Tag Archive | firearms

The US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment: Police, Not Guns in Every Home

American gun patrioticThe 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution is interpreted by the National Rifle Association to mean that every American is guaranteed the right to own and carry firearms anywhere, at any time, in any context s/he wishes.  Common sense is not part of their position.  Guns should be at the zoo, at Starbucks, at your kid’s playground, even in your child’s school.  Guns should be everywhere because the Constitution says so!

Except the Constitution doesn’t say that,  Instead the full text of the 2nd Amendment is:

“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.”

14th century Italian militias.

14th century Italian militias.

Now as I talked about three years ago on Yahoo Voices and reposted a year ago, the idea of the militia has a specific historical context grounded in Anglo-Saxon tradition.  It is, at its core, a feudal institution pre-dating professional armies where local men and women responded to local emergencies by arming themselves and protecting their towns and villages.  Mercenaries (soldiers for hire)  were for centuries rather unreliable folks with rape/pillage habits — something American colonists experienced with the Hessian mercenaries hired by the Crown.  Before the emergence of completely professional national armies, soldiers for hire had the habit of abusing the local population, of taking what they wanted.  So locals tended to maintain their militias to protect themselves against such abuse.

gun murder

Times have changed in the United States and United Kingdom. Professional soldiers are hometown heroes and heroines — not threats to the safety of civilian populations. Invasions from foreign powers on home soil is essentially unknown to most Americans and British — the main modern exceptions to that happened during the 2nd World War.  Our armies have professionalized and this is a good thing. Because since the beginning of professional soldiering, the professionals have always possessed superior skills, protection, and weapons compared to their civilian counterparts.

And that is what a militia is:  civilians responding to emergencies.  It’s volunteer police, volunteer fire department, and neighourhood watch organizations. I’ve seen arguments for including USA state national guard units under this umbrella — except those are trained and equipped much more similarly to the full time army, navy, and so forth — and they are paid to do so!

Two London constables on duty.

Two London constables on duty.

So what then does the 2nd Amendment actually guarantee Americans?  If you treat the word “militia” properly, what is the 2nd Amendment actually protecting?  In my analysis as a historian, the 2nd Amendment guarantees us POLICE FORCES and FIRE DEPARTMENTS which do the same job that our militias once did.  Police forces/constabularies and fire departments protect local populations from danger — from within our localities and from outside threats.  When a riot breaks out, it’s the police — not a Federal soldier — that is sent in to deal with it.  When Federal soldiers ARE sent in to deal with riots we habitually treat this much as our ancestors did with mercenary soldiers — and perhaps rightly.

In the Autumn of 2001 New York Penn Station was protected with Federal soldiers carrying high power weapons through the station to police it, a response to 9/11.  Believe me, that terrified me as I walked through the station to catch or depart from my New Jersey Transit trains!  A regular NYPD officer in regular uniform with regular equipment felt safe to be around.  But Federal troops?  Utterly terrifying!

gun murder 2We need our police officers and constables.  We need this modern form of our ancient militias.  We need to honour and respect the work our officers and constables do and trust them to do their job — rather than delude ourselves into thinking we can do their jobs better than they can and therefore arming ourselves.

Gun are not the solution.  As a matter of fact, they aggravate our problems.  A woman is 500x more likely to be shot/killed during a domestic dispute when firearms are kept in the home than she is when family firearms are kept in a neutral location such as a gun club.  There is a reason why the murder rate in the United Kingdom is so much lower than in the United States.  This twisting of the 2nd Amendment is why.

Some of you are likely to attack me for writing this.  That is fine with me.  Be my guest.  Because as a woman who was hurt in a gun “accident” as a child, I fiercely uphold that the gun laws in the United Kingdom are the best way to go.  I’ve seen what guns everywhere all the time can do and it disgusts me and terrify me.

Leave the guns to the police and the constables.  Leave them to the real modern militias. And please, in the name of sanity, stop thinking that having a gun around makes you safer!  IT DOESN’T!

Medieval Militias: a Brief History of England and Europe’s Primary Defense Forces

This article published on June 21st, 2012 was originally written in response to the raging gun control debate exploding at the time.  In that debate, I kept hearing ardent defenses of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution which states in full, “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.”

Being a history person, I therefore took the time to look into the history of militias in hoping of shedding light onto the context behind these most controversial words in the US Constitution.

 

Medieval Militias: a Brief History of England and Europe’s Primary Defense Forces

When most people hear the word “militia,” Colonial America minutemen probably come to mind. Others may remember that it was the Massachusetts militia that Congress adopted and assigned to George Washington in 1775 in order to free Boston from occupying Crown forces. To this Massachusetts colonial militia, Congress merged the colonial militias of the other twelve colonies, forming what became the “Continental Army.”

But this new Continental Army was not an army in the modern sense nor did it form in a historical vacuum. Instead, the American militias that became George Washington’s forces all evolved out of a much older tradition that goes back more than one thousand years before the Founding Fathers and Founding Mother’s time.

It all began in antiquity, as most things ultimately do. Celtic and Germanic peoples competed for resources across Europe, each with very distinct war traditions. Medieval England would take most of their traditions from the Germanic tribes.

Ancient Germanic cultures maintained a tradition of calling forth every able bodied man to fight in times of crisis; professional soldiers were not part of this equation. This tradition became part ofEnglish Common Law even as a more codified feudal system emerged. These first militias were the backbone of defense across Europe; mercenaries were hired sometimes but were so expensive that they were particularly rare in the first millennium of the Common Era. Starting in the eleventh century, the numbers of professional, mercenary soldiers grew thanks to the evolution of a new practice called “scutage.” In scutage, a vassal pays money to his liege lord in exchange for being excused from personally providing military service. With this money, kings and nobles bought more mercenaries than they ever could before. As with most things, Europe’s transition from barter to money-based economics facilitated that shift. Soon it became common for the wealthiest to pay their way out of putting their own necks on the line on the field of battle, increasing the number of mercenaries a king or noble could employ.

But mercenaries were no solution to the problem of how to defend a nation. In England, non-feudal militias were encouraged through laws requiring every able bodied man to keep weapons and train with them. The Welsh longbow became the natural weapon of choice; they were relatively inexpensive and could be owned by even the poorest Englishman. Laws were passed to encourage proficiency with bows. By the Hundred Years War, the result of generations of encouraged archery proficiency rang clear with English victories against the French rooted in the skill of English bowmen – nearly all of these longbow men serving in the militia. As mercenaries became more ruthless in their treatment of civilians, resentment against professional soldiers grew; only the militia made up of their peers could be trusted.

This belief that militia, not professional soldiers, could be trusted stayed with English society through the 17th and 18th centuries, becoming part of colonial American attitudes towards professional verses non-professional soldiers and, ultimately made its way into the United States Constitution through the Second Amendment guaranteeing, just as 13th century English law, the rights of ordinary citizens to defend the country instead of a professional army.

Mythologizing America, Patriotism, and History

In honor of the American Independence Day holiday later this week, here’s a look at the American patriotic myth.

Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

Mythologizing America, Patriotism, and History

Historical Facts Take a Back Seat to Popular Myths About Unity and Freedom

Originally posted July 9th, 2012

It’s July. This week we celebrated the 236nd anniversary of the signing of the “Declaration of Independence” with the usual fireworks, parades, concerts, and street fairs.

Throughout the day on various programs, I heard sweeping patriotic declarations about the nature of the American War for Independence and its impacts. These grand patriotic statements sound so wonderful during July 4th festivities. They are not, for the most part, remotely historically true.

One major myth I heard across numerous programs was the myth that Americans of the 18thcentury came out of the “Revolution” as one, unified, cohesive group under a strong federal government system.

This is grossly inaccurate. In Article two of the “Articles of Confederation,” we read,

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled. “

Across the “Articles of Confederation” the term “United States” is almost always written “united States.” This signals the dominate 18th century belief that each state – from Georgia to New Hampshire – was a country unto its own and that most persons considered themselves New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, South Carolinians, and so forth, NOT Americans.

Or put another way, the American War for Independence created 13 countries, not one, who agreed to work together when it suited them. It took a second civil war (the American War for Independence was primarily a civil war) from 1861-5 to actually create the United States of America from “These United States.”

Other serious myths I keep hearing in patriotic declarations was that the Founders believed in equality and freedom for all. They didn’t. Washington and Jefferson were both notorious slave owners. Washington believed so much in slavery that he refused to end the war (the Battle of Yorktown was October 19th, 1781) until November 25th, 1783. The reason? He demanded all American “property” to be returned to their “rightful” owners.

As explained by Barnett Schleter in in November 25, 2010 lecture held at Fraunces Tavern (one of the best known surviving 18th century establishments in New York City), the American property Washington demanded returned were slaves emancipated by the Crown.

The Crown refused, forcing free blacks, along with those Americans who remained loyal to the Crown, to pursue new lives in Canada, Europe, and across the British Empire.

None of this is conveyed in most non-university history books. Instead, we are told the ideals, not the historical realities.

But why? History is supposed to be taught in an objective fashion. Why then are we teaching mythology when it would be easier and much more ethical to teach what really happened – all sides of the stories? Brevity is an excuse I’ve heard, but a poor one. A person can learn 18th century attitudes towards slavery, racial and gender equality, and liberty in the same amount of space as they can be taught the mythological omni-benevolence of the Founding Fathers. It takes no more time to explain that Americans did not win the American War for Independence; we simply made it too expensive for the Crown to keep pursuing. Parliament, not King George III, decided it was costing too much money and lives to keep fighting.

In teaching myth, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from history. This makes us easier to control by politicians -does anyone actually want that? Do we absolutely trust our politicians or would we prefer to make better decisions in choosing leaders?

Education is the key to becoming strong consumers of information, to supporting only policies and leaders that truly make common sense and serve the interests of all the people – not just their friends.

Education is worthless if all we do is teach the politically convenient version of things. Education needs to be free and independent of politics. American history education has lost its independence.

It would seem the only way to find out objectively what happened in any area of history is to become a history hobbyist, watching countless documentaries on PBS, National Geographic, the History Channel (which has certain biases I don’t approve of), and other sources for educational programming.

We can do better.