The Second Amendment

This morning I was reading the chapter in my textbook on American Military history regarding the years between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and a paragraph that seemed quite timely in light of current events caught my eye:

The militia issue was also central to the shaping of the Second Amendment to the Constitution: the right to keep and bear arms. If the founding fathers recognized the centrality of freedom of speech, the press, and assembly, they also made clear those freedoms would only remain secure if the people could keep and bear arms as an ultimate check on the power of the government. The Second Amendment has been much politicized since its adoption as part of the Bill of Rights, but there is no question that the architects of our government believed that the people in arms – the militia – were the final guarantors of our freedom. Any subsequent reinterpretations of that amendment must start with the fact that our leaders, fresh from their experiences in the Revolutionary War, relied on the militia as the centerpiece of our national military establishment. The concept of the militia and the right to bear arms are inextricably joined.

Stewart, Richard W., ed. American Military History: The United States Army and the Forging of a Nation, 1775-1917. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2009. 112-13. 2 vols. Print.

Militia are basically citizen soldiers, they were the precursors to the National Guard that we have today. However, in 18th century America the concept of citizen soldiery was quite different from today. From the colonial period to well into the 19th century, citizens were always under threat of attack (to varying degrees depending on where they lived) from American Indians or foreign enemies. To protect the citizens, men between the ages of 18 and 50 underwent periodic military training so that they might be prepared for any attacks without assistance from the professional army. The militia were extremely important to the success of the Revolutionary War, because it gave the rebelling colonies an almost “omni-presence;” wherever the British army went, militia could be assembled at a moment’s notice to delay the enemy advance or supplement the standing Continental Army. Following the Revolutionary War, the founding fathers of the United States were somewhat reluctant to maintain a standing army, preferring rather to rely on the militia in case of a threat to national security. They feared a standing army because of the potential for an individual, such as a powerful General to gain too much power and thereby overthrow the Federal Government (their fears were well based, the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire because of such a strong General, his name was Julius Caesar).  In the end, a standing army and a navy were indeed established, but the militia was still an integral element to the nation’s defense. As the above quotation suggests, a big part of the reasoning behind the reliance on militia was to keep in check any individual entity in the government that might grow too powerful and thus limit the freedoms of the Bill of Rights; furthermore, that is the reason why any individual was guaranteed the right to own a gun, to serve as a check against the government.

Now we as Reformed Christians who believe that the Bible teaches us to honor and submit to the high powers, as Paul says in Romans 13:1-7, would probably say that citizens ought not to rebel against the government anyway. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that in the modern gun control debate, this issue is largely ignored. It seems that most people think the Second Amendment has to do with the right to hunt or defend your home against fellow citizen intruders. While these may be advantages to allowing the freedom to bear arms, these were not the original intentions of those who designed our government. We do well if we watch what today’s government is doing, because they are quickly devouring the freedom that was original to American society. As they do so, the place of the church grows smaller and smaller in this nation.

JH

 

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