L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 66, February 29, 2000
'It Is An Armed Citizenry That I Fear'
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
The Second Amendment states: "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."
Virtually every responsible constitutional scholar who in recent
years has reviewed the language and historical context of this
prohibition on government action -- including most recently Lawrence
Tribe of Harvard, a liberal who formerly opposed private firearm
ownership -- has had to admit "this inconvenient Second Amendment"
(without which a plurality of states would never have ratified the
Constitution) does indeed guarantee each individual American the
right to keep and bear military-style firearms, without restriction
-- just like it says.
But there exists a subset of the victim disarmament gang who -- or so
they would insist -- actually believe what the Founding Fathers
meant to say, was:
"Since the security of the state -- let's forget that word 'free' --
rests upon the existence of a select body of soldiers, sworn to take
their orders from the executive, therefore Congress may hand out
military-style weapons and equipment to anyone who swears allegiance
to the president and agrees to put on the uniform of the central
government and obey all its orders (the 'Army and National Guard'),
but Congress meantime retains the right to restrict ownership of
modern military weapons by any other common citizen, up to and
including registration, confiscation, and outright prohibition."
It seems to be one of these souls wrote in to complain about my
column of Jan. 8, in which I pointed out how the rights protected by
the Bill of Rights are intertwined, and cannot long survive without
(In that column, I criticized Arizona Daily Star editor and publisher
Jane Amari for refusing to allow Tucson citizens to continue buying
and selling legal firearms through her newspaper's classified
advertisements, citing an AP account that Ms. Amari "said there was
concern that people buying through classifieds circumvent background
checks now required by law.")
Reader T.P wrote in:
"Vin Suprynowicz's commentary raises a question. Since his is the
latest article I have read concerning the Second Amendment, I would
like to know: Why is it that all staunch defenders of the Second
Amendment fail to mention the first four words of the amendment? Is
it that you prefer those four words not exist?
"Mr. Suprynowicz, in your commentary, you quote all of the Second
Amendment except the first five words. Please explain their absence.
For those who may not know, those five words are: "A well regulated
Militia, being ..."
Hi, T.P. --
I believe your observation is in substantial error. If you will look
again at the ninth paragraph of the column in question, I believe you
will find it reads:
"And isn't the very purpose of the Second Amendment to make sure we
have an armed citizenry -- 'necessary to the security of a free
state' -- to guard that freedom of the press (among the others) from
any mob or tyrant that aims to take it away?"
The portion of this sentence which appears in quotation marks is a
direct quotation from the introductory clause of the Second Amendment
-- the one which the victim disarmament gang always wants to argue we
defenders of the Bill of Rights "ignore."
As for the inclusion of the word "militia," my Webster's New World
Dictionary (Third College Edition) defines "militia" as "1) any army
composed of citizens rather than professional soldiers, called up in
time of emergency," or "2) in the U.S., all able-bodied male citizens
between 18 and 45 years old who are not already members of the
regular armed forces."
Thus, my phrase, "an armed citizenry," and the phrase which you fear
has been omitted, are in fact synonymous.
Now, since it is the second clause of this amendment which carries
the vital prohibition against government action -- barring "gun
control" laws of any kind -- the second clause would remain in effect
even if the introductory clause stated "The moon being made of green
However, in fact, I would NOT prefer that the introductory clause of
the amendment not exist. That's why I cited it. It informs us the
reason all the citizens of America are to be armed -- with
modern-day, military weapons -- is because an armed citizenry is
"necessary to the security of a free state" (as opposed to police
states, in which the individual citizens are NOT allowed to keep
modern, military-style arms, which become the exclusive province of
troops under the command of the central government), as demonstrated
by the examples in my column.
T.P wrote back:
"I agree, "necessary to the security of a free state" is a direct
quote. It's the four words preceding those where we disagree.
You contend that your phrase "an armed citizenry" is synonymous with
"a well regulated Militia." If that's the case, why paraphrase? Why
not use the exact quote since it contains only one additional word?
Just how do you explain the words, "well regulated?"
Just suppose a mob armed with guns wanted to destroy the newspaper.
Would that qualify as "an armed citizenry?" It most certainly
wouldn't qualify as a "well regulated Militia."
You've referred to the confiscation of registered guns by Turkey,
Russia and Germany. Have we not learned anything from Waco? The
Branch Davidians were armed with non-registered gun when they fought
the most powerful government in the world. They failed because they
could not muster enough public support to succeed. If ever enough
public support was available to assemble "an armed citizenry" to
successfully overthrow the government of The United States of
America, would not that number be sufficient enough to resolve the
dispute at the ballot box?
It's the narrow minded individuals, intent on imposing their will, be
it on a newspaper or be it on a community, being able to assemble "an
armed citizenry" that I fear. Imagine someone in Nevada, intent on
creating a moral society that's void of gaming and legal
prostitution, assembling "an arm citizenry." The havoc they created
could alter all our lives. Logic tells me they most likely would
start by attacking small places in Pahrump. Imagine fighting in the
streets as our government protected our freedom to chose for
ourselves, against "an armed citizenry" that was certain they knew
what was best for us.
An individual does not become a tyrant until they seize power. Fidel
Castro was viewed as a liberator, not a tyrant, while he lead "an
armed citizenry" against Batista in the fifties. Whom would you
select to lead "an armed citizenry" in this country?
Control of guns is no more synonymous with the outlawing of guns than
"an armed citizenry" is synonymous with "A well regulated Militia."
Vin, the manner you and the NRA chose to defend the Second Amendment
-- making the qualifier mean no more than "The moon being made of
green cheese" -- only encourages the narrow minded to create "an
armed citizenry." While "the right of the people to keep and bear
Arms, shall not be infringed," is the heart of the amendment, it does
not stand alone."
Hi, T.P. --
The shift in the meaning of the term "well-regulated" since the 18th
century is indeed interesting. If you take a double-barreled rifle or
shotgun to a British gunsmith, even today, and ask "Can this gun be
regulated?" he will interpret that as meaning you want the barrels
aligned so that shot or ball from either barrel will strike in
exactly the same spot at a predetermined distance, asking you "for
what range do you want it regulated, and with what powder charge?"
It would never occur to such a gunsmith -- nor would it have occurred
to the founders -- that you mean "Can we get some government agency
to pass rules restricting the ownership of this weapon?" Such a use
of the word would have been totally foreign to them, since that usage
of "regulation" became popular only with the birth of the modern
regulatory state, after the Civil War.
To the founders, the main concern was that the militia NOT be made up
of bumbling klutzes unfamiliar with the sound of gunfire, unfamiliar
with how to scout a ridge line for an enemy ambush, and most of all
ignorant of how to load and fire their weapons on the move, even in
inclement weather. Rather, a "well-regulated militia" was a group of
citizen soldiers who had been meeting on the town green at least one
Sunday a month to practice loading and fire discipline, who knew
their elected citizen-officers and were accustomed to trusting and
following their orders, and so on. The closest modern synonym would
probably be "well-practiced."
But since the central government now invades churches and murders
women and children with THEIR machine guns and incendiary devices if
they suspect church members have an "arsenal" of perfectly legal
weapons; now that Janet Reno's Justice Department has taken upon
itself the duty of infiltrating perfectly legal above-ground militias
with agents provocateurs whose job is to attempt to lead the members
into criminal conspiracies, how is it that you and they would propose
we ESTABLISH modern, well-practiced militias? Many of us would like
If I announce formation of the Las Vegas citizen militia, and
schedule weekend shooting competitions and mock deployments designed
to make my new band of armed citizens "better regulated" in the use
of selective-fire assault weapons -- that is to say, better practiced
at war-like skills -- can we or can we not expect to be infiltrated,
"set up," busted, and jailed for "conspiracy"?
Of course we can. How does this help us restore the "well-regulated
militia" you claim to support?
If we can take you at your word (which we cannot, of course -- it
appears all your specious arguments are really designed to make
firearms ownership seem ridiculous), you're the one who keeps
insisting we gun owners should form "well-regulated militia" units.
Please, without placing ourselves under government orders (which
would only make us the modern equivalents of Lord Howe's redcoats and
Hessians) - and without getting ourselves jailed -- how are we to do
As opposed to the lies you continue to perpetrate, the Branch
Davidians at Mount Carmel were not armed with any illegal weapons.
The local sheriff had inspected their weapons not long before, and
found them all to be legal. None of the Branch Davidians were ever
charged with -- or convicted of -- any such weapons violations. The
prosecution promised to hold up samples of their illegal weapons at
the trial of the Branch Davidian survivors in San Antonio, but never
did so. There were none.
Since when is it the responsibility of those who are attacked by
armed government helicopters and machine guns and finally tanks to
"muster enough public support to succeed"? This is like saying the
Polish Jews obviously had no right to survive in the Warsaw ghetto in
1943, because they "could not muster enough public support to
succeed." I find this doctrine hideous.
Waco proves that Americans need to own machine guns and anti-tank
missiles, and keep them in their homes. Otherwise, government agents
anxious for some "good TV footage" to show at their congressional
funding hearings will come to our homes and kill us and our children.
This is not some paranoid fantasy. We all watched it happen on TV, in
Texas, in 1993.
The occupants of the Mount Carmel Church in Waco -- who were never
given any chance to respond peacefully to any warrant or summons or
subpoena -- owned fewer firearms per capita than is the current
average for all citizens of Texas. There was no "huge armory."
Perhaps next time the government thugs will pick on someone OTHER
than a bunch of old ladies and children in a Seventh Day Adventist
Church -- someone who DOES have the training and the willingness to
fight back. Fortunately, following Waco, Americans civilians have
been rearming like crazy, often collectively buying as many as a
MILLION new firearms per month. The thugs you love are soon going to
have some surprises, if they keep this up.
The eighth chapter of my book, "Send in the Waco Killers," is titled
"Demonizing the Militias." It tells the stories of many well-meaning
Americans who attempted to form "well-regulated militias" in the
years following Ruby Ridge and Waco. I interviewed several who
scheduled drills (with unloaded weapons) at town greens in Oregon and
California -- clearing their activities with local parks and
recreation departments beforehand -- with the specific purpose of
getting Americans used to seeing respectable citizens in public,
again, with military-style rifles, as had been common in the 18th and
How did folks like Janet Reno respond when these law-abiding citizens
decided to call the bluff of all you "It's only for a militia"
whiners? Almost to a man they had their fledgling, above-ground
militias infiltrated by government agents provocateurs who proposed
that they commit crimes like bank robbery and thefts from U.S.
armories. When the undercover federal operatives were unable to
convince these decent veterans and lawyers to commit such crimes, the
government infiltrators settled for "setting them up" on conspiracy
charges, in some cases planting bomb makings (Macon, Georgia) or
stolen property (New Hampshire) on the targets of their
"investigations." Many are now in prison, despite the fact they never
shot anyone, or blew anything up.
I submit neither you nor the tyrannical government to which you would
like to grant a MONOPOLY on armed force has any interest in
encouraging the development of "well-regulated militias." Such
arguments are mere casuistry; your real goal is to disarm everyone
but the professional criminals and the government police, leaving the
populace to live in cringing terror.
You ask: "If ever enough public support was available to assemble 'an
armed citizenry' to successfully overthrow the government of The
United States of America, would not that number be sufficient enough
to resolve the dispute at the ballot box?"
The purpose of the armed citizenry, as properly pointed out in the
amendment you keep insisting we cite correctly, is to preserve "the
security of a free state." To interpret that as meaning "the
overthrow the government of The United States of America" is
disingenuous. There is no need to overthrow a government which is
kept within its constitutional bounds by the knowledge that it faces
an armed populace ever jealous of its liberties -- nor is there any
way to keep any government within such bounds WITHOUT an armed
citizenry. The founding fathers knew this. You would merely like to
wish away this truth -- demonstrated time and again, down through the
You say you are concerned about someone in America "being able to
assemble an armed citizenry." Fortunately, there is no need for
anyone to "create" or "assemble" in America an armed citizenry.
George Washington found the citizenry armed when it flocked to his
banner in 1776. It has remained armed ever since.
Yet your paranoid fantasies of militiamen "attacking Pahrump" and
"fighting in the streets" have never come to pass, except when the
government in Washington City staged a military invasion of the
southern states from 1861 to 1865. If an armed citizenry is so
dangerous, how come we didn't see blood running in the streets back
in 1899, or 1919, or 1933 -- before there were ANY federal
restrictions on the private ownership of machine guns?
(The only exception I can think of was the invention of the tommy-gun
drive-by during alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s -- a problem solved
overnight by Franklin Roosevelt when he legalized alcohol in 1933.
When was the last time you heard of a modern Anheuser-Busch
distributor taking a machine gun to his competitor from Miller Lite?
Yet I don't suppose we'd want to end our equivalent epidemic of
inner-city violence by ending our own modern Prohibitions, today?)
If the 20th century teaches us nothing else, it is that government
mass murders occur in slave states where the citizenry is disarmed
(the Armenians in Turkey; the Ukrainians under Stalin, the Jews and
Gypsies under Hitler; the intellectuals under Mao and Pol Pot -- oh,
what a happy catalog you gun-banners have compiled) -- not in free
nations where the citizenry is armed, as in America.
If you wish to live in a country where the citizenry is disarmed,
then you do not want to live in the America envisioned by our
founding fathers. You can either move to Cuba or Red China, or you
can endeavor to repeal the Second Amendment -- instead of trying to
twist its real and obvious meaning, which is that any 14-year-old
girl must be allowed to buy a shoulder launched heat-seeking missile
over the counter at Home Depot, for cash, without showing any
Of course, since the states ratified the Constitution only on the
promise that a Bill of Rights (specifically including the right to
keep and bear arms) would be enacted, at that point the entire
contract represented by the current Constitution would be null and
void, and an armed revolution would indeed loom fairly likely. And
how would you propose to win such a fight, once you've given up your
To argue that, under the Second Amendment, "If you want to bear arms,
you can always join the Army or the National Guard," requires us to
believe that -- while George Washington was still president -- the
founders enacted a Bill of Rights which would have allowed the
colonial governor of Virginia to disarm and jail gentleman farmer
George Washington and his friend George Mason for founding the
Fairfax County Militia -- which neither had the blessing of nor was
answerable to any government authority -- sneering "If they want to
bear arms, they can always go join the British Army."
The founders would clearly recognize in today's National Guard what
they called a "special militia" -- against any dependence on which
they loudly advised.
In his "Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer" (1788) Richard
Henry Lee, author of the Bill of Rights, insisted "A militia, when
properly formed, are in fact the people themselves, and render
regular troops in a great measure unnecessary. ... The constitution
ought to secure a genuine [militia], and guard against a select
militia, by providing that the militia shall always be kept well
organized, armed, and disciplined, and include ... all men capable of
bearing arms, and that all regulations tending to render this general
militia useless and defenceless, be establishing select corps of
militia, or distinct bodies of military men ... be avoided."
If we allow such select corps of armed and uniformed men to be
established, Lee warned, "substantial men, having families and
property" will gradually fall away from the practice of arms, until
they finally find themselves "without arms, without knowing the use
of them, and defenceless; whereas, to preserve liberty, it is
essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and
be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
In the Pennsylvania ratification convention of 1787, delegate John
Smilie (among many others) issued the same warning as to what might
happen without a Second Amendment -- the condition they sought to a
void by demanding a Second Amendment:
"Congress may give us a select militia which will, in fact, be a
standing army -- or Congress, afraid of a general militia, may say
there shall be no militia at all. When a select militia is formed;
the people in general may be disarmed."
Isn't this precisely what we see happening, now that the rock of the
Second Amendment is eroding? Yet far from rushing to arms to defend
our vanishing liberties, the like of correspondent T.P. actually
celebrate this travesty.
Rising in the Virginia convention, Patrick Henry could not have
stated the case more simply: "The great object is, that every man be
armed. ... Everyone who is able may have a gun."
"An armed citizenry" is a synonym for "a well-regulated militia,"
just as "gun control and registration" has led to gun confiscation
not just in the older historical examples cited above, but in England
and Australia just in the past decade. The contrary argument requires
us to ignore every single historical example demonstrating where
T.P.'s proposed course of action -- victim disarmament -- actually
But fortunately, this argument neither can or will be decided by any
contest of dictionary definitions.
I am an American citizen. I am a member of the unorganized militia.
As is my duty (and in compliance with all federal and local laws), I
am armed. If T.P. or others like him wish to come to my house and try
to disarm me, let them come and try. Or will they, like all those
cowards before them, instead hire some uniformed thug to try and do
their dirty work for them?
And when they comes for me, in violation of the very principles to
which T.P. pretends to adhere, they'll be ... armed ... won't they?
I thought so.
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas
Review-Journal. His new book,
Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998,
is available at $24.95 postpaid
from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by
dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site
Credit cards accepted; volume discounts available.
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