Gun ownership was a fact of life in early America. That fact was never challenged, and little discussed, during the founding era. The Constitution's drafters, however, felt it necessary to recognize that fact as central to the maintenance of a "well-regulated militia." The militia, mentioned twice elsewhere than in the Second Amendment -- that is to say, before the Bill of Rights was enacted -- was meant to be America's basic line of defense against foreign intruders. On more than one occasion an American founder restated an elementary principle: the small standing army was to hold off an invader until our true line of defense, properly equipped and trained citizens, could muster and deploy.
Since the creation of the national security state and the establishment of a very large standing army following WWII, when the U.S. emerged as an international power and policeman, this Constitutional history seems anomalous. But that is only if our heritage as a republic is not understood. From ancient Athens forward, the citizen-soldier has been the principal guardian of republican liberty. Otherwise, a large standing, professional army could be too easily seized by a charismatic dictator and individual freedoms crushed.
At our founding, having a fire arm for hunting, or less likely self-protection, was assumed. The Second Amendment was enacted to satisfy the concerns of the republican anti-Federalists that a large standing army would be an instrument of foreign adventure and potential domestic political repression. Only a well-trained national militia as envisioned by George Washington, today's National Guard, would suit this purpose.
As a long-time student of the republican ideal, this seems obvious. By adopting the role of world power and policeman we required a large professional army deployed throughout the world. And the political tendency toward empire, virtually inevitable (the best way to prevent trouble is to occupy the places where trouble is most likely to arise), came at the cost of our republican principles.
The National Guard, created in the late nineteenth century, is the historically well-established heir of the Constitutional militia. It is professionally trained and equipped, and it is composed of citizen-soldiers as the Founders intended. A number of its members maintain the early American tradition of personal gun ownership. Few if any National Guardsmen and women use those privately-owned weapons against their fellow citizens. Their military weapons are maintained in protected arsenals. We last saw them in public as the National Guard patrolled our airports and public facilities following 9/11. That is exactly their mission and purpose under the U.S. Constitution, not as follow-on forces for the standing military in foreign adventures.
Those who promote wholesale distribution of weapons -- whose only purpose is assault on human targets -- as necessary to protect American citizens against their own democratically-elected government are guilty of the worst kind of fear-mongering. It requires propagation of the pernicious and sinister myth that the president, the Congress, the officers and troops of our military services, all of whom have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, the National Guard and Reserves, the state patrols and city police forces, all will suddenly decide to form a dictatorship and crush our Republic. It is preposterous beyond the fringes of fantasy.
Wishes for a world without guns are noble, and doomed. At least America's Founders would have thought so. But instead of politicians defending a fictional "right" to bear military weapons, whether out of conviction or fear, it would be more American and humane to spend our time considering and protecting the rights of our children to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To promote the continued unregulated sale of military weapons to nervous, often frightened, and sometimes deranged individuals while advocating armed guards in every schoolhouse door is a cruel, and unconstitutional, delusion.
When grown-ups once again return to government in our nation we will limit military weapons to the military, including the 21st century militia, the National Guard, and make our first priority the long life, safety, and security of America's children.