When the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791 the phrase, “well regulated militia,” underlined the importance of the words, “shall not be infringed.”
Yet today, due to the breakdown in education wrought by leftist academicians and media talking heads, many Americans presume a “well regulated militia” and “shall not be infringed” are polar opposites; that the former represents a collective right viewpoint while the latter presents the right as an individual one. Such presumptions create a false dichotomy that pits one phrase against another in an amendment where both phrases were meant to be of mutual benefit.
Consider the Second Amendment: “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.”
At the outset we must understand that the individual right to keep and bear arms is not in spite of the mention of a militia but because of it. In other words, because the militia played a key role in the Founders’ minds, and is intended to play a key role even now, the right to possess arms, with which to gather in militia, “shall not be infringed.”
Think about what is conveyed by the term “militia.” In the majority opinion for District of Columbia v Heller (2008), Justice Antonin Scalia explained:
Unlike armies and navies, which Congress is given the power to create (“to raise . . . Armies”; “to provide . . . a Navy,” Art. I, §8, cls. 12–13), the militia is assumed by Article I already to be in existence. Congress is given the power to “provide for calling forth the militia,” §8, cl. 15; and the power not to create, but to “organiz[e]” it—and not to organize “a” militia, which is what one would expect if the militia were to be a federal creation, but to organize “the” militia, connoting a body already in existence, ibid., cl. 16. This is fully consistent with the ordinary definition of the militia as all able-bodied men. From that pool, Congress has plenary power to organize the units that will make up an effective fighting force.
Add to this the insights of Founding Father James Madison, who used Federalist 46 to explain that the American citizenry had within itself the authority to band together for purposes of repelling tyranny. He clearly stated that “ultimate authority…resides in the people alone.” And he explained that even a federal government fitted with a standing army will find itself unable to overcome the people, armed and banded together: “Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger.”
Individuals who wish to dismiss Madison’s contention that we own arms for the purposes of repelling tyranny often suggest that Madison’s position is not realistic; that our standing army is too great to be withstood by average Americans. But those who say such things fail to understand how many average Americans own guns, and because of this, how deep the militia roster reaches.
Madison put it thus:
The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country.
Again, the emphasis on militia and repelling tyranny is not meant to incite offensive action but to assure a tyrannical government that average, armed Americans are capable of coming together to stop the encroachments upon liberty. But take away firearms or heavily restrict them via gun control and the militia is de-fanged, becoming nothing more than a group of men bound together with weapons consisting of stones, sticks, and verbal jabs.
Therefore, because a “well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” In other words, the right to keep and bear arms is a surety that the militia will always pose enough resistance to keep the state free.
AWR Hawkins is an award-winning Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News, the host of the Breitbart podcast Bullets, and the writer/curator of Down Range with AWR Hawkins, a weekly newsletter focused on all things Second Amendment, also for Breitbart News. He is the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at email@example.com. Sign up to get Down Range at breitbart.com/downrange