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What The 2nd Amendment Is For

July 24, 2012

Massachusetts militia, 1775

Booman blogs—mostly about national politics—from the Philadelphia area and does so very well, and on a wide range of topics.  His post yesterday about the 2nd amendment right “to keep and bear arms” is particularly good.  Some excerpts follow, but the whole piece is worth reading:

“…the Founders saw militias as an alternative to what they called “standing armies.” These were assemblies of permanent soldiers who needed to be paid in peacetime as well as during war. Providing them with housing and food and training was expensive, and they tended to act like locusts who had little regard for people’s property rights. Their expense also made it hard to justify keeping them organized without finding some use for them.”   —[snip]—

“The initial idea was that the federal government should not establish a standing army. And other than a regiment that guarded West Point and another that roamed the western frontier, the federal government had no standing army for its first few years of existence. The Legion of the United States was a small standing army that existed between 1791-1796. It wasn’t until the conflict with the British in the War of 1812 that we realized that we needed to have a standing army. The militia model went out of existence.”   —[snip]—

“…the 2nd Amendment had nothing to do with hunting or personal protection against common criminals. The right to bear arms was seen as a way to check the power of the federal government and to provide an alternative to standing armies. Since bearing arms in today’s America cannot substitute for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, nor can it realistically prevent the federal government from doing almost anything it wants to do, the entire legitimate rationale for the 2nd Amendment has been obliterated.”

That leaves open the question of what the 2nd amendment does and, perhaps more importantly, should mean for today’s United States.   Given the power the NRA currently wields in our public discourse about guns, it’s going to be a struggle just to have that conversation, let alone come up with some sensible answers.

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From → History, Politics

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