America Armed

The 2nd and 3rd amendments to the US Constitution were noncontroversial when they were passed. Both these amendments, taken together, were intended to prevent a military state, and to constrain the state from oppressing citizens. These federal constitutional amendments corresponded with several state constitutions.

The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature. ~ Massachusetts state constitution

Such constitutional clauses evolved from the bad experiences the British had with standing armies; a problem dating back to the early 17th century, when religious and political conflict tore at Britain’s social fabric. But Britain exported the very same problem to its American colonies, with its standing army, and the 1765 Quartering Act (following the French and Indian War), which compelled American colonists to house British soldiers.[1]

Violence was sewn into the American experience. Colonists were, after all, seizing land from native inhabitants, and from other colonial powers. On top of all of this was the sustained sense of being unmoored from civilization: a frontier where brutality may be a matter of survival. That spirit lives on in the American experience.

The intent of the 2nd & 3rd amendments – to not have a standing army – has long been ignored. The first federal standing army was created by law in 1784, less than a year after the Revolutionary War army disbanded; a step from which the state never looked back.

While the 3rd amendment has done nothing but gather dust, the 2nd amendment – citizens’ right to bear arms – has been the subject of intense controversy from the 20th century on. Ending the senseless slaughter of citizens by citizens (bearing firearms) requires eviscerating the 2nd amendment. The legal hair-splitting effort to do so has been unsuccessful so far. To succeed, however civilized the accomplishment, would be rather un-American.

[1] Housing soldiers in private spaces was common in Britain at the time. After all their troubles with standing armies, the Brits seemed to have learned nothing.