The Militia of the Second Amendment

Every American colony enacted laws that required militia service by all able bodied men, usually aged sixteen to fifty or even sixty. Some colonies exempted clergy and those with conscientious scruples against killing.

Most people of the colonies and the new states abhorred an army. In part this was due to their experience with the British army that they had experienced as occupiers, ruthless, and tyrannical. Their experiences with the British army resulted in the Third Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

The American revolution began when the British army tried to seize arms and ammunition the colonists stored in Lexington, Mass., and gunpowder they stored in Williamsburg, Virginia. After the Declaration of Independence they wrote the articles of Confederation which stated that every state shall always keep up well regulated and disciplined militia.

Before and after the Revolutionary War the militias of communities normally met frequently for practice in shooting and in military tactics and activities. They worked at developing the discipline of following orders in order to overcome an enemy. Frequently they elected their officers, which often meant the officers were respected and their orders followed.

The militia was also a social center for communities. The militia sponsored dances, communal meals, and other social events. Some of these events were money raisers, so the militia could purchase cannon, uniforms, or ammunition. They were centers for community enjoyment and interaction.

Noah Webster wrote years after the Revolutionary War and establishment of the states and nation that the people are fully armed and disciplined and could defeat any standing army.

Today smaller communities have an organization that is very similar to the militia of American history — the volunteer fire department. Like the militia they meet regularly for practice with fire fighting equipment, and to learn how to attack various types of fires. They learn discipline and following orders. Members go to summer training that is provided for advanced understanding of tactics and to practice fire fighting. In the south central United States Texas A. and M. is famous for its summer training of fire fighters. These volunteer fire departments, also like the militia, are often a center for community interactions and social events. Some of these occasions are to raise money to purchase fire fighting equipment. When I was a volunteer firefighter in a small Texas community, the alarm of a fire was spread by a whistle controlled by the local telephone operator. Firefighters telephoned her to find out where to go. Now volunteer fire fighters have pagers furnished by the department, so they can be instantly told of a fire or emergency. Today some volunteer fire fighters are trained as emergency medical technicians.

Many communities are proud of their volunteer fire departments. When we lived in Fredericksburg, Texas, in the late1950’s the fire department had carefully kept relics of earlier days, which were showed to the community on special days. These included a steam powered fire engine.

An interesting evolution of volunteer fire departments is that many have hired a few professional firefighters, so one can be on duty at the fire station when an alarm comes, and instantly drive a fire truck to an emergency, while the alarm is spread and the volunteers go directly to the fire.

In the same kind of evolution the militia was the core of state and national defense, but professional military were trained as problems grew on the borders of the nation and beyond. American merchant ships were harassed by pirates in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, which led the Congress to appropriate money for privateers and soon for an American navy and the building of frigates. Meanwhile a standing army began to be organized and trained, as the weapons of war became more specialized, and these armies needed larger cannon and other weapons. The result is the evolution into today’s large standing army, navy, and air force with their highly specialized weapons that require intense training and coordination and their professional leaders require extended training in tactics and strategy.

A part of the modern American military are the reserves and the National Guards. The National Guards exist perhaps primarily as a disciplined and armed force to be called up for duty for local emergencies to help local police restore order, prevent looting, and assist communities to rebuild. While I was a pastor during a national emergency of the mid 1960’s members of my church who were in the reserve were called up to national duty, but their level of preparation for the complexities of modern war required that they go to an army base for months of training before they could be deployed. I found it revealing that local members of the naval reserve were organized for work on a particular class of ship — in their case a destroyer that normally has a crew of a couple of hundred — and every summer they worked together as the crew of a destroyer in naval maneuvers. In this national emergency they were called up and within weeks were the crew of a destroyer that was brought back into active duty and on duty with the fleet.

Copyright © 2004 John F. Yeaman