The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: “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.” Although all branches of the Federal government understood what this amendment meant for 150 years, in the early 20th Century new “understandings” began to creep in, even before the puerile concept of a “living Constitution” was hatched. Most recently they take the form of the argument that this Amendment simply authorizes arming the militia, which in our time is in their thinking the National Guard. The National Guard has a dual mission, State and Federal, and is basically another part of the Reserve component of the service involved that can be called up at any time to become part of the active duty component.
Is this what the Founders meant? In a word, “no”. The word “regulated” is simply another example of a word that has changed meaning over the years. For example, take the word “prove” in the old saying, “The exception proves the rule”. Does this mean, the exception verifies or substantiates the rule? How could something at odds with the rule verify it? The problem is that the word “prove” meant “test” at the time that saying was popular. We see this in guns that have “proof marks”. The “proof” or proving in this case is firing the gun with an excessive load of powder to test it, or “prove” it. If it doesn’t blow up, then it is safe.
In the case of our expression, the exception is a test for the rule, to see if it is valid. One could say, for example, that the general disproval of and disdain for Obama’s constantly trotting out innocent children as a sympathy ploy for whatever leftist plot he is about to unveil, most recently gun control, shows that his behavior is exceptional and not characteristic of Presidents in general.
At the time the Founders were framing the Constitution and its Amendments, they were extremely adverse to the idea of a standing army. Where they came from, England, a standing army was used, as it is used throughout the much of the world today, to control and suppress the citizenry. It was this fear that prompted the Second Amendment. Noah Webster famously wrote, “Before a standing army can rule the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be on any pretence raised in the United States. A military force at the command of Congress can execute no laws but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.”
Although the words “well regulated” today imply more Federal control. An example is the argument that the financial debacle we face would have been avoided if there had been more Federal regulation, despite the fact that the regulators (Frank, Dodd, et al.) knew exactly what was going on and not only did nothing to stop it but denied that there was any problem. What would have been the purpose of the Amendment, however, if all it meant was that the Federal government was supposed to control the militia?
Obviously that could not have been what it meant. A well regulated militia necessary to the security of a free state was a militia that would be available in case the Federal government became too large and too tyrannical to fight against its standing army.
You will recall from my previous article on the Second Amendment that the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to LIMIT the power of the Federal government and to preserve your God-given rights against usurpation by tyrants that might someday come to power. Who, then, made up the Militia? George Mason, one of the Virginians who refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights, said: “Who are the Militia? They consist now of the whole people.” The intent, therefore, was that the whole people are capable of taking up arms against the standing army and the government should it become necessary. The Declaration of Independence says, “…when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.” This duty did not end in 1776; it exists today, and the Second Amendment was put into place to make it more than idle talk.
So what does “well regulated” mean? If you read contemporaneous material, you will find the moral concept of “self-regulation”, which in this context meant that the people would self-regulate, remaining vigilant and ready to defend themselves if necessary. In order to do this, of course, they would need to arm themselves and train for this potential eventuality. This is the basis upon which the NRA has always operated, to provide training and assistance to the population to achieve and maintain the skills necessary to defend themselves in any national emergency.
If you were a tyrant, if you had an agenda to fundamentally change America from a free nation to something else, and if you assumed correctly that your plan would meet with resistance, this amendment would be first on your list to try to subvert. It is interesting that the cries for more draconian gun control measures began immediately after the last election.