The Founders feared that a federal army would be used as a tool of tyrants to oppose the citizenry.
That was a smart take, for if we look at world history, federal militaries have been the weapon of bloody butchery far more against their own citizens than they have been deployed to fight in the defense of their citizens in foreign wars.
As we’ve often noted here in recent months, governments of the 20th century murdered 262 million of their own people in domestic purges called democides, far more than they did in combat between nations during that bloody century.
In every instance, the population to be slaughtered was disarmed “for the common good” first.
The Founding Fathers, having just won a war against a powerful Army that was oppressing its own citizens in the service of a tyrant, was clearly against centralized control of military units. They stated a clear preference for local militia.
We, dear friends, are that militia, as codified in U.S. law.
We are the massive irregular force known as the unorganized militia of the United States.
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After the dismal failure of Yankee marksmanship during the Civil War when compared against the much more competent marksmanship of Confederate soldiers, a group of Northern officers came together to charter an organization in 1871 to improve the marksmanship of the unorganized militia for the benefit of the entire nation.
Today, that same unorganized militia training organization still exists.
It has roughly 100,000 certified instructors teaching both basic firearms safety and rifle, shotgun, and pistol marksmanship. They help construct firearms training centers, and hold marksmanship competitions with military-style arms to help ensure that the militia is in proper working order, or as the Founders used the term, well-regulated.”
You know this organization well. They have more than 5 million members, and are more than twice the size of the organized U.S. military, and they exist to ensure that the people are armed and competent with arms as a check against tyranny as the Founders intended.
They are the National Rifle Association.
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Some people who want to ban common firearms today are wedded to the idea that the Founders could not conceive of today’s weapons.
These people are in for a surprise.
It is true that the two firearms most “in common use” (as the U.S. Supreme Court would later use the term) during the American Revolution were muskets.
Variations of the .75-caliber British “Brown Bess” muskets were the most common muskets fielded by both sides, though American forces also heavily used the 1763 and 1766 models of the .69-caliber French Charleville.
They were not, however, the only tools of that war. There were rapid developments in the field of small arms worldwide in terms of both range and firepower from the 1760s to the 1790s.
Riflemen were used by both sides, and one of the most historically interesting rifles was developed by a British officer. The breach-loading Ferguson rifle fired two to three times as fast as the musket, at twice the range. It was used effectively in combat at the Battle of Brandywine, but fortunately for the Continentals, Major Ferguson was injured and his unit with these hard-hitting, fast-firing rifles was disbanded before their worth was truly proven.
Americans were experimenting with advances in firepower as well.
The Continental Congress originally ordered 100 of Joseph Belton’s “new improved gun”—a superposed chain-firing machine gun that would fire 20 rounds in 5 seconds—in 1777.
Yes, George Washington almost became the first general in military history to deploy machine guns.
Congress ended up canceling the order when Belton’s price for his guns proved to be too high.
The .46 caliber Girandoni repeating air rifle, created circa 1779, would be an assault rifle by today’s standards. Thomas Jefferson owned two of them, and eventually sent at least one of the two west with Lewis & Clark.
Yes, the The Founding Fathers were very aware of fast-firing “assault rifles” with detachable magazines.
They owned them, and could purchase them a full decade before before the Second Amendment was even written.
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Today, the single rifle most “in common use” among the unorganized militia is the AR-15, a cousin of the military M4 and M16 which has been on the civilian market considerably longer than the M16 has been in military service.
It was introduced to the American civilian shooter in 1963.
The selective-fire variant adopted by the U.S. military as the M16A1 wasn’t fielded until 1967, and wasn’t the standard service rifle until 1969, six years after you could buy an AR-15 at your local sporting good store.
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When you read the exact words of the Founding Fathers, they make it very, very clear that they wanted the citizenry armed with weapons of contemporary military utility, in order to pose a credible threat to the government. Today, that means AR-15s, AKMs, and similar “assault weapons” with magazines that would be militarily useful, including the standard 20- and 30-round magazines common to most of these weapon systems.
Put bluntly, any law that bans so-called “assault weapons” and other militarily-useful arms and magazines is blatantly and flagrantly unconstitutional, regardless of the opinion of any elected official or appointed judge.
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That the Founders wanted to threaten the government may seem jarring to our contemporary sensibilities, but you must grasp a very basic fact: we are a nation founded by insurrectionists.
These very same insurrectionists wanted to always ensure that the citizenry retained more military force than than government could bring to bear against us, and that means we should always have more guns, and better guns, than the military.
Historically, the American citizen has been far better armed than the American solider.
It is only a very recent development—within the past generation—that the U.S. government has begun denying citizens the right to own small arms on par with or better than that fielded by the U.S military, and only in the past few months that they’ve begun threatening to confiscate all arms with their fixation on “Australian-style” gun confiscation, and language suggesting that it is “common sense” for Americans to disarm “for the common good.”
Here in reality, we know world history, and we know that a government calling for you to disarm is a government that has ill intentions.
Now is when we lay in arms, ammunition, accouterments, and training, and guard against the day the Founders always knew would come.