second amendment

No, the 2nd Amendment Does Not Authorize Armed Sedition

by David Frum, The Daily Beast  |  published on March 26, 2013

This weekend I posted a book club entry about Adam Winkler’s important history of US gun law, Gunfight.

In that entry, I wrote that 19th century Americans conceptualized the “militia” as an agency of government power: state and local government, but government all the same. There were, obviously, non-government armed forces in the 19th century United States. John Brown organized one to attack Harper’s Ferry in 1859; demobilized Confederate soldiers waged war on black neighbors as the Ku Klux Klan. But (I wrote)

Before 1965, it would have occurred to precisely nobody that the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to organize private armies independent of the state.

At National Review Online, Kevin Williamson has now written to correct me.

Kevin insists, contra me, that the Founding Generation did believe that they had granted permission to disaffected individuals to raise private armies independent of government control. In support of this claim, Kevin offers a proof-text from the writings of the great Jeffersonian-turned-Federalist jurist, Joseph Story:

The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.

Kevin has used this quote at least twice: once in the reply to me, and before that in a longer-form article published in 2012.

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