Many people simultaneously claim to support the Second Amendment while insisting the federal government should be able to ban “military-style weapons.” These are actually mutually exclusive positions. In fact, the whole purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure the people would always have access to “weapons of war.”
On February 14, 2018, Nicholas Cruz shot and killed 17 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Cruz, 19, had been suspended from the school for disciplinary reasons. Despite a long history of bad behavior, as well as attention from law enforcement, Cruz was not treated as a legitimate threat. In an attempt to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, the district failed to report activities and generally kept him under the radar of local law enforcement agencies.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also admitted that the FBI failed to act on numerous reports of erratic and threatening behavior on the part of Cruz.
Despite government failures at both the local and federal level, the public debate predictably turned to the issue of gun control with specific focus on the ban of “military style” rifles, or “assault rifles,” as they are often called. In one school, students were instructed to write letters to representatives asking them to implement stricter gun control regulations.
A common refrain from both sides of the debate is, “No one is saying that military weapons should be in the hands of civilians.”
Former President Barack Obama said, “Weapons of war have no place on our streets,” and, “our law enforcement officers should never be outgunned.”
Many conservative media pundits agree. In the process, they concede a crucial point that was a central reason for the ratification of the Second Amendment: The People must have the means by which they can resist a tyrannical government – means rendered ineffective if we surrender the right to be on a level playing field when it comes to firearms.
As Ryan McMaken explained in a recent article, the origins of the militia trace back to 17th century England when Americans resisted the standing army sent by the king to crush dissent. McMaken shares the insight of British historian Marcus Canliffe regarding the origins of American military institutions and the compromises reached between a centralized military capable of suppressing dissent and a reasonable force needed to maintain order:
“A compromise was reached. First, a small regular force was to be maintained: this was the actual foundation of the British standing army. Second, there was to be a nationwide militia, composed of civilians who would — as in earlier days — be summoned in time of need. The militia, however, was to be under civil law, and to be organized locally by the lord lieutenant of each county. It was thus decentralized and divorced from royal control.”
In the colonies, standing armies were viewed with skepticism (hatred, actually), and this was especially so after the British Army was sent as an ultimate enforcement mechanism for the various taxes and other acts imposed on the colonies by the Crown. As the Constitution was being discussed and debated, one of the