January 30, 2021

We are a gun country. This is part of the reality of America. I was a vocal proponent of a citizen’s right to carry for a long time. I was happy to be in a nation where the government had the foresight to arm citizens against its own worst tendencies.

It just seemed natural and proper that the citizens of a nation should never be subjected to a tyrannical government without being able to defend themselves. It also seemed a good deterrent to any other country that might consider invading our streets.

I was told, and I believed, that the first part of the Second Amendment was not meant to be restrictive to the second part, and that "... shall not be infringed" is completely unambiguous and is the end of any other consideration or debate.

As long as everyone accepts this, then that is the reality of our nation’s relationship with gun ownership.

But this, like with all other cultural realities, is subject to truth hacking.

Is the first part of the Second Amendment really irrelevant, or is this something that we have heard so much that we don’t even bother to consider it anymore?

A series of essays, The Federalist Papers, were published in the late 1700s by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution. We don’t have to wonder about the intended role of the militia for our country. They told us.

Federalist 29, “Concerning the Militia” was published in January 1788, authored by Alexander Hamilton.

It is clear from reading this essay that individual ownership of any weapons without a state organized command structure — in other words, what we have today — was never the intent of the founders.

We can have discussions about whether we should honor their original intent or reinterpret it for a modern world; we can discuss the pros and cons of our current policies; we can debate the benefits and difficulties of gun ownership in America; but we absolutely cannot pretend that our current gun policies bear any resemblance to the original intent of the Second Amendment.

The phrase at the beginning of the amendment, “A well-regulated militia” is not irrelevant. We should give as much attention and understanding to that as we do the part that follows it.

Hamilton writes:

If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security.

The argument was never about whether the militia was intended to be regulated and under the command of the state, but what role the federal government would play.

Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests? What reasonable cause of apprehension can be inferred from a power in the Union to prescribe regulations for the militia, and to command its services when necessary, while the particular States are to have the SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS?

"Prescribe regulations for the militia, and to command its services when necessary." Does that sound like it has anything to do with individual citizens or citizen groups owning and using weapons without any regulation?

Of course we have some regulations. We have concealed carry laws. We have licensing. We prosecute criminal acts performed with the weapons.

But we don’t have a particular command and control structure under which carrying guns could be considered “well-regulated.” Ownership of weapons is not done within the context of an organized militia.

We also don’t bother to notice that the words "keep and bear" are not the same as own.

The point here is not to be the one who defines what these words mean or should mean, but to remind us all that the rules of our civilization, the laws that we choose, are still our responsibility. The fact that a particular interpretation of these words has been the default for so long doesn't mean we can't ever go back to the original and recheck our assumptions.

The relationship that we have with gun ownership today: individual ownership and control of weapons, far from being an expression of the Second Amendment, is an intentional corruption of it.

It is the responsibility and right of every citizen to maintain our truths and our laws with due consideration for the intent of our founders, the values of our free nation, and the best reflection and practice of those values for our world today.

We can imagine what our militia would look like if realized by our founding fathers within the context of our modern world.

Imagine a world where we choose to live by, rather than ignore, the actual words of 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.

It seems just as reasonable to interpret the intent of these words quite differently than we do now.

We could decide, for example:

  • Well-regulated means that militias would be organized as non-profit groups incorporated in the state in which they operate.
  • Militias would have the right to expel members for misuse of weapons and other infractions.
  • A militia could be disbanded if necessary by the legislature of the state in which it is formed
  • Keep and bear means carry, not own.
  • Militias would own weapons, not its members, and the militia would determine which members would be trusted with particular weapons.
  • Possession of armaments by individuals not registered with a militia would be a federal felony.
  • Militias could be held accountable for misuse of the weapons under their control.
  • Members of a militia would be required to receive training and demonstrate proficiency.
  • The purpose of militias and their weapons is for the security of the state, not for hunting or personal protection.
  • A militia could be called into service by the governor of the state, and when necessary would operate as a volunteer force under the command and control of the United States military and the National Guard.
  • Concealed carry would be the standard for any militia member.
  • The type of weapons owned by a militia and controlled by its members would be compatible with other military weapons.

Some of these ideas may be more practical than others, but a world with these types of laws could easily be recognized as consistent with, and derived directly from, the actual words of the Second Amendment and the intent of its authors. If that was the world in which we lived today, any suggestion that we replace those laws to be what we actually have now would be met with ridicule and horror.

I certainly don’t have all the answers here, and moving from where we are to a world more consistent with the original idea of citizen militias is something that can happen only when doing so is seen as obvious and is expected by a majority of the voters.

But also, that’s all it would take.

Reality is fluid. Truth is proportional. If we are truly happy with the state of guns in America, we don’t have to do a thing. But if we’re not, all we need to do is believe that we can do better.