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Dick Sciaroni: The role of a ‘well-regulated militia’

Dick Sciaroni | Other Voices

In a recent column wherein he discusses the Second Amendment’s reference to a “well-regulated militia,” George Rebane posited a two-pronged role for militias: “A rapid response force of armed citizens that would serve a spectrum of functions from defending the hearth through opposing a rogue government to repelling invasion by a foreign enemy.”

Mr. Rebane’s reading of the Second Amendment is flawed procedurally and historically.

The second prong — that the founders saw militias as a linchpin to repelling a foreign invasion — makes both historical as well as common sense. The new American nation had just won a bloody war with England, primarily through the Continental Army — an assembly of various colonial militias.

On the other hand, the first prong — that the gounders saw militias as a means of “opposing a rogue government” — ignores the unambiguous language of the Second Amendment and defies logic.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights embodied the founders’ vision of a new American government. Their focus was on establishing a viable government for their nascent country. It defies reason that their focus would include condoning a revolt against that very government.

A fundamental rule governing the interpretation of a writing is that it must include everything within the four corners of the writing. Every portion of the writing must be included in any interpretation and it cannot ignore any part of writing. It must give full effect to the writing by harmonizing everything within its four corners.

Any interpretation of the Second Amendment must include the notion of a “well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of the free State.” Those words clearly demonstrate the founders’ focus was on ensuring the security of the new state they were creating.

The Second Amendment cannot be read to include condoning the idea that citizens dissatisfied with the particular government would be justified in resort to violent redress — because that notion is never mentioned.

The founders’ words clearly demonstrate their belief that a well-regulated militia was necessary to the security of a free state — the very state they were establishing when they drafted and then ratified the Constitution. That is the predicate of their determination that the right to keep and bear arms should not be infringed: to ensure the security of the government they were establishing.

The founders chose their words carefully. Had they believed that a well-regulated militia was necessary for the security of the people against the state, they would have used words to that effect. That they did not puts the lie to the notion that the founders intended the Second Amendment to protect the people against the government.

The founders identified in the Constitution the authority and power of the government and the restrictions on that authority and power. They did not include in the Constitution any provision that would allow dissatisfied citizens “to keep and bear arms” for the purpose of changing that government through violent means.

This is made clear by the founders’ inclusion in the Constitution of a method by which those dissatisfied with the government could change that government: elections. Those who would hold otherwise — indeed what we saw attempted on Jan. 6, 2021 — are in essence proffering the notion that one may with impunity go outside the Constitution’s electoral process, and use extra-constitutional methods to change the government.

Mr. Rebane chooses to “hold his lance with the founders who bequeathed us a constitution that constrains government and allows us citizens the means of violent redress ….“ That is his right as a citizen.

Meanwhile, history has already taught us what happens when one group of citizens put their vision of America above that of the founders: a bloody Civil War that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Until 2020, Americans in overwhelming numbers have routinely accepted the outcome of our elections. Resorting to extra-constitutional means to change our government failed at great cost in 1865.

Yet even now, some would advocate use of force to change the outcome of an election — not because it did not reflect the will of the people, but because it was not the outcome they wanted.

A call for “violent redress” that we hear today invites more than the anarchy we saw play out at the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. It invites the very demise of American democracy. It is a road I hope Americans choose not to follow.

Dick Sciaroni lives in Grass Valley.

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