorate the latter.
Early in the twenty-first century, the text of the Second
Amendment can seem inscrutable: “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.” The Founders were intelligent people. The parts about
the militia and security were intentional, not make weight or window dressing.
What in the world could the Founders have meant?
After years of studying the issue, I’ve concluded that the
Founders believed that America would always have state militias. State
governments, they believed, would always require males of military age to own a
serviceable military firearm and to train with it on muster days. They would always
modestly fine those who did not, would not, or could not train at specified
In addition to raising revenues from those fines, militia
muster provided an opportunity to monitor men on an ongoing basis. Those who
neither mustered nor paid their fines were outlaws with no Constitutional right
to own military grade weapons: muskets, bayonets, and cannons then, and
presumably assault weapons today. (They retained, however, the natural right to
bear less lethal firearms for sport and self-defense.)
The notion of a civilian militia is neither silly nor antiquated:
several nations, including Switzerland and Israel, maintain one to this day. To
the Founders, state militias were the last awful way to check tyrannical
government, hence the phrase about the security of a free state.
The notion that individual citizens acting in small,
uncoordinated units could thwart a tyrannical federal government is of course
preposterous. A well-regulated state militia, by contrast, would prove a
formidable foe, especially if the Army was disbanded, as the Founders advised.
There was no greater threat to Americans’ liberties, they believed, than a
standing army (i.e., one that remained large in peacetime, like we have had
since World War II).
Militias are not free but they cost far less than a standing
army and would not appear on the federal budget. Spending on the Marines, Air
Force, and Navy would still be substantial but the overall military budget
would be far less than projected and the American people would arguably be
safer, even from foreign invasions, remote as that threat appears. And a
particularly well-regulated militia would also allow cuts to FEMA and other
parts of the Department of Homeland Security. (It might even cut down on the
obesity problem too!)
But aye, there is the problem. Few have incentives to switch
back to a militia system and many interests would be threatened by it. So
instead of rationally debating a policy change that could scotch two snakes
with a single stick, the status quo will prevail once again … until it can’t