Muster the militia!

Let's show true fidelity to the Second Amendment

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  –Second Amendment to the US Constitution

SOMEHOW, THE OPENING WORDS of that brief dictum have been lost.  Where is the well-regulated militia which our forefathers presumably saw as the rationale for permitting – even encouraging — individual citizens to own guns?

The National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners Action League, gun manufacturers, and individual owners have conducted a spectacularly successful public relations and lobbying campaign on behalf of individuals wishing to keep and bear arms.  The result has been one or more guns in half the households in the US.

Guns and gun owners are not evenly distributed across the nation.  Although we read of a shooting almost daily, Massachusetts can be proud of having the lowest per capita gun death rate in the nation.  This comes about because we have (relatively) strong gun laws and low gun ownership.  (Louisiana takes the booby prize on both measures.)

So what to do to stem the violence and save lives?  It’s late in the day to reduce the reported 300 million guns in American households to a much smaller number in the hands of legitimate hunters and those who enjoy target practice.  The Supreme Court has invoked the Second Amendment, and cast the issue in terms of the rights of individuals without mentioning the necessity for a militia.

I am proposing that Massachusetts take the lead by creating and regulating a militia to which every gun-owner in the state would be obliged to belong.  Our governor could call out the Massachusetts Militia in times of emergency such as fire and flood, loss of electric power, and similar kinds of civil disaster.  Members would drill, be trained in relevant skills, and lead local parades on patriotic holidays.  With mandatory enrollment, registration and tracking of gun owners might be more feasible.  Regulations would spell out meaningfully stern penalties for gun owners who did not enroll in the Massachusetts Militia.  I’d like to see mandatory fees from members as well, but that would entail lengthy public debate and perhaps kill the idea.

Meet the Author
The Triangle Fire in a New York garment factory led to new workplace safety laws. Thalidomide tragedies led to deeper investigation of drug side effects.  Maybe the Newtown disaster could lead to a well-regulated Massachusetts Militia with a community-service purpose. It might even lead to fewer shootings.

Eugenie Beal lives in Boston.