Paul M. Craig: Of revolutionary times and American militias
To the editor:
Why is there a Second Amendment to the Constitution? The need for it stems from the colonial experience before the Revolutionary War. When adopted — Dec. 15, 1791, as part of the Bill of Rights — it was meant to prevent the new United States government from committing the usurpations and tyrannies perpetrated under the old British colonial rule. And it is an essential part of the checks and balances the Founding Fathers deemed necessary for the survival and success of the new nation.
When war began in April 1775 at Lexington and Concord, that wasn’t the first time colonists had fired upon the British army. Beginning in late summer 1774, the British planned nighttime raids into the Massachusetts and New Hampshire countryside to confiscate or destroy artillery that town militias owned and to grab individual firearms that could be done without a ruckus.
Sometimes the colonists had fired on the British army simply to drive it away. But that limited defense changed when the minutemen and other militia kept shooting at the British army while driving it back to its Boston base.
During debate over ratification of the Constitution, in Federalist 46, James Madison — a prime mover at the 1787 Constitutional Convention — wrote that the American people possessed the “advantage of being armed ... over the people of almost every other nation ....”
Madison emphasized other “governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” The Second Amendment did not grant the right to bear arms; it told the government it could not infringe upon this pre-existing right and confiscate arms the people owned. It also ensured the people would keep and bear the same kinds of arms the government might use to equip its standing army. The people were reaffirmed to be the ultimate source of power and authority.
Paul M. Craig