Guns and Militia

I had always viewed the Constitutional language about militias to be based on a fear that, in fact, federalism would overtake the individual states.  And I had always wondered why then don’t the modern day militia supporters act to “de-federalize” the state militias.  After all, the state militias have really ceased being state run entities decades ago.  My own daughter was a member of the West Virginia National Guard, an organization whose duty is to protect the citizens of West Virginia, and she found herself in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 fighting a foreign war.  Certainly, this was not the first time that the state militias were conscripted by the federal government. President Eisenhower famously took command of the Arkansas National Guard to enforce federal racial integration law.  But it should also be noted that the Arkansas National Guard served General Eisenhower in Europe during WWII, and in every foreign war since then.  Despite that, I haven’t seen any national movement to strip the federal government of its right to command the state militias.  Instead what we see are armed individual citizens who have decided that it’s their duty to protect the state from takeover.  (the NRA promotes that idea simply because it represents gun manufacturers, not the citizens of America, and it makes money from gun sales)

Last week our local police chief was interviewed on talk radio.  We recently had a “domestic” incident and inside the home police found three assault rifles, as well as other weapons.  Fortunately no one was injured.  This, in a quiet suburban neighborhood.  In the radio interview the Chief said that he didn’t understand why people needed to have assault weapons in their homes.  As would be expected, his comments sparked a lot of pushback from gun owners.  One of our residents cornered me just before Council meeting and said he disagreed with Chief Harbin about assault weapons.  He repeated to me the same statement that we’ve heard many times, “an armed citizenry is protection against a tyrannical federal government.”  And as always, I respond to that statement the same way, “so who are you planning to shoot with your assault rifle”?  To put down an insurrection, the POTUS would federalize the National Guard.  “Would you shoot our own local National Guard soldiers (like my daughter)?”  And what if our governor (instead of the POTUS) called up the National Guard to put down an insurrection?  Would it then be ok, because the federal government wasn’t involved”?  When faced with these questions, the gun owner doesn’t have an answer, because to him the tyrannical federal government is a mysterious, even invisible entity— a group of strangers, not his neighbors.  He hasn’t thought about who he would actually be shooting at.

Despite the gun owner’s delusional paranoia, I do understand a fear of big government.  And therefore, I felt that I understood an emotional need to have a local defense against “big brother”.  Well, my understanding was upended this week when I read the article in Truth-out by Thom Hartmann called The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery.  Any understanding that I had about why we have state militias was smashed when I learned that state militias in the South were used to track down renegade or insurgent slaves long before the Revolutionary War, and further, that the right of states to continue to have militias after the War was a compromise in order to get Virginia’s vote in support of the Constitution of the United States.  Hartmann”s article is a MUST read.

After reading Hartmann’s article, I thought back to a blog entry I made last April called “the 150 Years War” where I discussed the disparity between slave labor and organized labor.  At the time I had pondered, “are there any issues in America that AREN’T related to slavery?”  In the gun issue I thought I had found one.  Wrong.  Dig through any issue and eventually you will come back to the economics of slavery.

The 150 Years War

Each year, after the sun sets on the 14th day of Hebrew month of Nisan, Jews retell the story of the Exodus at an annual family feast. The transition from slavery to freedom, orchestrated by God’s hand, is a great story with universal appeal.  I never grow tired of telling it.  Last week I received in the mail a Passover appeal from the Jewish Labor Committee.  The headline read, “Pharaoh refuses to negotiate; hundreds of thousands of Israelite workers walk of job site.”  While catchy and humorous, it none-the-less reminds us of a simple fact about slavery— it’s all about getting free labor. After all, one group of people doesn’t enslave another because they are lonely and in need of company!  No, they do so to acquire laborers.  The exodus of the Jews from Egypt took place 3500 years ago, but the story is still relevant.

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