Right to bear arms is a relic

Posted July 09, 2009, at 5:57 p.m.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution — “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” — has been viewed as a justification of widespread, unhindered gun ownership.

It might be helpful to understand the intent of those who wrote our Constitution and this particular amendment.

The authors were all Englishmen educated in English tradition and law. They lived at a time when there were no municipal police. The first such organization was established in London in 1829; members were called “bobbies” in honor of their founder, British Home Secretary Robert Peel. The first paid police force in the United States was formed in Boston in 1838, followed soon after by New York City in 1844. Previously each town looked out for itself. In times of danger, from American Indians or other colonials from competing nations, local militias were relied upon for protection.

Militias were a well-established tradition in England. British monarchs had called them into service for several hundred years. It was not until after the British Civil War in the 1600s that a standing army was authorized. Before that time kings called up soldiers as the need arose. Local militias were the core of the kingdom’s de-fense. Not all such groups were loyal to the monarch and following the restoration after Cromwell, a national army was created partly due to fear of local militias.

In 1757, Parliament passed a Militia Act requiring all militias to keep records of members and their activities. This followed the French and Indian War in which American colonial militia units proved their worth. The act was designed so that Parliament could keep track of such units.

Growing dissatisfaction with British rule led the American colonists to revolt. The Second Continental Congress authorized funds to establish an army paid and armed by the new government. It was agreed that all local militias be required to provide support for the new army. When called to serve they were required to provide their own weapons and could be led by officers of their choice.

In 1787 at the Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia, Article 1, section 8 was added to the new document granting power to Congress to organize, arm and direct all militia units called up to national service, to appoint their officers and to provide such training as deemed necessary. It was in this fashion that a “well regulated militia” would serve the nation.

The Militia Act of 1792 required every able-bodied white male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45 to be enrolled in a militia unit, each to provide his own “good musket or flint lock.” The need to keep and bear arms was a necessity, not a right.

The intent of the framers of our laws was to require citizens to serve in defense of our new nation. The stress of rebellion as well as the need to protect outlying communities obligated all able-bodied men to come to the aid of their country. The right to keep and bear arms was vital to our nation’s continued existence.

The war for independence is over. We have local police, state police and numerous national law enforcement agencies. We have a professional military. We no longer need militias. It is no longer necessary for private citizens to keep and bear arms in defense of our communities or our country. It is reasonable to restrict the type of weapons permitted to be owned by private citizens and time to revisit the Second Amendment.

Ronald Jarvella of Northport is a retired teacher and member of the board of the Midcoast Council on Foreign Relations.

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