OPINION – Few words in the English language evoke a stronger reaction than the word “militia.” In our day, it’s a word that conjures up images of antisocial radicals dressed in camouflage and running around in the woods.
More often than not, these perceptions are based on social conditioning rather than actual instances of wrongdoing. For instance, when the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up 19 years ago, blame for the bombing was placed at the feet of the entire political right — but especially the militia movement.
Politicians and pundits lumped all critics of federal government excesses into one ball of wax and accused them of wanting to overthrow the federal government. The very word “militia” became an epithet.
The problem with this narrative is that the men who were eventually tried and convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing were not militia members, but former members of the United States Armed Forces. Oops.
The militia movement had been gaining momentum in response to federal efforts to impose stronger gun control measures through a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms passed in 1994. Following on the heels of the deadly Ruby Ridge and Waco debacles, many Americans were concerned about maintaining essential liberties in the face of an aggressive central government.
The concept of the citizen militia is one that is rooted in history and human nature. Machiavelli, in his writings, described the Swiss as “the most free and most armed people” of Europe. This makes sense since armed citizens can actively defend their freedom where unarmed ones cannot.
Blackstone in his commentaries on the Laws of England wrote of “the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”
The value of the armed citizen was well understood and widely supported by the Founding Fathers of this nation. This is why it was widely debated and ultimately protected by the U.S. Constitution during the writing and ratification of that document.
After their experience with King George’s standing armies, the former colonies affirmed and guaranteed the right of the people to bear arms in their own defense and in the defense of their respective states. Imagine that.
When the founders wrote the 27 words that comprise the Second Amendment, they spoke of the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” as being a prerequisite to the “security of a free state.” Had they meant that this right was limited only to the states organizing their well regulated, or well-trained, militias, they would have stated it.
They were validating what St. George Tucker described as he echoed the words of Blackstone:
The right of self defence is the first law of nature …. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms, is under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.
Following the passage of the Militia Acts of 1792, the president was given authority to call the various state militias into the service of the United States to repel invasions or put down insurrections. In 1903, the Dick Act further clarified the president’s use of the state militias by making the distinction between the “organized” and “unorganized” militias.
The organized militia referred to what we now call the National Guard. State National Guard units are considered part of the regular U.S. Armed Forces and can be sent into action abroad just like their full-time counterparts.
We saw this just a few years ago when the 222nd was activated and sent to serve in Iraq.
The unorganized, or general, militia consists of able-bodied males, most often between 17 and 54 years of age, who are capable of volunteering for the defense of their communities, states, or nation.
Though the media image of the unorganized militia typically consists of a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist straight out of central casting, the reality is a lot more benign.
County search and rescue teams are often organized, trained, and called into action by their local sheriff to address imminent problems. In the event of widespread danger that exceeds the capability of sworn officers, these individuals can be deputized as needed.
This provides necessary civic oversight that serves the needs of the community without imposing undue regulation that only favors centralized government. This is just one example of the unorganized militia.
During the Los Angeles riots in 1992, armed Korean merchants spontaneously organized to protect their businesses from the looters and arsonists that police were powerless to stop. Eventually the organized militia, in the form of the National Guard, was brought in to help restore order.
Occasionally, local authority can be the problem as has been seen in Mexico where self-defense groups have organized to secure the safety of their communities.
In this case, corrupt local police were part of the problem as cartel members raped, robbed, and murdered with impunity. When appeals to their local and national leaders fell on deaf ears, Mexican citizens armed themselves; disarmed the corrupted police officers; and either killed or ran off the cartel members from their communities.
They had simply had enough.
While the press uses the term “vigilante” in describing the citizens’ actions, the bottom line is that they took control of an intolerable situation and secured their communities. When their government wouldn’t stop the abuse of the cartels, the people had to take action on their own. This would not have been possible without the common people bearing arms in defense of their homes and families.
Now the Mexican government is asking them to turn over their guns and saying it will protect them. The self-defense forces are refusing to give up their arms. Can you blame them?
They understand what we have forgotten over many generations; the power of the sword in the hands of the citizenry is the only sure deterrent for tyranny from any source. When it comes to creating misery and destruction, corrupted government – not the militia – is the clear winner.
Remember this when you hear the word “militia” being used as a Pavlovian buzzword. It’s not supposed to scare us.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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