|Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.|
by Vin Suprynowicz
FEB. 11, 2000
The Second Amendment states: "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."
Virtually every responsible constitutional scholar who in recent years has reviewed the language and historical context of this prohibition on government action — including most recently Lawrence Tribe of Harvard, a liberal who formerly opposed private firearm ownership — has had to admit "this inconvenient Second Amendment" (without which a plurality of states would never have ratified the Constitution) does indeed guarantee each individual American the right to keep and bear military-style firearms, without restriction — just like it says.
But there exists a subset of the victim disarmament gang who — or so they would insist — actually believe what the Founding Fathers (start ital)meant(end ital) to say, was:
"Since the security of the state — let's forget that word 'free' — rests upon the existence of a select body of soldiers, sworn to take their orders from the executive, therefore Congress may hand out military-style weapons and equipment to anyone who swears allegiance to the president and agrees to put on the uniform of the central government and obey all its orders (the 'Army and National Guard'), but Congress meantime retains the right to restrict ownership of modern military weapons by any other common citizen, up to and including registration, confiscation, and outright prohibition."
It seems to be one of these souls wrote in to complain about my column of Jan. 8, in which I pointed out how the rights protected by the Bill of Rights are intertwined, and cannot long survive without one another.
(In that column, I criticized Arizona Daily Star editor and publisher Jane Amari for refusing to allow Tucson citizens to continue buying and selling legal firearms through her newspaper's classified advertisements, citing an AP account that Ms. Amari "said there was concern that people buying through classifieds circumvent background checks now required by law.")
Reader T.P wrote in:
"Vin Suprynowicz's commentary raises a question. Since his is the latest article I have read concerning the Second Amendment, I would like to know: Why is it that all staunch defenders of the Second Amendment fail to mention the first four words of the amendment? Is it that you prefer those four words not exist?
Mr. Suprynowicz, in your commentary, you quote all of the Second Amendment except the first five words. Please explain their absence. For those who may not know, those five words are: "A well regulated Militia, being ..."
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Hi, T.P. —
I believe you observation is in substantial error. If you will look again at the ninth paragraph of the column in question, I believe you will find it reads:
"And isn't the very purpose of the Second Amendment to make sure we have an armed citizenry — 'necessary to the security of a free state' — to guard that freedom of the press (among the others) from any mob or tyrant that aims to take it away?"
The portion of this sentence which appears in quotation marks is a direct quotation from the introductory clause of the Second Amendment — the one which the victim disarmament gang always wants to argue we defenders of the Bill of Rights "ignore."
As for the inclusion of the word "militia," my Webster's New World Dictionary (Third College Edition) defines "militia" as "1) any army composed of citizens rather than professional soldiers, called up in time of emergency," or "2) in the U.S., all able-bodied male citizens between 18 and 45 years old who are not already members of the regular armed forces."
Thus, my phrase, "an armed citizenry," and the phrase which you fear has been omitted, are in fact synonymous.
Now, since it is the second clause of this amendment which carries the vital prohibition against government action — barring "gun control" laws of any kind — the second clause would remain in effect even if the introductory clause stated "The moon being made of green cheese ..."
However, in fact, I would NOT prefer that the introductory clause of the amendment not exist. That's why I cited it. It informs us the reason all the citizens of America are to be armed — with modern-day, military weapons — is because an armed citizenry is "necessary to the security of a free state" (as opposed to police states, in which the individual citizens are NOT allowed to keep modern, military-style arms, which become the exclusive province of troops under the command of the central government), as demonstrated by the examples in my column.
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T.P wrote back:
"I agree, "necessary to the security of a free state" is a direct quote. It's the four words preceding those where we disagree.
You contend that your phrase "an armed citizenry" is synonymous with "a well regulated Militia." If that's the case, why paraphrase? Why not use the exact quote since it contains only one additional word? Just how do you explain the words, "well regulated?"
Just suppose a mob armed with guns wanted to destroy the newspaper. Would that qualify as "an armed citizenry?" It most certainly wouldn't qualify as a "well regulated Militia."
You've referred to the confiscation of registered guns by Turkey, Russia and Germany. Have we not learned anything from Waco? The Branch Davidians were armed with non-registered gun when they fought the most powerful government in the world. They failed because they could not muster enough public support to succeed. If ever enough public support was available to assemble "an armed citizenry" to successfully overthrow the government of The United States of America, would not that number be sufficient enough to resolve the dispute at the ballot box?
It's the narrow minded individuals, intent on imposing their will, be it on a newspaper or be it on a community, being able to assemble "an armed citizenry" that I fear. Imagine someone in Nevada, intent on creating a moral society that's void of gaming and legal prostitution, assembling "an arm citizenry." The havoc they created could alter all our lives. Logic tells me they most likely would start by attacking small places in Pahrump. Imagine fighting in the streets as our government protected our freedom to chose for ourselves, against "an armed citizenry" that was certain they knew what was best for us.
An individual does not become a tyrant until they seize power. Fidel Castro was viewed as a liberator, not a tyrant, while he lead "an armed citizenry" against Batista in the fifties. Whom would you select to lead "an armed citizenry" in this country?
Control of guns is no more synonymous with the outlawing of guns than "an armed citizenry" is synonymous with "A well regulated Militia." Vin, the manner you and the NRA chose to defend the Second Amendment — making the qualifier mean no more than "The moon being made of green cheese" — only encourages the narrow minded to create "an armed citizenry." While "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," is the heart of the amendment, it does not stand alone."
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Hi, T.P. —
The shift in the meaning of the term "well-regulated" since the 18th century is indeed interesting. If you take a double-barreled rifle or shotgun to a British gunsmith, even today, and ask "Can this gun be regulated?" he will interpret that as meaning you want the barrels aligned so that shot or ball from either barrel will strike in exactly the same spot at a predetermined distance, asking you "for what range do you want it regulated, and with what powder charge?"
It would never occur to such a gunsmith — nor would it have occurred to the founders — that you mean "Can we get some government agency to pass rules restricting the ownership of this weapon?" Such a use of the word would have been totally foreign to them, since that usage of "regulation" became popular only with the birth of the modern regulatory state, after the Civil War.
To the founders, the main concern was that the militia NOT be made up of bumbling klutzes unfamiliar with the sound of gunfire, unfamiliar with how to scout a ridge line for an enemy ambush, and most of all ignorant of how to load and fire their weapons on the move, even in inclement weather. Rather, a "well-regulated militia" was a group of citizen soldiers who had been meeting on the town green at least one Sunday a month to practice loading and fire discipline, who knew their elected citizen-officers and were accustomed to trusting and following their orders, and so on. The closest modern synonym would probably be "well-practiced."
But since the central government now invades churches and murders women and children with THEIR machine guns and incendiary devices if they suspect church members have an "arsenal" of perfectly legal weapons; now that Janet Reno's Justice Department has taken upon itself the duty of infiltrating perfectly legal above-ground militias with agents provocateurs whose job is to attempt to lead the members into criminal conspiracies, how is it that you and they would propose we ESTABLISH modern, well-practiced militias? Many of us would like to know.
If I announce formation of the Las Vegas citizen militia, and schedule weekend shooting competitions and mock deployments designed to make my new band of armed citizens "better regulated" in the use of selective-fire assault weapons — that is to say, better practiced at war-like skills — can we or can we not expect to be infiltrated, "set up," busted, and jailed for "conspiracy"?
Of course we can. How does this help us restore the "well-regulated militia" you claim to support?
If we can take you at your word (which we cannot, of course — it appears all your specious arguments are really designed to make firearms ownership seem ridiculous), you're the one who keeps insisting we gun owners should form "well-regulated militia" units. Please, without placing ourselves under government orders (which would only make us the modern equivalents of Lord Howe's redcoats and Hessians) - and without getting ourselves jailed - how are we to do that?
As opposed to the lies you continue to perpetrate, the Branch Davidians at Mount Carmel were not armed with any illegal weapons. The local sheriff had inspected their weapons not long before, and found them all to be legal. None of the Branch Davidians were ever charged with — or convicted of — any such weapons violations. The prosecution promised to hold up samples of their illegal weapons at the trial of the Branch Davidian survivors in San Antonio, but never did so. There were none.
Since when is it the responsibility of those who are attacked by armed government helicopters and machine guns and finally tanks to "muster enough public support to succeed"? This is like saying the Jews obviously had no right to survive in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943, because they "could not muster enough public support to succeed." I find this doctrine hideous.
Waco proves that Americans need to own machine guns and anti-tank missiles, and keep them in their homes. Otherwise, government agents anxious for some "good TV footage" to show at their congressional funding hearings will come to our homes and kill us and our children. This is not some paranoid fantasy. We all watched it happen on TV, in Texas, in 1993.
The occupants of the Mount Carmel Church in Waco — who were never given any chance to respond peacefully to any warrant or summons or subpoena — owned fewer firearms per capita than is the current average for all citizens of Texas. There was no "huge armory." Perhaps next time the government thugs will pick on someone OTHER than a bunch of old ladies and children in a Seventh Day Adventist Church — someone who DOES have the training and the willingness to fight back. Fortunately, following Waco, Americans civilians have been rearming like crazy, often collectively buying as many as a MILLION new firearms per month. The thugs you love are soon going to have some surprises, if they keep this up.
The eighth chapter of my book, "Send in the Waco Killers," is titled "Demonizing the Militias." It tells the stories of many well-meaning Americans who attempted to form "well-regulated militias" in the years following Ruby Ridge and Waco. I interviewed several who scheduled drills (with unloaded weapons) at town greens in Oregon and California — clearing their activities with local parks and recreation departments beforehand — with the specific purpose of getting Americans used to seeing respectable citizens in public, again, with military-style rifles, as had been common in the 18th and 19th centuries.
How did folks like Janet Reno respond when these law-abiding citizens decided to call the bluff of all you "It's only for a militia" whiners? Almost to a man they had their fledgling, above-ground militias infiltrated by government agents provocateurs who proposed that they commit crimes like bank robbery and thefts from U.S. armories. When the undercover federal operatives were unable to convince these decent veterans and lawyers to commit such crimes, the government infiltrators settled for "setting them up" on conspiracy charges, in some cases planting bomb makings (Macon, Georgia) or stolen property (New Hampshire) on the targets of their "investigations." Many are now in prison, despite the fact they never shot anyone, or blew anything up.
I submit neither you nor the tyrannical government to which you would like to grant a MONOPOLY on armed force has any interest in encouraging the development of "well-regulated militias." Such arguments are mere casuistry; your real goal is to disarm everyone but the professional criminals and the government police, leaving the populace to live in cringing terror.
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You ask: "If ever enough public support was available to assemble 'an armed citizenry' to successfully overthrow the government of The United States of America, would not that number be sufficient enough to resolve the dispute at the ballot box?"
The purpose of the armed citizenry, as properly pointed out in the amendment you keep insisting we cite correctly, is to preserve "the security of a free state." To interpret that as meaning "the overthrow the government of The United States of America" is disingenuous. There is no need to overthrow a government which is kept within its constitutional bounds by the knowledge that it faces an armed populace ever jealous of its liberties — nor is there any way to keep any government within such bounds WITHOUT an armed citizenry. The founding fathers knew this. You would merely like to wish away this truth — demonstrated time and again, down through the centuries.
You say you are concerned about someone in America "being able to assemble an armed citizenry." Fortunately, there is no need for anyone to "create" or "assemble" in America an armed citizenry. George Washington found the citizenry armed when it flocked to his banner in 1776. It has remained armed ever since.
Yet your paranoid fantasies of militiamen "attacking Pahrump" and "fighting in the streets" have never come to pass, except when the government in Washington City staged a military invasion of the southern states from 1861 to 1865. If an armed citizenry is so dangerous, how come we didn't see blood running in the streets back in 1899, or or 1919, or 1933 — before there were ANY federal restrictions on the private ownership of machine guns?
(The only exception I can think of was the invention of the tommy-gun drive-by during alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s — a problem solved overnight by Franklin Roosevelt when he legalized alcohol in 1933. When was the last time you heard of a modern Anheuser-Busch distributor taking a machine gun to his competitor from Miller Lite? Yet I don't suppose we'd want to end our equivalent epidemic of inner-city violence by ending our own modern Prohibitions, today?)
If the 20th century teaches us nothing else, it is that government mass murders occur in slave states where the citizenry is disarmed (the Armenians in Turkey; the Ukrainians under Stalin, the Jews and Gypsies under Hitler; the intellectuals under Mao and Pol Pot — oh, what a happy catalog you gun-banners have compiled) — not in free nations where the citizenry is armed, as in America.
If you wish to live in a country where the citizenry is disarmed, then you do not want to live in the America envisioned by our founding fathers. You can either move to Cuba or Red China, or you can endeavor to repeal the Second Amendment — instead of trying to twist its real and obvious meaning, which is that any 14-year-old girl must be allowed to buy a shoulder launched heat-seeking missile over the counter at Home Depot, for cash, without showing any "government-issued ID."
Of course, since the states ratified the Constitution only on the promise that a Bill of Rights (specifically including the right to keep and bear arms) would be enacted, at that point the entire contract represented by the current Constitution would be null and void, and an armed revolution would indeed loom fairly likely. And how would you propose to win such a fight, once you've given up your own arms?
To argue that, under the Second Amendment, "If you want to bear arms, you can always join the Army or the National Guard," requires us to believe that — while George Washington was still president — the founders enacted a Bill of Rights which would have allowed the colonial governor of Virginia to disarm and jail gentleman farmer George Washington and his friend George Mason for founding the Fairfax County Militia — which neither had the blessing of nor was answerable to any government authority — sneering "If they want to bear arms, they can always go join the British Army."
The founders would clearly recognize in today's National Guard what they called a "special militia" — against any dependence on which they loudly advised.
In his "Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer" (1788) Richard Henry Lee, author of the Bill of Rights, insisted "A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves, and render regular troops in a great measure unnecessary. ... The constitution ought to secure a genuine [militia], and guard against a select militia, by providing that the militia shall always be kept well organized, armed, and disciplined, and include ... all men capable of bearing arms, and that all regulations tending to render this general militia useless and defenceless, be establishing select corps of militia, or distinct bodies of military men ... be avoided."
If we allow such select corps of armed and uniformed men to be established, Lee warned, "substantial men, having families and property" will gradually fall away from the practice of arms, until they finally find themselves "without arms, without knowing the use of them, and defenceless; whereas, 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."
In the Pennsylvania ratification convention of 1787, delegate John Smilie (among many others) issued the same warning as to what might happen without a Second Amendment — the condition they sought to a void by demanding a Second Amendment:
"Congress may give us a select militia which will, in fact, be a standing army — or Congress, afraid of a general militia, may say there shall be no militia at all. When a select militia is formed; the people in general may be disarmed."
Isn't this precisely what we see happening, now that the rock of the Second Amendment is eroding? Yet far from rushing to arms to defend our vanishing liberties, the like of correspondent T.P. actually (start ital)celebrate(end ital) this travesty.
Rising in the Virginia convention, Patrick Henry could not have stated the case more simply: "The great object is, that every man be armed. ... Everyone who is able may have a gun."
"An armed citizenry" is a synonym for "a well-regulated militia," just as "gun control and registration" has led to gun confiscation not just in the older historical examples cited above, but in England and Australia just in the past decade. The contrary argument requires us to ignore every single historical example demonstrating where T.P.'s proposed course of action — victim disarmament — actually leads.
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But fortunately, this argument neither can or will be decided by any contest of dictionary definitions.
I am an American citizen. I am a member of the unorganized militia. As is my duty (and in compliance with all federal and local laws), I am armed. If T.P. or others like him wish to come to my house and try to disarm me, let them come and try. Or will they, like all those cowards before them, instead hire some uniformed thug to try and do their dirty work for them?
And when they comes for me, in violation of the very principles to which T.P. pretends to adhere, they'll be ... armed ... won't they?
I thought so.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
Vin Suprynowicz is
assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas