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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Elections vs. Insurrections: Is The Second Amendment About Overthrowing Government?

As a former history and social studies teacher, recent public controversies about the Second Amendment have added to my interest in what the US founders meant when they wrote the following into their Bill of Rights:

"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."

The most controversial questions currently being debated seem to be, Who or what constitutes the "militia"? How are such militia formed, organized and led? What does "well-regulated" mean, and to whom do citizen militia answer? And are they ever meant to be for the purpose of citizens overthrowing their government by force (instead of by ballot)?

I'm not a constitutional scholar by any stretch, but here is what the founders explain in plain English in the Constitution itself (emphases mine):

Article I, Section 8, lists the following as being among the powers of Congress:  

"To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

"To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress..."

Article II, Section 2, further states:  

"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States..."

Amendment 5 of the Bill of Rights contains the only other reference to the militia in the US Constitution, as follows:  

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger..."

That's it. There is not even a hint of the people bearing arms for the purpose of insurrections, but for quite the opposite, to suppress them, through state appointed, controlled and trained organizations like the National Guard.

Then there's this text from an even more authoritative source, first written to Christians living under the Roman tyrant Nero:

"Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

"Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

"That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders."

- Romans 13:-17 9 (the Message)
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